By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn's court officers are responsible for the security and protection of the city's judges, court employees, and the general public, which can often be a tough job. As a means of letting off steam, these officers have participated in their own softball league for many years. Not only do their games help to relieve stress, but they also serve as a way for the officers to build camaraderie. But due to recent budget cuts and heavy caseloads, the league, which has formally existed since 1988, is now in danger of dying out.
“We were running strong for quite a while, then interest started waning and budget cuts the last couple of years have really hurt us," explained John Allan, the league's commissioner for the past two seasons.
"With the compressed schedules, guys are working four days a week. If their day off is on Wednesday and they live out on Long Island, there is no way they are coming back here for a softball game."
Court officers serve in the Criminal, Supreme, Civil, Surrogate, and Family courts throughout Brooklyn. “People think Criminal Court is the worst, but each has unique issues and they’re all tough," Allan said. "Some people think family court might be easier, but people can get very emotional and upset there. Nobody leaves happy when issues are so sensitive.”
Providing security, monitoring problems, and going on prisoner runs are among the court officers’ long list of tough tasks. Starting in the 1970s – in an effort to add some lighthearted moments into their lives – court officers began participating in city municipal leagues. “Gloves had three fingers back then,” joked former commissioner Mike Magliano.
Eventually, in 1988, the court officers broke off and formed their own league. In its heyday, there were 16 teams participating from each court. Some courts even organized more than one team, and in addition, judges, legal aid, correction officers, and even the district attorneys had their own teams.
Games were intense, too. The league typically started in April and sometimes played all the way through October. Games were played as many as five times per week, and afterward, most of the players convened in the local bars that sponsored the league.
While the league has not yet officially terminated, it seems as though they may have played their last game. In addition to the strain imposed by budget cuts, the men in the league have gotten older and have started families. What used to be 16 teams dropped to 12, and then to 10, and last year, the league was comprised of a mere five teams.
In fact, last year was the second time in the league’s history that there was no championship game or trophy presentation at the end of the season (the only other time this occurred was after 9/11). The absence of these events may have been the death knell.
“We could never get a good date to complete the final round, and we did not have our annual post-season trophy presentation, either,” Allan said. “I think that has affected interest in the league.”
While there is some hope that the officers can pull off the league this year, it seems grim. Typically, they start playing at the beginning of April, but a lot goes into preparing, from securing permits, to buying baseballs, to finding umpires, and collecting money. Starting the season on time seems like an impossible task, but some are holding out hope that they eventually get it together.
“It would be a sad day because it was a tradition that has been carried on for many years, long before my time,” Magliano said. “You would think that officers would be eager to participate in something as rewarding as this.”