911 slugfest

Hammond fireman Mark Ramoska, left, and Gary policeman Del Stout participated Saturday night in the 911 Slugfest at the Hammond Civic Center.

HAMMOND — Would you dare to step into the boxing ring with very little, if any, experience?

Ever have your nose busted, your chin fractured, your eye blackened like a burnt steak and a few teeth knocked out — not all at one time, of course.

But you get my drift.

Several amateur fighters rose to the challenge at Saturday night's annual 911 Slugfest at the revved-up Hammond Civic Center.

The annual fundraiser has Region policemen, firemen and emergency personnel from Lake and Porter counties punching it out for charity in 13 one-minute bouts.

Among the night's most anticipated fights involved heavyweights Del Stout of the Gary Police Department and Hammond fireman Mark Ramoska. Stout had won the previous three times at this venue, while it was Ramoska's first appearance.

"I got my nose broken twice before, so it's all good," Ramoska said.

That's the attitude you need for an event like this. You're helping sick kids, many with terminal illnesses. You don't want to put the crowd to sleep, so you give everything you have until your last breath. If you're knocked out, so be it.

"My first year, it was all about (ego). But seeing kids fighting different illnesses with scars on their heads brought it back to reality for me," Stout said before their scheduled bout.

Promoters Jack and Karen Callahan had announced they would donate all proceeds to the Little Wish Foundation instead of Make-A-Wish as in past years.

Liz Niemiec, a 2012 Michigan City grad, is chief operating officer for the nonprofit 501(c)3 organization she began at age 17.

Her foundation works with the Pediatric Oncology departments of 13 hospitals in six states, including five in Indiana, and has granted more than 1,400 wishes to young cancer victims — putting big smiles on their faces and a reason to get through the day.

"Don't put me in the ring," Liz said. "I've never been to a boxing event. It's scary and I'm holding my breath no one gets hurt.

"It's so selfless and amazing that these men are willing to get knocked out for the kids. Firemen and police risk their lives every day, that's why I love them."

Downstairs in the locker rooms, Stout and Ramoska were busy prepping for their showdown.

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"I think last year they raised like 100 grand and it's going to a lot more kids this time with Little Wish," said the 31-year-old Ramoska, who played football and wrestled at Lyons Twp. High School. "I've always been into sports but it's been a while since I competed, so I'm doing it for charity and the fun of it."

Saturday's Slugfest drew more than 3,000 fans to the Civic Center, filling the main floor and much of the upper balconies.

You needed ear plugs from the opening bell.

As the police boxing team was introduced, the PA system played the theme from "Cops" and when the firemen appeared, we were treated to Earth, Wind & Fire's "Fire" as fans danced in the aisles.

They say cops and firemen share a fierce rivalry, which is good in any line of work. But they're not too proud to say they have each other's back during any emergency.

"There's a lot of joking that goes around, like (firemen) calling us donut eaters," Stout said, smiling. "It's kinda like a sibling rivalry. I'll try to hit (Ramoska) but I don't hate him."

Callahan, a Hammond fireman and former pro fighter, delivered a good-natured shot earlier in the evening.

"He told (the police) to make sure we eat plenty of donuts," said Stout, a 1987 Lake Central grad who weighed only 145 when he graduated.

He tipped the scales at 250 Saturday, Ramoska 269.

Jose Rivas of the Calumet City police and Hammond's Collin Andrisko were typical of the night's heated action, both warriors trading a flurry of blows until near exhaustion.

Rivas somehow gutted out a right shoulder strain to win an unanimous decision.

Now back to that Stout-Ramoska matchup.

On the very first punch he threw just seconds into the bout, Ramoska knocked Stout to his knees for a technical knockout.

Afterward, cop and fireman hugged.

And so it went this entire night.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com.