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PLAYING FOR CHARITY

Firefighters take to the court on Sept. 11

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PLAYING FOR CHARITY

Lathrop-Manteca Fire District Captain and Manteca Firefighter Traig Smith prepare to square off while Omar Khweiss serves as the referee. On Tuesday, Sept. 11, firefighters and police officers from...

JASON CAMPBELL/The Bulletin


POSTED September 7, 2012 12:44 a.m.

LATHROP – As a native New Yorker, the attacks on Sept. 11 hit Omar Khweiss hard.

Stationed at a Marine Corps base in Hawaii at the time, it took him three days before he could finally get in touch with his mother – most of the communication antennas for the city were located atop the North Tower. The wait to find out whether she was okay was excruciating.

So when he got the chance to organize a basketball game between Lathrop and Manteca’s fire departments this Sept. 11, he took it. He spent months to put together an event with the winner getting 60 percent of the proceeds and the runner-up taking home 40 percent. Both will donate the proceeds to the respective charity or non-profit of their choice.

It’s fitting, Khweiss said, that the game which will mainly feature firefighters from the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District and the Manteca Fire Department be held on a day that carries such a special meaning for those in the fire service.

“I welcome any chance to honor those who perished on Sept. 11 – whether its flags being flown at half-mast or events that specifically honor firefighters and police for their service,” Khweiss said. “That’s what we’re going to do here – create a tribute for our local personnel and give people a chance to see them on a more personal level.”

But the heavy emphasis on one of America’s darkest days won’t be the sole focal point of the game.

After organizing a game last year between the Lathrop-Manteca Fire District and Lathrop Police Services – which carried more of a carnival atmosphere – Khweiss was thrilled at how everything turned out.

But when he watched the Manteca Police Department square off with the Manteca Fire Department in their annual game, a light bulb went off.

What if he could get the two cities to agree to a showdown in a competitive yet fun game that could unify two communities that haven’t always had the best relationship?

Bridging that gap, Khweiss said, and mending those fences could begin with something as simple as a friendly basketball game.

“It’s going to be a fun opportunity to get out into the community and give back together,” said Manteca firefighter Traig Smith. “We run calls together and we get to know each other on a professional level, but this is a chance for a friendly game between us.”

But the seriousness of the day didn’t escape Smith.

With bagpipers performing “Amazing Grace” at halftime – which will last 9:11 – the weight of what has come to be known as Patriot Day can’t be denied.

“It’s a significant date for those in the fire service,” Smith said. “Public safety gave a lot that day, and we remember it every year on the day – celebrating their lives and paying tribute to their sacrifice.”

The event will be held Tuesday, Sept. 11 at 6:30 p.m. in the Lathrop High School gymnasium (the building marked “gymnasium” – not the building market “multipurpose” which is attached to the cafeteria) and will feature police officers from Manteca and Lathrop as well.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for children 6-17 and seniors 55 and older. Children under 5 are free.

Sponsors include the J.R. Simplot Company, Target, Manteca Youth Focus and the Lathrop Senior Club.

Lathrop has pledged to donate their money to Lathrop High’s Sober Grad Fund and Manteca will make their donation to the Fire Chief’s Foundation.

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