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'It boosts morale': Tug of war competition in Sykesville supports Special Olympics of Maryland

Carroll County Times - 9/21/2019

Sep. 21--SYKESVILLE -- The hot sun beating down on the verdant grounds of the Public Safety Education and Training Center on Friday morning was cut with a cool autumnal breeze, a relief for the two teams of seven people who were about to face off in a contest of strength and power.

The thick rope was raised from the grass, taut.

"Ready!" a man shouted, and then, "Pull!"

In just a few seconds it was over, and the team from the Maryland Correctional Institution Jessup, or MCIJ, were victorious over the team from Baltimore City's Central Booking, the Booking Bangers -- at least for that round of tug of war.

"It's not over yet," said Fateema Mobley, a member of the MCIJ team, through she had reason to be optimistic. "We've won four years straight. We're the defending champs."

What Mobley's team had won was the annual Run, Walk & Tug of War event of the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. It's an event that brings together teams of correctional officers and other public safety professionals for some friendly competition, as well as to raise funds for a good cause: the Special Olympics of Maryland.

"We started this in the mid-'90s and have raised around $300,000 for Special Olympics since then," said Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the department. "We have 14 teams here from all over the state. Correctional officers, parole and probation agents, a couple of headquarters units."

And that's in addition to lawyers and supervisors, and members of the Office of the Inspector General, according to Robert Green, secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, who had come to Sykesville to cheer on all the teams involved.

"Everything is represented here today. That's pretty cool. You know, 17 correctional facilities, a broad depth," Green said. "People across the department coming together here from around our state, converging here in what has become a tradition, raising money for a great, great cause."

One team, Duty Calls, of the Maryland Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown, was unable to make it to the event at the last minute, but, "Those who cannot be here are present here in spirit, giving their time and their money and their efforts," Green said. "They sent a check for $1,400."

It's an event people really look forward to, and for both the chance to do good and for camaraderie, according to Mobley.

"It boosts morale, it brings people together that work on different shifts, it just brings the jail together collectively," she said. "It's a good time. Most of the time we're in the jail, we're fighting crime. Here we get to relax and be among our peers and do something that's fun but also for a great cause."

One person at the event understood that better than anyone. Natasha Leckey of Elkridge is a correctional officer at Baltimore Central Booking. Her 12-year-old daughter Taniya was the guest of honor Friday -- a Special Olympian with a love of cheerleading.

"I come here, my husband and I, every year to support," Natasha Leckey said. "We help sell T-shirts to raise money as much as we can to help the special needs, not just my daughter, but everybody."


(c)2019 the Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.)

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