By MARY ANN O’TOOLE HOLLEY
It was brotherhood in its truest form when the brothers and sisters of Operating Engineers Local 513 and Fire Fighters Local 2665 members with the Central County Fire and Rescue got together to find a way to use the resources of the two unions to create an annual fundraiser.
“We often thought of how we could coordinate and bring the two organizations together for a charity event, and the Mud Volleyball Tournament seemed like a good collaborative effort: Operating engineers dig the pits and the fire fighters have the facility and organized the event,” said Brian Graff, Operating Engineers Local 513 organizer and political director for the St. Louis region.
A few weeks ago, the two unions held their fifth Mud Volleyball Tournament, raising nearly $20,000 to benefit the Central County Fire Rescue (CCFR) Community Outreach. “Working together, our unions found our niche,” Graff said.
For three weeks about 25 Local 513 apprentices along with training instructors Gabe Suddarth and Eric Aholt moved tons of dirt to create 10 precisely dug and mud-sifted courts, while the Local 2665 fire fighters of Central County Fire and Rescue spent hundreds of hours off duty prepping their training facility grounds to create what became a total mud-o-rama. And this year, mud was the name of the game whether you played on a team or just watched.
MORE MUD THAN THEY BARGAINED FOR
According to the National Weather Service, two inches of rain drenched the grounds the day of the tournament, flowing into the mud courts and transforming the walkways into a slip-and-slide mud pathway as spectators glided their way from tent to tent for concessions or to get a close view of their favorite teams.
“Everyone may have been drenched from the rain, but it didn’t dampen anyone’s spirits. It was just as much fun, if not more, than past years,” said Jason Graff, Local 2665 shop steward and Brian Graff’s brother. “Despite rain that poured most of the day, participants seemed to enjoy this year more than ever.”
The annual event, (canceled last year because of COVID-19) has been very popular with people in the community. Teams were recruited through social media, and there was no problem drawing the 64 teams. The collaboration between the Fire Fighters 2665 and Operating Engineers Local 513 was an idea that was “brotherhood at its best,” he said.
Jason Graff said each year grows in popularity with 64 volleyball teams playing in this year’s tournament. Teams were recruited through social media, and so many people responded, that some had to be turned away.
“This has been phenomenal,” Jason said. “We sell out team space every year, so it looks like we may grow again in size next year.”
OPERATORS AND FIRE FIGHTERS SHOW THEIR PRIDE
“We pride ourselves in helping the community, and raising funds through events like this allows us to give to various charity organizations,” Brian Graff said. “It’s all about community outreach.” Christine Foley, Local 513 apprentice and a player on the Local 513 team, said it was great fun for a good cause.
The $20,000 raised during the event will be used by the CCFR Community Outreach to support the community in many ways, including charities for veterans, foster parent programs, scholarships and more.
“We do this together to show we can accomplish what we need to do together,” the Graff brothers said.
David Maupin, the CCFR Community Outreach Chairman who has been leading the effort for the past three years, said he was pleased with the participation and attendance, even though spectator attendance would have been much higher had the rain held off.
“The grounds were a mess, but it won’t be a problem,” Maupin said. “The Operating Engineers and Fire Fighters were out the next day, cleaning up the site. We’re already talking about improvements or additions to next year’s event.”
Maupin gave much of the credit to the sponsors, saying they couldn’t have done it without business partners like Academy Sports, Home Depot and Leo M. Ellebracht Company, who have donated thousands of dollars over the years to support the CCFR Community Outreach, as well as a large group of other sponsors who helped make the day a success.
Teams had catchy names like “Muddy Mayhem, Half Nuts and other colorful names like the Mutha Fockers,” but the first place winners were “Jill’s Team.” Unfortunately, player names were not recorded.
AN UNINVITED GUEST
It was no surprise that obstacles were everywhere, but when one player saw a slimy snake swim by, he grabbed it, but as it bit him, he dropped it.
With over 50 of CCFR’s professional fire fighters on hand, they made quick work of sweeping the volleyball pit with a net, and the two-foot water snake was captured and returned to the wild.
“I should have flailed it instead of dropping it,” said the player. “But when it bit me, it was a reflex.”
The Local 2665 brothers and sisters from St. Charles County Ambulance District were on hand providing EMS service to patch players up so they could get back in the game.
WORKING TOGETHER, SUPPPORTING OUR COMMUNITY
“We’re grateful for our partnership with our brothers and sisters in Local 513,” said Jason Graff, “The mission of the CCFR Community Outreach is to support our community in any way we can, and unions coming together for this event is a shining example of working together for the community. It shows that when we work and stand together, there’s nothing we can’t accomplish,” he said.
If you’d like to see a bird’s eye view of the event, visit the Professional Firefighters of Central County Fire and Rescue on Facebook to watch a drone video of the event at https://fb.watch/ 737KirtvMG/.