HAMMOND | They held a boxing card at the Hammond Civic Center Saturday night and a love-in broke out.
Nearly 3,000 fight enthusiasts, friends and family members filed into the old barn at 5825 South Sohl to cheer the inaugural 9-1-1 Slugfest which pitted region firemen against policemen in three one-minute rounds.
Proceeds went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Porter County Sheriff David Lane got the crowd pumped and ready to rumble with his stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
Fire wore red, police blue.
And rumble they did.
It should be noted these were not chubbies who couldn't touch their toes or throw a punch without a chiropractor present. Firemen and cops are in great shape. The lives of others depend on that.
They all fought as if they hated each other but afterward, exchanged hugs and handshakes that came from the heart. I think.
The first bout barely lasted a minute as Hammond fireman Jeremy Patton put a sweet dreams on Munster policeman Erik Holloway with a Thor-like right that shook dust from the rafters.
And so it went much of the night, fists of fury, flailing away, no excuses.
Style wasn't always present. In bout 3, Gary cop Del Stout and Hammond fire fighter Phil Kotlowski staged an alley brawl, with the latter knocked down several times but determined to finish.
He couldn't. Stout won on a technical knockout.
"I'm so disappointed. I worked hard for this," Kotlowski said. "Oh, my God. He hit hard."
Compassion also brought Kotlowski to the arena on this night.
"I have a friend whose daughter is sick. I did it for her," he said.
There already was a line extending from the front entrance of the Civic Center several minutes before doors opened and ticket sales began.
Inside, punch lines flowed like fountain water between fighters as they passed by the ring area.
"Are the ambulances ready?"
"Who do I see about taking a bribe?"
""I must be crazy doing this. No. I AM crazy."
Former pro boxer Jack "The Kid" Callahan and wife Karen were the 9-1-1 promoters. This was their labor of love and the army of volunteers, police and fire departments, and the participants that made it possible proved overpowering.
An hour before the card began, both were scurrying around the old barn like fugitives.
Asked which made him more nervous -- fight night years ago or this Slugfest -- Jack was quick to answer.
"Tonight," he said. "I want it to be a successful event. Man, it's starting to fill up and people are standing (in line) outside.
"I'd like to thank everybody for helping us make (children's) wishes come true. I think it's gonna be a good show. Just the light show, alone, is breath-taking."
This was all in fun, you know, with only a few fighters having any amateur experience. Raise money for Make-A-Wish Foundation and leave the ring with all your teeth.
Even so, I asked Jack, a long-time fire fighter, how many knockouts he expected.
"I'd say four," he replied. "Of course, I hope it's policemen getting knocked out."
Besides welts, bruises and bloody noses, each participating fighter received a medal and a challenge coin.
The winner of each bout received a championship ring guaranteed not to turn your hand green.
And the winning team was awarded a team trophy to take home until next year.
But the real winners Saturday night were Make-A-Wish children Jacob Hilliker of Hobart and Amy Jongsma of Crown Point.
Both are only 7 years old.