Public safety officers in Ventura County to square off for charity

Richard Quinn/Special to the Star Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy Moe Gonzalez (right) works out on a heavy bag with coach Rick Perez during a training session at Powerhouse Gym in Port Hueneme. Local law enforcement officers will be squaring off against firefighters in the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association’s Battle of the Badges.

Public safety officers in Ventura County to square off for charity
By Jeremy Foster Special To The Star

Ventura County Firefighter Mike Fuller said he doesn’t mind getting punched in the face, provided it’s for a good cause.

On Jan. 26, he’ll have that chance when he steps into a boxing ring, opposite a police officer, at the Oceanview Pavilion in Port Hueneme as part of “Battle of the Badges IV.”

Inspired by a friendly rivalry between law enforcement officers and firefighters, the boxing show benefits the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Oxnard and Port Hueneme, which serve more than 9,000 youths a year.

Fuller, a decade-long veteran of the fire department, has boxed in the past three shows with a perfect record that includes two knockout victories.

The 34-year-old said he signed up because he loves new physical challenges and wants to show the camaraderie between firefighters and law enforcement officers, while also helping a good cause.

“Outside of the ring, we and law enforcement officers work together on numerous things, from simple traffic accidents to possible hostage situations to especially tragic events, like the recent Newtown, Conn. school shooting,” Fuller said. “But there is some competition there, and this is a chance to one-up the officers.”

Ten matches, each three, two-minute rounds, will pit police officers and sheriff’s deputies against firefighters from agencies, including the Bakersfield Fire Department, police and fire departments of Oxnard, Ventura and Port Hueneme, and Ventura County’s sheriff and fire departments. The bouts, which are expected to attract 800 people, are licensed by the California State Athletic Commission and include professional ring doctors and referees.

Last year, the charity show raised more than $22,000. Organizers hope to top that amount this year, said Rick Shimmel, executive director of the Ventura County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and a licensed amateur boxing promoter.

Battle of the Badges was the idea of county firefighter Jason Hodge, a former a board member for the Ventura County Professional Firefighters Association, Linda LeBrock, the former development director for the Boys & Girls Club, and Shimmel.

“We all saw it as a great way to raise money for the kids who need it most, the underserved kids that the Boys & Girls Clubs are so important for,” Shimmel said. “Contestants get the opportunity to represent their agencies, their stations and their fellow officers or firefighters, while those groups get the chance to cheer on their friends and co-workers. The best part is, it’s for a great cause and there is a real sense of doing something good for the community.”

Though the community’s overall response to the first event was “incredibly positive,” the first year prompted a letter-writing campaign from some who believed the event was promoting violence, according to Shimmel.

“We’ve never looked at it that way,” he said. “What we’re doing is showing the community that these ladies and gents who are boxing are willing to put it all on the line, even in the ring, to help a cause that’s so vital to the community.

Outside charitable events that square firefighters against officers and deputies for bragging rights often involve golfing tournaments, hockey games and blood drives. But because Oxnard has a rich history of boxing, staging a boxing event was a no-brainer, Hodge said.

Plus, Shimmel added, “there’s nothing quite like boxing show to excite a crowd and bring everyone to the edge of their seats.”

Police officer Gherrett Levette of the Oxnard Police Department, who will compete for the first time this month, believes the boxing event deters youth from committing crimes.

“Having worked in the main jail custody division and now in court service, I see a lot of young guys getting wrapped up in gangs and other stupid things,” said the 29-year-old. “If kids get involved in something that gives them the discipline, structure and motivation to get off the streets and back in school, then I want to promote that.”