Over the weekend, Proud Pigs from all corners of the map assembled in Bradford, New Hampshire to defend their title while taking part in the annual DARE softball tournament. For the second year in a row, the Pigs ran the table, extending their tournament winning streak to 12 games. You would think THAT would be the story. Well, you’d also be wrong.
Every year that our charity has traveled to New Hampshire to participate in the fundraising event, Bradford Police Lieutenant/BBO Trustee/New Hampshire Dare Officers Association Board Member Ed Shaughnessy, who also runs the tournament, has made sure that our members pay a special visit between the games.
Located next to the fields is a cemetery that serves as the final resting place for New Hampshire State Trooper Richard F. Champy, who was killed in the line of duty 41 years ago. Taking a break from the action, our members would gather around Trooper Champy’s headstone, read the story of his passing and lay flowers and flags.
“Never Forget”, especially in the police world, is a lot like “I Love You” in that, it’s often said and always nice to hear but is much better seen in action. Our charity is laser focused when it comes to that concept. If you have ever attended ANY Brothers Before Others event, regardless of what the theme is, you can guarantee that a moment of remembrance will somehow work its’ way in. It is, after all, the founding principle behind our very existence. Former Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke talks about the importance of this, saying that (paraphrase) he always wants to make sure that when the families of our fallen see their loved ones’ names on the memorial wall in Washington, DC, they know that ‘it’ was all worth it; that their loved one’s sacrifice and the sacrifices still being made by the families they left behind stood for something greater than the individual. NOTHING does this more than taking a moment to reflect, remember and pay tribute.
In that vein, the Proud Pigs decided that this year we would be playing in honor of Trooper Champy and his family, even incorporating his name and shield into our uniforms.
When he heard about what our team does every year, Philadelphia Police Officer/Forensic sketch artist/BBO partner Jonny Castro decided to help make this year’s visit a little more special. Since 2016, Jonny has been creating portraits of American heroes, both sworn/military and civilian, who have been killed in the line of duty, in service of their country or on behalf of something larger than themselves.
In time for this weekend’s tournament and as a special tribute to both him and his family, Jonny created a portrait of Trooper Champy, the first color version of him in uniform ever painted.
Rather than keeping the tribute to just our team, Lt Shaughnessy temporarily stopped the tournament, ensuring that all the teams would have the opportunity to pay tribute and to see first hand what ‘never forgetting’ looks like. Lead by a single piper, all six teams walked from the fields to Trooper Champy’s headstone, where they were met by his friends and family, including his two daughters, Debbie LaBelle and Megan Hurley, his sister Lori Loomis and her husband, Ernie, who not only was Trooper Champy’s brother in law, he was also his Troop Commander. Trooper Champy’s grandchildren were also in attendance: Caitlyn and Darienne Messer, as well as Azelyn and Braden Hurley.
Once everyone had assembled, as he has done every year, Lt Shaughnessy read the story of Trooper Champy’s passing. Brothers Before Orther’s Founder/President Michael Burke then presented the family with a signed commemorative Proud Pigs jersey, identical to the ones being worn in Trooper Champy’s honor.
BBO Board member Joshua Oliveri presented Trooper Champy’s family with the portrait that Jonny had created.
Lead by his family, every single participant of the tournament as well as the friends that had gathered, one by one, laid a single flower at Trooper Champy’s headstone.
It’s often said that, when a police officer is killed in the line of duty, it’s not just a family that loses someone; it’s the entire community and law enforcement family. Listening to Trooper Champy’s two daughters speak about that night when they were 7 and 8 years old, respectively, and “Daddy didn’t come home”, while being surrounded by members of their entire community, even including the family friend who was babysitting them that night, and police officers from all over the country could not have driven this point home more.
Never underestimate the power of the individual. Never underestimate the weight that a simple ‘Thank You” can carry. Every family that watches their loved ones walk out the door to go put themselves in harms way on strangers’ behalves deserves to have their sacrifices recognized. Like Sheriff Clarke said: They need to KNOW this was all worth it.
To the family of Trooper Champy: Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to honor the sacrifice that your entire family has made. If you didn’t already know, it is our hope that you truly understand now that, even when you don’t think anyone is, there is ALWAYS someone thinking about you and your family. “Never Forget” is not rhetoric in this family, it’s who we are.
*A full catalogue of Jonny Castro’s work can be found on both Facebook and Instagram by searching ‘Jonny Castro Art’*
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