There’s a new sheriff in town and Brian Washburn has the shiny new badge and Yosemite Sam-style hat to prove it.
He wears both proudly, as one of the 43 financial recipients of the recent South High Marathon Dance, which saw students raise a record $831,191.
Washburn, 59, is the event’s long-time volunteer chief of security, but this year he found himself in a new role, as someone needing help instead of giving it. He’s been out of work for several months, faced with expensive medical bills, while battling bladder and prostate cancer.
“It was very difficult being on that side of it this year,” he said. “I’m used to being behind the scenes.”
“It’s hard to be a recipient because it’s so hard to stand in front of people and say you need help,” said Washburn’s wife, Sally. “It’s so much easier to give than receive.”
They’ve both been active helpers at the dance for more than 20 years, ever since their son, Tim, and daughter, Kristen, who graduated in 1999 and 2002, respectively, were involved.
In recognition of Brian’s dedication and hard work, Moreau Town Justice Jeff McCabe presented him with a handsome gold badge during a brief ceremony prior to the two-day dance’s start. It’s the same design and quality, complete with an official blue State of New York seal, as those worn by regular law enforcement officers.
The inscription reads: Chief of Security, South High Marathon Dance, 1994.
That’s the year Washburn started helping out.
At the time, McCabe was the Village of South Glens Falls Police Department’s D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer in charge of Marathon Dance security. He recruited Washburn to help because Washburn had experience as a Glens Falls Civic Center security worker, which led to some pretty interesting situations during hockey games and rock concerts.
He recalled one bench-clearing brawl back in the 1980s when a player climbed over the glass into the stands, and a separate fight broke out between players in the locker room tunnel.
“All I could do was duck and pray,” Washburn said, laughing. “Later, we were watching a video of it in Red Wings coach Bill Dineen’s office. He came in and said, ‘Brian can you skate? I need a new goon.’ It was hysterical.”
When McCabe became town justice, Washburn succeeded him as Marathon Dance head of security, which now involves 50 volunteers, plus nearly three dozen uniformed and undercover officers from several agencies — state police, Saratoga and Warren counties sheriff’s offices, along with South Glens Falls, Glens Falls and railroad police.
On a more humorous note, McCabe also presented Washburn with a large brown hillbilly-type cloth hat, complete with a silver-colored sheriff’s badge.
It’s one of many things Washburn has to smile about these days, as doctors recently gave him a clean bill of health. After being diagnosed last August, he underwent three rounds of chemotherapy before having his prostate and bladder removed. Doctors used part of his small intestine to build a new bladder.
“Chemotherapy worked,” Washburn said. “It did what it was supposed to. Cancer didn’t spread outside the bladder. At the dance, everyone was giving me hugs and high-fives.”
“His prognosis is very good,” his wife said.
Sally, an MRI technician at Saratoga Hospital, said she’s amazed at how the Marathon Dance has become a region-wide event.
A few years ago, a portion of money raised benefited the seriously ill child of a Saratoga Springs City Schools bus driver. Ever since, Saratoga has provided volunteer drivers and buses to shuttle spectators to the dance, and drivers have raised money to pay for fuel.
Also, once again this year, some money is benefiting non-profits such as CAPTAIN Youth and Family Services and Rebuilding Together Saratoga County.
Each year, near the end of the dance on Saturday night, all recipients are given dinner and brought together for a chance to meet each other. This is an activity Sally Washburn has coordinated each year for the Marathon Dance. But like Brian, she found herself on the receiving end of things this year.
“Sometimes I think the emotional support is more important than the financial support,” Sally said.
She said Dance Marathon students, volunteers and neighbors have been extremely supportive since her husband was diagnosed with cancer. Some people have dropped off meals, while others have showed up to rake leaves or shovel snow.
“This is an amazing community,” Sally said. “It really renews your faith in youth, too. I think the biggest Marathon Dance recipients are students. They’re much better people for what they do. I’m so grateful my children were involved.”