Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
The morning was warm and sunny. A cool breeze rustled through the trees at East Hill Park in Lewisville where the archery portion of the 2012 Texas Firefighter Summer Games was being held. Around the pavilion one could hear scattered conversations about fire fighting and tomahawk throwing.
The event was run by Danny Kinney, a 23 year veteran of the games (formerly known as the Firefighter Olympics), now in his twelfth year as a coordinator. Although shooting started about an hour late, Kinney made the delay as frictionless as possible.
“My goal with the event is to keep it as fun as possible for the guys. They can compete, smack talk each other, you know, stuff like that,” he said.
Besides drawing firefighters from all parts of the state, the competition travels to various cities around Texas from year to year including Round Rock and San Angelo, but it always has a warm welcome in North Texas.
“This location is usually my biggest turn out. We’ve got a lot of local firefighters who come and shoot,” Kinney said. “Lewisville is a good city to work with because if its involvement. I had to build this range; this is not a normal archery range, and over the last several months I’ve been working with the parks crew. Not all the cities we go to are this way.”
Brian Austin, a member of the Irving Fire Department, has been coming to the Games eleven out of the last thirteen years, and besides becoming a familiar face at the competition, he consistently sweeps the event, winning both gold medals every time he has competed.
“It’s just fun,” Austin said, downplaying his impressive record. “You get to see all the guys from different departments. It’s just like any other hobby I guess. You get addicted to it. These 3D targets are a new game for us to keep shooting when it’s not hunting season.”
But the games go beyond just giving hardworking civil servants a chance to unwind and compete with each other. The games are also an opportunity to build fraternity among far-flung departments.
“Firefighters are brothers and sisters, and we’re into families, too. I enjoy having the families out at these events,” Kinney said. “You see some of the kids out there shooting, and sometimes we have some wives and girlfriends who come out and shoot. I’ll allow them to come out. They’re not competing for medals, they’re coming out and shooting for fun.”
The basketball tournament took place in nearby Flower Mound Marcus High School’s gym. Different teams sported their colors ranging from similarly colored t-shirts with numbers created on the back in tape to Mesquite’s matching shorts and jerseys. Perched midway up the bleachers eyeing the Flower Mound – Round Rock game going on in front of him was Artie Leyhe a retired Duncanville firefighter and now both a competitor and a coordinator for the Games.
“I just enjoy doing it,” he said. “I enjoy the camaraderie, getting together with other firefighters. Meeting year to year, getting friendships going.”
Scott is a player on San Antonio Fire Department’s basketball team and has been coming to the Games for five years.
“I love playing basketball,” he said. “We have a good group of guys who like doing things together, teamwork things. I think it’s fun, us coming out here representing San Antonio and playing with other departments and just having a good time with your buddies.”
Sarah Strange, the wife a Round Rock player, was there with her children. This is the second year that she has attended the Games.
“We come out here to support the city, to support the team, the guys, cheer them on,” she said. “I really like watching my husband play. We don’t get a chance to see everybody very often, and so it’s kind of nice to get everyone together.”
There are more changes in the air for this 30-year tradition besides its recent name change from Summer Olympics to Summer Games. The organization is going nonprofit. Kinney was quick to explain that the Games need to adapt in order to better serve its community.
“We’re going non-profit because the times have changed. It will benefit some sort of charitable organization whether it’s fallen firefighters or something like that,” he said.
At first glance, the Games may come across as just another competition, but it is really a lot more than that. It is a chance for the close-knit parts of a widespread community to come together and become stronger as one, statewide community. All those involved, from the participants to the fans, love not only being able to relax with some summer competition but also the opportunity to forge new friendships and strengthen the ones already made. The Metroplex is firmly dedicated to fostering this event in any way possible.