JACKSON – Local police officers and firefighters are poised to face off on the diamond, not for trophies or prizes, but to raise funds to benefit children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.
While their mission is serious, Jackson police officers and firefighters engaged in some good natured bravado, with each side predicting victory on the field in the Jake’s Got This Special Friends Charity Softball Game which will begin at 2 p.m. July 16 at ShoreTown Ballpark in Lakewood. Tickets are $20; children under 5 will be admitted free.
“We have 15 guys coming from the Jackson PBA softball team,” Police Officer Jeff Henba said. “We play every week. They reached out and asked us to play in this charity game. The team plays in a Jersey Shore police league so we are warmed up and ready to go.”
Henba acknowledged there is a friendly rivalry between the police department and fire
“We used to play them in other events all the time when I first got hired here in 2006. We used to play them in basketball games and football games. I think this is our first softball game against them.
“It will be fun, not real serious. You can consider it a rivalry, we played against them in
other events in the past. As far as softball goes, it’s kind of new. We should have an
advantage because we play in a league every week,” he said.
The departments have gotten behind the fundraiser, Henba said, with police aiming to sell more than 100 tickets the week before the game.
“It’s about community and family,” he said. “A lot of our families will be there watching.”
All four fire departments in Jackson have a group that has come together, consisting of
volunteer firefighters and paid firefighters, to support #Jake’s Got This, firefighter John E. Poppe III said.
“Jake lives right across the street from my firehouse. We have done comedy shows recently for his benefit and we know the cops are super big into #Jake’s Got This, so it’s a team effort between the firefighters and the cops.
“We always try to give to local kids in the community that have charities or foundations that we raise money for. Our biggest goal right now is getting some practice time. I have been pushing the ticket sales, we are trying to raise the money and make sure they can turn a profit because I know it is pretty expensive just to run this event,” Poppe said.
According to Poppe, the fire department team consists of volunteer firefighters, paid firefighters and junior members who will be playing together for the first time.
“We are working on it,” said Poppe when asked if firefighters are practicing for the game. “We have been trying to beat the cops for well over 20 years and we haven’t done it, but we keep giving it our best effort. We have a couple of guys on the fire team who play in leagues so we are hoping they can carry the rest of us.”
Is the fire department team expecting to win?
“I highly doubt it,” Poppe said, “but we are going to have fun. We are going to try, but
there is definitely a lot of yapping out there with the cops saying they are going to
hit it over people’s heads and I’m the guy who is trying to catch it and throw them out.
We try, we go out there, we have a good time and no matter what, at the end it’s all
for a good cause.”
Shannon Kulesa said the mission of the Jake’s Got This Foundation is to support families of children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Her son, Jake, 9, was diagnosed as having infant brain damage when he was 13 months old.
“Here at the Jake’s Got This Foundation we look to provide guidance and recommendations from experience, help navigating the world of health insurance and support to families with children under the age of 18.
“We look to connect families with the resources they need, as well as other families who understand the daily struggles we face. We are always open to new ideas and therapies to help our kids get stronger each day.
“If anyone has a favorite therapy or doctor we would love to hear about them. All we ask in return is to pay it forward. Help others with all you learn and do what you can to help others through each day,” Kulesa said.
Funds raised at the upcoming softball game will help provide support and financial assistance, including therapy sessions for children diagnosed with cerebral palsy at an intensive program, the Key to CP, in Rochester, N.Y., where Jake has received therapy, she said.
At the July 16 game there will also be a few innings of play for special needs friends,
raffle prizes and a dunk tank to sink a policeman or a fireman, plus raffles of gift
“Police vs. fire will be the first six innings. Then we will do a seventh inning stretch for raffles and then Jake’s ‘special friends’ will be coming onto the field. Those are eight kids from the community who all have cerebral palsy or some sort of mobility disorder,” Kulesa said. “They will come out with a few helpers and will assist whichever team is losing … to finish out the game.”
Sponsors of the event include Amazing Athletes Sports Training, Garden State Fire, Kaye Pump Services, and Persons Farm and Greenhouses, and some sponsorship opportunities are still available. Check the website for sponsorship opportunities.
Tickets are $20 and are available at www.jakesgotthis.org or by contacting Poppe or Henba. The first 500 tickets that are purchased for the July 16 fundraiser include tickets to the July 23 Jersey Shore BlueClaws game.
According to Kulesa, the goal is to sell 300 tickets.
“We are hoping to sell 300 tickets because the goal is to raise about $15,000 to fund
therapy; we did 200 tickets for our last event,” she said, adding that week-long
therapy sessions cost about $5,000 per child.
“Currently we are working on supporting four children receiving therapy,” she said. “We are working on that as well as sending a few other children for more localized therapies that are not covered by insurance.”
According to the website, almost 8,000 children are born each year in the United States who receive a cerebral palsy diagnosis. For most, “money is the barrier that keeps them from reaching their full potential,” even with medical insurance.
Jake’s Got This aims to remove that financial barrier so children with cerebral palsy can
have access to resources such as therapeutic programs that have proven successful.