On Sept. 24, 2011, NYPD Finest 1 was scheduled to shoot for its fourth win in the Detective James W. Matthews Sr. Scholarship Foundation Law Enforcement Basketball Tournament. Begun in his father’s memory, Connecticut Corrections Officer James Matthews Jr. wanted to create a legacy in remembrance of a great officer and a great man. Several teams were slated to make the trip to Hartford (Conn.) to play in support of the non-profit organization.
Unfortunately just days before it was scheduled to begin, and after much consultation with Hartford Chief of Police Daryl Roberts, Matthews Jr. made the tough decision to cancel the tournament. For only the second time in 12 years, and on the one year anniversary of his mother’s death (her illness created the need to cancel it the first time), the tournament court would be silent.
Lighting the foundation’s fire
Det. James Matthews Sr. was the first African American to make detective with the Waterbury (Conn.) police department. He served 25 years before retiring and becoming head magistrate. The way he conducted himself professionally and privately influenced many people, the community and his only son.
“When you have a father, especially one who felt like how my father felt about the police department, it was a blessing,” Matthews Jr. states. “My father was my best friend. When he wasn’t working, all my youth, what I remember was being with him. He was an old school type of guy. He grew up in North Carolina. His word was his bond. As his son, I always had to carry myself in a certain manner because of the love and respect I had for him. I didn’t want to let him down or embarrass him. Being the son of Detective James Matthews, I felt eyes were upon me. Every police officer at the time knew I was his son.”
Matthews Sr. influenced other members of the family as well. “Growing up around James taught us discipline, how to manage our time and also how to be graceful and not put yourself above others,” explains Sidney Trotman, Matthews Sr.’s nephew, a Connecticut corrections officer and vice president of the Matthews Scholarship Foundation and Tournament. “He believed in sitting down and having family dinners. He was letting us know be your own person, don’t do things that are going to get you into trouble, help others, make yourself proud and that will automatically make your parents and community proud.”
Matthews Sr. suffered from diabetes and watching his father deteriorate had a profound effect on his son. In 1992, after his father passed away, Matthews Jr. moved back to Waterbury. “I noticed a lot of officers didn’t really know my father,” he explains. That lit the fire that became the Matthews Foundation and Tournament. “This man made history with this police department and these guys don’t know about it. I wanted to do something to keep his memory alive.”
The basketball tournament, the main fund-raiser for the scholarship fund, was originally open to the public. “It was a small little seed that grew,” Trotman says. “We started with a 3-on-3 with law enforcement mixed in. We took baby steps. It could have been any sport; we just chose basketball. We listened to the teams and we listened to people. We switched to law enforcement.” The tournament is open to any public safety member — security, EMS, fire, police, sheriffs, bail bondsman, etc. Matthews Jr. recalled one year Rhode Island Attorney General Patrick Lynch played.
Several years ago, the tournament moved from Waterbury to Hartford with strong support from the now-chief Roberts.
“We moved it five or six years ago and I’ve been involved since I was assistant chief. It’s a positive for young people in the community. In an urban environment, it gives them something to look forward to.” The cancellation of the tournament and the future of the fund weigh heavily on his mind.