From Jim Kilty to Gary Gryder the HPD softball tradition goes on

Amanda Day

On April 8, 1976, Houston Police Officer James F. Kilty was shot and killed while attempting to serve a warrant.

At the time of his death there was an active police softball community in Houston, and so it wasn’t long before the James F. Kilty softball tournament was born.

Sponsored by the Houston Police Officers Association (now the HPOU), the Kilty Tournament grew to draw teams from all over the United States. At its height, the tournament boasted nearly 40 teams – teams fully comprised of full-time law enforcement officers. A lot of teams were very competitive, and a lot were “2 and BBQ.”

But that didn’t matter; they’d come out anyway to play and support a good cause.

In Houston alone, there were several major teams including the Javelinas, the Hurricanes, the Hawgs, the Marauders and the HPOA team, which is often referred to as the “best of them all.”

Softball wasn’t just important to the officers who played the sport, but also to their families who enjoyed long weekends away with their officers while on the tournament circuit.

The police softball community was a family – children running wild at the ballpark, wives cheering emphatically from the bleachers, players rushing the field after an extra-innings win.

A cop’s kid like me made her first friends at the ballpark, and when I was 14 the first boy to ever ask me for my phone number did so at a tournament. It was the Joe Zamarron tourney; I gave him my number, but I never told my dad, retired Senior Police Officer Paul Day, now a Harris County deputy.

(He’ll find out when he reads this story).

My “love connection” isn’t the only one produced by the police softball tradition. In the early 90’s, Debbie Gryder (HPD retired) met her future husband Gary while working in the Juvenile Division, and she has fond memories of watching Gary play in the Kilty tournament during the early days of their relationship.

Debbie says that he had been playing softball long before she met him and that their family got the “tail-end of it.” When he and Debbie married, he became step-father to Debbie’s daughter Jennifer and soon after the couple welcomed their son Austin to their family.

Gary played with the Javelinas during the early years of his police career and sometimes filled in with the Hawgs and the HPOA team, among others. He’d play shortstop, second base, outfield or anywhere that was needed. It wasn’t about perfecting a position, but about the camaraderie.

Debbie and Gary are just one example of many families who spent their weekends at the ballpark. Gary’s love of baseball and the softball sport is something he shared with his young son Austin, and that bond is something that Austin has carried with him for the last 10 years.

Officer Gary Gryder was killed in the line of duty on June 29, 2008.

Year after year police families have gathered across the country. My personal favorite tournament to travel to was Jacksonville, though Dad favored the Dayton and Vegas tourneys. As great as the traveling tournaments were, the Kilty tournament rivaled these and others as a premier softball tournament that northern teams looked forward to traveling to for the warm weather. It didn’t really matter if we played in the Midwest, the North or back at home, so long as our team family was together.

Though the Kilty tournament has not been produced in years, I think its high time that we bring back the community of BLUE families  — a community that comes together to watch friendly competition and support one another in good times and the worst of times.

This year we are passing the torch from the tradition established for the Kilty family to the Gryder family.

On this coming June 29 – the 10-year anniversary of Officer Gary Gryder’s death – we’re  hosting the First Annual Gary Gryder Memorial Softball Tournament. Sponsored by the HPOU, the tournament will raise funds to establish the Gary Gryder Memorial Fund. Our goal is to honor the life of Officer Gryder and all the lives of our fallen officers, especially those who were a part of this extraordinary community.

The best way to honor them is to bring police softball home to Houston and that’s what we’re going to do.

To register for the Gryder tournament, please email me at mandyleeday@gmail.com.

We are currently working to produce a short video about Gary and the police softball community. If you were friends with Gary, worked with him or you previously played in any softball tournaments during the 80’s, or 90’s and would like to share any stories or photographs, please email me at the same email address.