SYKESVILLE — Correctional officers and staff from the Maryland Correctional Institution gripped a rope in their hands and pulled. They were cheered on by coaches and spectators as they tried to get a flag over a mark in the grass as part of the Run and Tug to Benefit the Special Olympics on Friday morning.
The event started with a 5-kilometer run across the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission campus in Sykesville, followed by a demonstration by K-9 units. The real competition started at 11 a.m. with the tug of war.
Spectators cheered on their colleagues as well as for the other teams, while the competitors gritted their teeth and pulled with all their might. Those tugging had obvious signs of strain on their faces as they pulled, with some turning a purplish shade of pink.
When a team's flag crossed the mark on the field, loud cheers erupted from the winning side. Then the two teams switched sides and started over again.
At the end of the day, Maryland Correctional Institution in Jessup walked away as the champion for the light division, while the North Branch Correctional Institution took the heavy division, and the Maryland Reception, Diagnosis and Classification Center won the women's division.
Larico Chase, a correctional officer at Maryland Correctional Institution, said he enjoys everything about the event. He helped pull his team to victory, and while he enjoys the competitive nature, he said the event also supports a good cause.
"I like competition, so I come out every year," Chase said. "And to support Special Olympics."
It was his fifth time competing, and he said that in addition to raising money for Special Olympics, the event also brings unity to the correctional officers.
That was an opinion shared by Rita Brown-Wright and Melanie Gordon.
Brown-Wright was part of the Patuxent Institution team. She said she's a former tenant and has been coming to the tug of war event for about 10 years.
She said her favorite part is "camaraderie, sportsmanship, you get to see people you haven't seen for a long time, [and] bragging rights."
The event is for a good cause, she said, adding that she also likes to see people come together and root for one another.
Gordon, who has attended the event for five years, was part of the third-place team in the light division.
"I think it's an amazing way to raise money for a really good cause and build camaraderie between institutions," Gordon said.
The event was expected to raise $16,000 for Special Olympics, said Jim Schmutz, the president and CEO for Special Olympics Maryland.
The money raised at the event, as well as other events, goes to helping the more than 7,300 athletes participating in 27 events. Just in the fall, there will be athletes participating in seven sports, Schmutz said.
Special Olympics Maryland has a budget of about $5 million, and between all the different events law enforcement puts on, they end up getting another $2.5 million, he said.
While there are many events for Special Olympics, including some over the weekend, Schmutz said the event Friday is "unique."
"It's the only tug of war we do in the state," he said.
Not everyone at the event was participating in the tug of war. Stephen Moyer, the secretary of public safety and correctional services, was a spectator, as were some Special Olympics athletes.
Alex Barnes, 35, of Ellicott City, was watching the tug of war competitions. He said the event was great because it raises money for a good cause, adding that Special Olympics is a cause many people believe in.
Barnes said he didn't have a favorite team and choosing would be like choosing a favorite pet.
"I say the guys who are doing it, they're real professionals," Barnes said. "And the way I think of law enforcement now, they're real rockstars."
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