Playing in the snow, mud for a cause

| Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Though the sunshine helped take off the chill Saturday, teams participating in the inaugural “Balls & Badges Softball Tournament” still contended with the challenges unique to playing softball in the dead of winter.

As the players slipped and slid around the snow-covered diamonds at Wolf Pack Park in Lower Burrell, some faced a home plate surrounded by mud, others one with hard-packed icy snow.

No one seemed to mind, though, because the sloppy fun was all in the name of raising money for the Derek Kotecki Scholarship Fund.

“We love softball regardless of what time of year it is,” said Pittsburgh police Officer Michael Gay, as he waited to take his turn on the field. “And it's in the name of one of our fallen heroes; we wanted to come out and support that.”

About 100 players on eight teams participated in the tournament, which continues at Wolf Pack today.

The event raised about $1,500 for the scholarship fund named in honor of Lower Burrell Patrolman Derek Kotecki, who was killed in the line of duty on Oct. 12, 2011. The scholarship fund gives back to the communities that rallied together in the wake of Kotecki's death, said Audra Flemm, a leader of the committee that tracks the fundraisers held in the officer's name.

The fund offers six scholarships, ranging from $500 to $1,000, to three students at Burrell High School and three at Valley High. The scholarships benefit girls and boys basketball players and students who want to pursue a career in emergency services.

“We're hoping to add Kiski (High School) because that was one of the communities that helped out Lower Burrell,” Flemm said. “We want to take care of the communities that really helped out when it happened.”

Lower Burrell Patrolman Steve Cernava, who was on duty Saturday and couldn't play on the city police's softball team, said events like the tournament keep Kotecki's memory alive.

“It just reminds people about Derek and how much he's missed,” Cernava said. “It gives us a feeling that people haven't forgotten and support the Lower Burrell Police Department.”

Kotecki's parents, wife and two children attended the tournament's opening event around 8 a.m. Saturday.

Teams in the tournament included the Upper Burrell Volunteer Fire Department, University of Pittsburgh Police, Pittsburgh Police, Joe's Place, Freedom Inn and two pick-up teams that had a mix of local residents and emergency services personnel.

“Most of us are from Lower Burrell, so it's always good to give back to the community,” said Andrew Twidwell, of Lower Burrell, a member of the Upper Burrell VFD team.

Flemm said they're hoping to continue to hold fundraisers to sustain the scholarship fund, noting that the next benefits are a golf tournament and the “Bands in Blue” concert, both scheduled for Aug. 24 at the Hillcrest Country Club.

“We don't want it to be just a one- or two-year thing,” Flemm said.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or

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