DeKALB – Northern Illinois University Police Cmdr. Don Rodman returned to his Northern Illinois University collegiate baseball roots Wednesday to lead the charge as the Police team beat the Fire team, 2-1, in the inaugural Johnsonville Hometown Classic at the Ralph McKenzie Field.
Rodman joined area first responders from the NIU Police Department, DeKalb and Sycamore Police Departments, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, and DeKalb Fire Department as they braved the heat Wednesday to face off in a friendly game of softball. NIU Police partnered with Johnsonville Brats, who brought in a 65-foot grill to serve up free bratwurst, with complimentary chips and drinks provided by Target and Pepsi. The family-friendly community event was free, but spectators were encouraged to donate to Illinois Special Olympics, with $1,600 raised, Rodman said.
“It’s a beautiful day,” Rodman said, taking a breather in the shade of the police dugout. “This has been a vision for a number of years, and it all just fell into place this year. It’s so important for the community to see us in a different light where we can literally break bread, have a meal, and develop a bond.”
Players from the state champion Sycamore girls softball team umpired the game. Special Olympian Sarah Carlson, of Sycamore, threw out the first pitch.
“I was a little nervous,” Carlson said, who pitches for Special Olympics softball. “I practiced at home. I like softball, it’s good exercise, and I have fun with my friends.”
DeKalb Fire Chief Jeff McMaster was fanning the flames atop the grill, as he cooked brats with other celebrity grill masters, NIU Police Chief Tom Phillips and DeKalb interim Police Chief John Petragallo.
“It’s all about the community,” McMaster said. “You get to bring in people to raise funds, and build camaraderie.”
Kris Hightower, Jay Whetsel and Denny Blumer, who drives the 65-foot grill all over the country serving up brats for charitable causes, said they love connecting with local people.
“We do fire, flood and hurricane relief,” Hightower said. “We’re like grill masters for disasters. For us, it’s just the enjoyment of it. Last month we rolled off our six millionth brat on this grill.”
Whetsel said they’ve been traveling and grilling since 1995.
“As we travel America all across different stops, festivals and events, we always partner with a charity,” Whetsel said. “We consider it grilling up good will, so it’s one of those ways we give back.”
Petragallo relished the friendly competition, and said he hopes the Hometown Classic will be even bigger in coming years.
“I think it gives the community a chance to see us without our uniforms on, to just see the human side of everybody that’s playing,” Petragallo said.
Phillips said NIU Public Safety Clerk Roberta Schwartz send a message to Johnsonville asking if they would partner for the event, and Johnsonville reps happily obliged.
“We wanted to do an event to recognize first responders, not just police but fire and EMS,” Phillips said. “Softball, baseball’s always a way to bring the community together.”
Source: The Daily Chronicle