Teams Run, Pass and Catch for a Good Cause

Posted October 19, 2007 at 6:07pm

As Members of Congress and Capitol Police officers take the field today, they aren’t just battling over the Longest Yard championship. They’re raising thousands of dollars for a fund that benefits the families of fallen officers.

The Capitol Police Memorial Fund first began as a way to raise money for the families of Officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson, who were killed when a gunman shot his way through part of the Capitol in 1998. And while it still benefits those families — as well as the family of Officer Christopher Eney, who was killed in a training accident in 1984 — the fund also has become a symbol of support for the hundreds of officers who protect the Capitol in a post-9/11 world, said Senate Sergeant-at-Arms Terrance Gainer.

“It’s one thing at a memorial service to say, ‘We’ll never forget you,’” he said. “I think this type of memorial fund is an affirmation by Members of Congress that taking care of families over the long run is important.”

When the fund first was established, donations came in from around the country, with some estimates putting the amount at hundreds of thousands of dollars. But the contributions tapered off over the years, and so, in 2005, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) organized the Longest Yard Football Classic to keep the fund afloat. At that time, Renzi said the account had dwindled to $40,000.

In the two games since, Members and officers managed to raise more than $60,000. The Capitol Police Board handles families’ requests for money from the fund and initiates allocations when the department sees a need, Gainer said. He declined to say how much has been raised over the past year, citing confidentiality reasons, but said it was a “handsome amount.” For the families of Chestnut, Gibson and Eney, the fund has provided help in several ways, including the education of some of their children.

And by keeping the account above zero, police officials can ensure that money is available if anything happens to an officer on duty in the future, Gainer said.

“The value of having money in the bank takes care of some of the immediate needs that come up,” he said, citing funerals and memorial services.

Of course, now that the football game will take place only every two years, the fund will be replenished less often. But donations still come in, Gainer said. Besides, he said, Members can’t handle losing so often.

“The Members of Congress can’t take the push and pull of those young police officers,” he joked. “They can’t stand losing.”