Columbia College honors servicepersons

Police, fire fighters and those in the armed services were recognized.

Columbia College honored local firefighters, police officers and soldiers with a Salute to Security Day before and during basketball games Saturday at Southwell Complex.

The tribute featured a basketball game between the Columbia Fire Department and the Columbia Police Department, a ceremony praising both agencies and an appearance by soldiers from Fort Leonard Wood.

Service members were given free admission to both of the school's varsity games against the Williams Baptist College Eagles. In addition, the college accepted donations of money or supplies, such as Ziploc bags and toiletries, to the Ronald McDonald House from fans in lieu of admission.

Before the Columbia Cougars' varsity teams took the court, teams from the police and fire departments squared off in an abbreviated match attended mostly by friends and family of the players.

The fire department jumped to a quick lead with a 10-2 run, but the police rallied to within two points with less than a minute left in the half. Officer Brandon Crites sunk three foul shots in the final seconds of the half to put the police ahead, 19-17.

That momentum carried over into the second half as the police went on a 6-2 run and never surrendered the lead. The police won the game 45-20.

Officer Kevin Keith said the teams played hard and tried to compete against each other. He said it was rewarding to have fun while contributing to a charity effort.

"Any time you go to something for charity, it's a good thing," Keith said. "We tried to come out and play hard for a good cause."

The ceremonies continued as Columbia College took the court against its American Midwest Conference opponent. At half time of the women's game, firefighters Gary Warren and Mike Logan joined Keith and Officer Jason McClintic at the center of the court, where they were presented with a ceremonial basketball signed by both Cougar teams. The Cougars won that game, 84-61.

Before the men's game, members of the MU Navy ROTC presented the colors at half court for the playing of the national anthem.

At half time, Columbia alumni who are now stationed with a construction brigade at Fort Leonard Wood were recognized and given a ceremonial basketball signed by the members of both varsity teams. The Cougars went on to win the game, 93-51.

The soldiers were happy to be back at their old school and amid the supportive crowd.

"It's nice to be here. We like to come here and check out Columbia and we're very honored," Pfc. Ryan Hitchcock said. "Everyone here is really great and we appreciate it."

Columbia Assistant Athletic Director Ryan McDannold said the school wanted to give back while also recognizing the sacrifices of the emergency personnel and service members.

"We just felt we should do something for what the military and the police and the firefighters do for our community while also raising money for a good cause," McDannold said.

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