- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 7, 2002

The ceremonies, memorials and church services have already begun as the first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks approaches, but this weekend, Jimmy Georgilis, a New York City firefighter, is playing softball.

Mr. Georgilis, 40, from Engine Co. 261 in Queens, is part of the FDNY's over-40 team participating in the 29th annual International Association of Fire Fighters Muscular Dystrophy Association Softball Tournament.About 110 teams are competing in this year's tournament at Watkins Regional Park in Upper Marlboro. Teams began play at 8 a.m. yesterday and did not start their last game until 12:30 a.m. today. They will start play again at 7 a.m. today and go until half past midnight. Tomorrow, the championship game will be played at approximately 8 p.m.

The $250 registration fee per team, as well as profits from concessions and T-shirts sales generate about $60,000 a year to support MDA. In 28 years the event has generated just under $1.5 million for MDA, according to Capt. Kevin Reilly of the Prince George's County Fire Department and tournament director.

Competing in this year's tournament are three teams from FDNY, two teams from the Arlington Fire Department, and two teams from the D.C. fire department.

Firefighters Billy Johnston, Tommy Casoria and Kenny Watson, who played with the New York teams last year, died on September 11.

Yesterday, the first day of play commenced under a clear blue sky and bright sunshine. Music was piped over loudspeakers in the pavilion in the middle of the five fields throughout the day, and people milled around or sat under large white tents, drinking beer, laughing, talking and eating.

For Mr. Georgilis and his teammates, who wore hats emblazoned with the words, "We Will Never Forget," and with Billy Johnston's name on them, the approaching anniversary of September 11 is reopening wounds.

"Everyone knew someone," he said. "We sacrificed so many guys. Imagine guys you knew growing up, played ball with, partied with, went to school with, gone."

Asked how he felt about that, Mr. Georgilis said, "I don't have to describe anything, because you inside know, as an American, how that feels."The tournament is playing a special role this year, said Capt. Reilly, who has organized the event for 18 years.

"They're here to relax and be with their brothers and sisters. Not to forget. Just to get away from it a little bit," he said.

"When they go home, they're going to have all the memorials to deal with. This is a little bit of a respite for them."

Mr. Georgilis acknowledged that this week will be tough.

"It's going to be hard because a lot of guys don't know what to do on September 11. Each guy deals with his grief differently," he said.

"It's just something we hope we never have to go through again."

Each man on the New York team lost good friends that day, he said.

Scott Hawkins, from Engine 220 in Brooklyn, who played for the first four innings, then kept score for the team, said five of his friends died at the World Trade Center.

"I couldn't wait to come back here," he said of the tournament.

Charlie Sollin, 46, from Engine 287 in Queens, has four brothers and brothers-in-law in the fire department. None of them died. Although he is grateful for that, he said the last year has been the worst year of his life.

"The most horrible part was in the first couple of months, reading those lists" of firefighters who died.But yesterday was not the time to think about those things as Mr. Sollin stepped up to the plate in the second-to-last inning, with his team down four runs and the bases loaded. Mr. Sollin, a tall, gentle man, smacked the first pitch over the centerfield fence, tying the game.

Frank Vultaggio, from Truck 147, who smoked cigarettes in the dugout and was wearing an American flag bandanna, knee braces, and red spandex under his shorts, had been yelling and stalking all over the place. The New York team won 22-20.

He yelled even louder, smacking every hand in sight, screaming over and over, "Huge."

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