Golfers were calling Great Bend Police Chief Dean Akings "Payne" — as in Payne Stewart — Friday at the Club at StoneRidge. Akings and his fellow team members emulated the late golf pro Stewart by wearing old-style bloomers and tam-o-shanters for the annual Law Enforcement Valor Awards Golf Tournament.
Thirty-six teams joined the four-person scramble tournament, which raises funds for an annual tribute to Kansas officers who went above and beyond, sometimes making the ultimate sacrifice. Each year during the Kansas Joint Law Enforcement Conference held in May, Valor Awards are presented. But it’s the money raised at the August golf tournament that pays for the awards and allows the honored officers to attend the banquet. There are Bronze Awards for outstanding achievement, Silver Awards for extraordinary action that saved or prolonged a life, and Gold Awards recognizing uncommon valor in the line of duty. The Chief’s Award is given posthumously to an officer who died in the line of duty.
Two officers received the Chief’s Award for 2010: Samuel Smith from the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Luke Nihart from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. Smith, 23, was killed in an automobile accident on July 23, 2010, while responding to a domestic disturbance call. Nihart, 32, was killed in an ATV accident on June 26, 2010, while working the Country Stampede music festival at Tuttle Creek State Park. A memorial display for both officers was set up at StoneRidge for Friday’s tournament.
Newton Police Chief Jim Daily, a former Barton County Sheriff and president of the Kansas Association of Chiefs of Police, was among those who attended the tournament, which Akings has organized for 19 years. "I appreciate seeing everyone again. It’s like Old Home Week," Daily said.
"The awards banquet has been going on 33 years," Daily said. "Last year we had 160 applications (for Valor Awards) and we ended up giving 40 awards."
Returning to the tournament for the second year was Kansas native Harry Herington, a retired police officer who continues to work on a goal of taking his Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic motorcycle to 50 state capitols for Ride4Cops. The website www.Ride4Cops.com explains more about his mission to raise money for a program that helps the surviving families of deceased officers.
"One hundred twenty-seven officers have fallen this year so far, a 22 percent increase over last year, which was a record year," Herington said. Death by gunfire has increased 34 percent, apparently a reflection of increased lawlessness in hard times. "Law enforcement officers are the front troops."
He also recalled the approaching 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2011, terrorist attacks in the United States. "We lost 411 emergency workers in that tragedy."
Prior to the shotgun start to Friday’s tournament, golfers received a welcome from Mayor Mike Allison, and Great Bend Middle School seventh grader Allison Muth sang "The Star Spangled Banner."