By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette — Dennis Brochey could have never imagined what he was starting 10 years ago.
It was just a simple idea to help out the Town of Lewiston Recreation Department.
“The very first Red Brick Bench Press Championship was a fundraiser for the Lewiston Recreation Department to update their weight room,” Brochey recalled.
A weight lifter and athlete all his life, Brochey’s concept was to charge an entrance fee to competitors, gather a few sponsors and hold the event in the village’s Red Brick Schoolhouse. With 23 lifters participating, the event was a success and the town recreation department got it’s new equipment.
The story could have ended right there. But Brochey got another inspiration.
“I was reading the Gazette and there was a story about the (U.S.) troops (overseas) needing things and how their families here had to pay to ship them over,” he said. “So I decided to have a bench press fundraiser for (the military families).”
He approached the brass at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and asked them what they thought of the idea.
“I think they though it would be something nice,” Brochey said, “and maybe it would make a couple hundred dollars.”
With double the number of lifters that he had at the first competition, Brochey’s event raised much more than “a couple hundred dollars.” It’s only grown larger since then.
“People started getting wind of it and by the sixth year we were at 100 lifters and then this year we had 134,” Brochey said.
The event became so large that it had to find a new home at the Connecticut Street Armory in Buffalo. It now features over 100 sponsors and over the last decade has raised $90,000 to assist military families.
Brochey shakes his head and smiles, when a reporter asks if he ever thought the event would achieve that kind of success.
“Oh yeah, I though it would be nice if we reached 50 or 60 people,” he said. “Now I can’t find a bigger event than this anywhere in the United States. It’s a good feeling to have that success.”
Lifters compete in individual and team events in three different divisions, the Open, Police-Fire and, just recently, High School.
His youngest competitor ever, showed up this year.
“We had a 3-year-old,” Brochey said. “His dad paid the full entrance fee and he had this set of styrofoam barbells and he lifted just like the other kids.”
Not surprisingly, with a special division for police and fire, the competition had become a favorite for Falls police. Officer Andrew Pappas, who started competing in 2008 when he was working for the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. is one of the Falls Police Team leaders.
“I did it just for fun,” he said, “and I had so much fun I wanted to keep doing it (on the Falls police force).”
With fellow Officers Kevin Maluchnik, Tina Zell and Kevin Henderson and Narcotics Detective Jay Reynolds, Pappas has helped steer the team to three consecutive first place finishes in the Police-Fire Division.
“(The Falls Police Team) they are the real thing,” Brochey said. “They are the real McCoy.”
With a department that numbers dozens of military reservists and veterans in its ranks, Pappas said the participation in the Red Brick competition makes perfect sense.
“We know what its like to put our lives on the line every day,” Pappas said, “but we have our families here for support, our troops (overseas) don’t have that. With all of our guys who served in the military and are still serving in the reserves, this is a big deal.”
Brochey said with U.S. troops scheduled to come home in 2014, he though next year’s competition would be the last, but now, he’s not so sure.
“We thought we’d have one, last, final challenge, but the we thought, because it’s been so successful, maybe we should keep it going,” Brochey said.
He said the Wounded Warriors Project or Western New York Heroes could be the new beneficiaries of the Red Brick Championship.
“I don’t think we’re finished yet,” Brochey said.