EDITOR'S NOTE: Since this story was published, Tully's has pulled its sponsorship from Law and Orders. The next Law and Orders event will be held in April at Applebee's. The UB Reporter will publish more details when they become available.
Published June 19, 2014
Most people don’t “get” the Law Enforcement Torch Run (LETR)—an international fundraising and public awareness vehicle for the Special Olympics organized by law enforcement officers—until they meet the athletes, says UB Police Lt. Mark Gates.
“I thought it was just a ‘torch run,’ but the athletes are so full of life and so appreciative of all you do,” says Gates. He recalls an instance when he took his son Carson, who was 9 at the time, to take part in the torch run for the opening ceremonies of the 2010 New York State Special Olympics in Utica.
“He knew I went around the state for these ceremonies, and thought I was just helping out—until he ran into the stadium and saw the athletes, the smiles on their faces, and heard them yell and cheer,” he says. “I turned to look at his face, and at that moment I could see he ‘got it.’”
In addition to the torch runs, LETR organizes a variety of fundraisers to benefit the Special Olympics of New York, such as polar plunges, golf outings and 5K runs. The local LETR will host another of its “Law and Orders” restaurant events from 5-8 p.m. Feb. 7 at the three Tully’s locations in Erie County.
Members of local law enforcement will team up with Special Olympics athletes and Tully’s staff to wait tables, bus tables, wash dishes, host and perform other tasks at the restaurants to solicit donations for the Special Olympics. Gates, who with other members of the UB Police Department will be at the Tully’s at 1459 Niagara Falls Blvd., Amherst, says the restaurants will allow Law and Orders to leave an envelope at each table to collect donations.
“It is a long night, but fun and rewarding,” Gates says of the Law and Orders events. “The athletes love being there and showing off their medals. It’s a great way to help out Special Olympics, to interact with the athletes, and promote our department and UB in the community. We get a lot of positive feedback from customers saying how great it is for us to been seen out of uniform and supporting such a great cause.”
UB Police Chief Gerald Schoenle Jr. praises the members of the UB Police Department who take part in LETR events.
“I am very proud of the men and women of the UB Police Department for their great work by giving back to our community and helping such a great cause,” Schoenle says. “Our UB community has also been very supportive by showing up that these events, and I look forward to seeing everyone on Feb. 7 at Tully’s on the Boulevard.”
Gates notes that the first Law and Orders event for the Special Olympics was held about five years ago at Applebee’s, and similar events have been held at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers, Joe’s Crab Shack and Dunkin’ Donuts.
The UB Police Department has been active in the torch run for around 20 years, Gates says, noting that he was asked to look into increasing the department’s involvement when Schoenle became chief in 2006.
“I soon learned that the torch run is much, much more than just a run for Special Olympics: It’s a family of police officers from different departments coming together to support the Special Olympics athletes of New York,” he says.
He notes that there is now a “college leg” to the annual torch run that starts at Canisius College and ends at UB, and the department participates in the Special Olympics Polar Plunge each year, with UB being named the top fundraising university for the past four years.
“Many of us volunteer our time to attend Special Olympic competitions to assist in the awards ceremonies and present athletes with their medals,” he says. “This is truly a moving and rewarding experience.”
Gates is a member of the New York State Law Enforcement Torch Run committee and recently was asked to represent New York State at the Law Enforcement Torch Run International conference in Indianapolis.
“Due to the leadership of Chief Schoenle, UBPD and UB are now very well-known—not only in the law enforcement community, but also in the community at large and throughout the state and internationally—for their support and participation in the Law Enforcement Torch Run and Special Olympics,” Gates says.
The New York State Special Olympics summer games were held at UB last year and UBPD helped lead the preparation and planning of the opening ceremonies, including preparing a video in which the torch was escorted around the Buffalo area and included segments with UB VIPs, including Schoenle, head football coach Jeff Quinn and President Satish K. Tripathi.
“The 2013 Special Olympics Summer Games will be back at UB and we plan on making the opening ceremonies bigger and better to enhance the experience for the athletes,” Gates says.