After the game was complete, members of the Gwinnett and Buford Student Leadership Teams (white shirts) posed with Gwinnett County police officers (yellow shirts) and Hall County firefighters (green shirts). Photo by Alicia Payne.

A good-natured but competitive basketball game pitted local law enforcement against firefighters in one of Buford High School’s gyms. 

Early in the game, a Hall County firefighter earns a personal foul for catching a Gwinnett County police officer. Photo by Alicia Payne.

The first annual Battle of the Badges, a fundraiser for the Buford Student Leadership Team, was held on Saturday, May 4. Officers from the Gwinnett County Police Department took on firefighters from Hall County Fire Rescue.

The event brought out the community for family fun and to root for their favorite branch of first responders. The game was refereed by Buford High School’s own Coach Gene Durden and Coach Jeff Ozment with students acting as the timekeepers and announcers.

Former Gwinnett police officer and current BCS SRO Aaren Dieffenbacher attempts to get the rebound. Photo by Alicia Payne.

Gwinnett County police broke out to an early lead which they kept for the entirety of the game despite a solid effort from Hall County firefighters. The Gwinnett County Police Department won this matchup 62-47 over Hall County Fire Rescue.

The entire event was organized by members of the Gwinnett Student Leadership Team and the Buford Student Leadership Team. 

The Gwinnett Student Leadership Team is a two-and-a-half-year initiative involving sophomores, juniors and seniors from Gwinnett County Public Schools and Buford City Schools. GSLT teaches students personal and organizational leadership skills, in addition to making them aware of the issues the communities that they live in face.  The initiative is sponsored by Gwinnett County Public Schools and the Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce plus other community agencies, institutions and businesses. 

During the game’s halftime, Kayla Burge and Tommy Olawole lead fun activities for the children watching the game. Photo by Alicia Payne.

“As part of Gwinnett Student Leadership, they really encourage you to do three things within your schools and one of those is give back in terms of student leadership and do some type of community service,” said Makimsey Morris, faculty advisor for Buford’s nine GSLT members.

As part of those principles of student leadership and community service, Morris and the GSLT members at Buford formed the Buford Student Leadership Team last year. The 35-member BSLT group are taught GSLT principles by members of the school’s GSLT. 

Both groups held a leadership summit earlier in 2024 and they had to do so on a limited budget. Morris said that while the high school administration does great at providing them with things when they ask, they want to show some initiative and earn funds of their own. This drove the group to brainstorm fundraising ideas.

Hall County fire goes for a basket as Gwinnett County police attempt to block it. Photo by Alicia Payne.

“So this fundraiser, we like this fundraiser a lot because it’s very different,” said BHS senior and GSLT member Tommy Olawole. “Not many other schools do something where they incorporate police officers and firefighters. It’s very community-driven down to the volunteers, people who are playing in the game and the vendors outside. We were like ‘What’s attractive and what’s fun and what can incorporate the community?’ so we thought of a basketball game.”

The planning process began in February and Morris took advantage of each member’s strengths to assign tasks. The students were assigned to contact the police, fire, get vendors, make signs, etc. Every single part of the event was planned out and executed by the students.

Players from both teams pose for a post-game photo. Photo by Alicia Payne.

“The planning process was very difficult but rewarding to see all these people come out to support and rally around to get a goal done,” said Olawole.

The first annual Battle of the Badges was a success prompting Morris to commend the students. “I am really proud of them. It was a lot of work and it was definitely a team effort,” she said.

Buford’s GSLT and BSLT plan on bringing the Battle of the Badges back next year and look forward to making it an even bigger event.

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