Oct 15 2020

Lacrosse Offers Hope, Sense Of Family In Film

“The Grizzlies” is a recent film that tells the inspiring true story about a town that suffered the highest suicide rate in North America. The residents found hope through the introduction of a lacrosse program for their teens.

Back during 1998, a recent college graduate (the film character Russ Sheppard) takes a job as a history teacher at Kugluktuk High School in the Canadian Arctic territory of Nunavut. Russ, a Caucasian, found that many of the Native students didn’t attend classes. They drank or took drugs, and the suicide rate was high. Crosses in the cemetery multiplied at an alarming rate.

Russ played lacrosse in college. He wondered if the game would give the kids a focus in life. He started a hard sell to spark interest, first speaking with the school’s principal and then promoting the program among the students with a flyer.

Russ was naïve about the culture. One girl helped him. She said that if he convinced two specific students to try lacrosse, the others would follow their lead. She told Russ to approach the students personally to show respect, rather than just hand them a flyer.

Russ learned that the problems faced by the teens extended into the home. Poverty, hunger, domestic violence and homelessness were part of the equation. One parent was drunk on the couch, forcing a student to forage for food for himself and a little brother. The girl helping Russ was abused at home. Another boy witnessed his father’s abuse of his mother.

These troubled teens, each suffering with his or her own problems, eventually found lacrosse as a new kind a family. Russ learned as much from his students as they from him. It’s the teens who build the team and keep it together.

“The Grizzlies” tells an interesting tale that brings a teacher and teens together through the sport of lacrosse. I would be interested in learning more about the actual teacher and his students who are the subject of this film, and where they are today.

May 01 2020

Lending A Helpful Glove

“Friends of the Champ” is a non-profit organization that supports ex-boxers in The Bronx and beyond who face a variety of personal challenges.

According to Michael Bernard, a founding member of the organization, “our main goal is to help individual souls living a destitute life.” The program traces its beginnings to a day more than 30 years ago when Michael first met three-time World Boxing Champion and Bronx native Iran Barkley.

Michael has been a physical education teacher for 40 years. A former student who became a police officer called Michael one day as he patrolled the streets. The officer reported that he found the champ sleeping on a bench outside the Patterson Houses. According to the officer, Iran appeared ill.

Realizing that many poorly educated older ex-fighters were experiencing financial and health issues, Michael, Iran and others founded “Friends of the Champ.” Today, Iran is living comfortably with his wife in a two-bedroom apartment.

The 40-member group recently held its first fundraising gala. Not every member is a boxing fan. However, each member is concerned about the plight of all former athletes who once worked hard at their chosen crafts but now face various hardships.

“Friends of the Champ” (718-823-5083) is looking to continue to raise awareness about the mission and spur growth in the organization. The group plans to contact boxing legends Tommy Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and others as it expands its reach to help additional ex-boxers.

High school, college, amateur and professional athletes regularly support a variety of causes. For many years now, “Friends of the Champ” has reversed the game plan, lending its helpful glove to former boxers.

Dec 02 2019

Alan Hodish Is A Long Island Lacrosse Legend!

I have known Alan Hodish for many years and was pleased about eight years ago when he asked me to join him to champion the Hempstead PAL lacrosse program. The program is such a rewarding experience for me, especially when I have the opportunity each season to speak with the young players who are learning this great game.

Before he became involved with this wonderful program for grade school youth, Alan was a successful assistant coach at Levittown Memorial High School and C.W. Post, and then he held the reins for many years as head coach for the Hempstead High School varsity lacrosse program. Alan turned around the Tigers boys’ program, creating one of the best high school boys’ lacrosse programs on Long Island.

After all these years, Alan, an attorney by day, still maintains his personal passion for lacrosse. The Hempstead PAL program is a natural fit for him. As he teaches youngsters about the game, Alan’s message to them is to remain “focused…I want the kids to be focused and I want them to take what they are doing seriously.”

Diversity in the game, whether today or during his earlier coaching assignments, always has been important to Alan.

“You have a lot of role models out there now…all the way back to Jim Brown,” said Alan. “Probably the greatest lacrosse player of all time right here from Manhasset High School. Not a better athlete than Jimmy Brown and he certainly is a role model to everybody, in particular the African-American community.”

Alan proclaims that lacrosse provides every athlete, no matter race, heritage, or family economic situation, with the opportunity to succeed, play at Division I universities and accomplish so much in school, in sports and in any chosen career. Featured as a Long Island Lacrosse Legend in this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EKUXzTH86gI&feature=youtu.be), Alan embraces a positive forecast for boys and girls youth lacrosse on Long Island and for the college and professional game.

For the kid who never played the game but wants to give it a try, Alan’s advice is that he or she just needs “to buy a stick and get on the wall…you go up against a handball court and you practice your catching righty, lefty, over the shoulder.”

It’s all about the fundamentals, according to Alan, that will get anyone started in the game.

“Pick up the skills, join a team and have fun,” advised Alan.

Oct 16 2019

Rugby Player Honored For Off-Field Contributions

Kraig Puccia was completing his junior year at Fordham University earlier this year when he was honored with the fifth annual Penn Mutual Life of Significance award. Presented at the conclusion of the Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship, the award included a $5,000 contribution to a charity of Kraig’s choice—the Tundra Women’s Coalition of Alaska that helps protect women and their children from domestic violence related to drug and alcohol abuse.

Kraig is an Italian studies/history double major from Queens. As a member of the Fordham Men’s Rugby Club since he entered the school, Kraig impressed the award judges both as a scholar-athlete and for his dedication to multiple off-the-field causes.

Kraig had traveled to Bethel, Alaska, with other Fordham students to work with the Tundra Women’s Coalition. He also had volunteered with the Queens District Attorney’s domestic violence bureau. This past summer, Kraig volunteered at the Urban Justice Center’s Veterans Advocacy Project, providing pro-bono work for veterans throughout New York City. Kraig has been involved in service projects since his first year at Xavier High School in Manhattan.

“The work has just felt like the right thing to do,” said Kraig, “but to get recognized for it was a nice chance to be retrospective. It was a nice chance to sit down and recognize what I’ve done, and not necessarily celebrate it, but to be grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.”

The award was presented to Kraig by Penn Mutual CEO Eileen McDonnell and Fordham alum Joe Jordan. In fact, Joe, a football scholar-athlete member of the Fordham Ram’s Hall of Fame, created this rugby collegiate award to highlight the lessons of his book, Living a Life of Significance, that emphasizes a purpose-driven life in the service of others.

Following graduation, Joe found success in the insurance industry. He was a senior vice president at Met Life and played rugby recreationally for 30 years. He convinced Penn Mutual’s CEO to support the rugby tournament as a way for the company to connect with young people and to show them that a career in the financial services sector can be compatible with living a purpose-filled life.

Kraig, Joe, Eileen and Penn Mutual! Great job all around.

Oct 01 2019

Where Young Patients Can “Just Be Kids Again”

Tim Tebow made a splash on the college football field but he has not enjoyed the same success on the professional football and baseball levels. His good and open heart continues to beat strong, however, and this includes his work with ill children.

Earlier this year, the Tim Tebow Foundation opened its 10th Timmy’s Playroom. This new playroom is located at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, a children’s hospital in Florida. The space allows kids to escape from their medical conditions and enjoy life. Tim gives children in hospitals a chance to “just be kids again.”

“Hopefully, it can bring a brighter day for so many in their darkest hour of need,” Tim said in a video posted by AdventHealth. “That is our goal, to encourage and uplift people, especially when they’re going through such a tough time…”

The playrooms include a football field floor, specialized lockers for seating, tables for arts and crafts, flat-screen televisions, video games, toys, interactive games and other activities. The playrooms also display Tim’s favorite Bible verse: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13)

The foundation’s mission delivers faith, hope and love to pediatric patients and their families. The playrooms are “creating a space where children can heal in a very unique way,” according to the foundation. Timmy’s Playrooms can be found at other hospitals in Florida and at hospitals in Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and the Philippines.

Each playroom has been recorded as a huge touchdown in all the scorebooks. Tim Tebow certainly is a star off the field!

Aug 16 2019

“One Goal…One Dream” For Half Hollow Hills Vs. Autism

When he entered Half Hollow Hills High School East, Drew Quinto focused on his classes, new teachers, mingling with old friends, meeting new acquaintances and playing lacrosse. He also remained close to Corey, his older brother.

During April Autism Awareness Month of his freshman year, Drew started a nonprofit foundation – Hills Vs. Autism – to celebrate Corey. Drew looks up to Corey, who has exceeded every stereotype associated with autism, graduating SUNY Purchase with a 4.0 grade average, living on his own in Manhattan and taking care of his personal needs. Drew’s commitment to “One Goal…One Dream” to help make a difference for kids and young adults with autism immediately was embraced by his parents along with the Half Hollow Hills Central School District in Dix Hills.

One of the most successful fund-raising initiatives for the foundation is the annual Hills Vs. Autism lacrosse tournament. As many as 20 Long Island teams participate each July in the day-long event that is capped by the alumni game between the Half Hollow Hills East Thunderbirds and the Half Hollow Hills West Colts. The program has raised more than half a million dollars.

As a Hills East alumnus, I was invited to participate in this year’s program and present a new lacrosse award* that will be part of the event each year. I am honored to again acknowledge outstanding student-athletes who are successful on the lacrosse field, in the classroom and in the community. I’m even more honored to have this award associated with the cause to help our young people who face the challenges of autism. Drew Quinto, another outstanding student-athlete from Hills, and his family have moved mountains in only a few years. Learn more about the accomplishments of Hills Vs. Autism at http://www.hillsvsautism.org/

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*During halftime of this year’s game between Thunderbirds and Colts alumni, the Colts Christian Mulé received the first annual James C. Metzger Mark of Excellence Alumni Cup. The award was established to honor outstanding accomplishments on and off the lacrosse field by a Half Hollow Hills East or Half Hollow Hills West player. Future awards will be presented at the alumni game as part of the Hills Vs. Autism program.

Mulé scored 105 points as a junior, 103 points as a senior and 331 for his high school career. He set district records that included breaking Metzger’s scoring record for points in a season (102 in 1977) that had stood for more than 40 years. Mulé has committed to play lacrosse at Duke University.

Jul 15 2019

Harry Carson — Superstar Who Prefers To Make A Difference

Harry Carson is a Super Bowl champion with the New York Giants. He also is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yet, Harry always states that his greatest accomplishments come from his off-the-field activities.

Harry recently received the John V. Mara Sportsman of the Year Award that recognized his many contributions beyond football. The award is presented by New York’s CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) Club.

“You may not know it now,” Harry told the audience, “but five, 10, 20 years from now, many of these young people currently in the CYO programs will thank you for making a difference in their lives. I’ve been a world champion and have accomplished a lot, but to me there is nothing better than making a difference in the lives of others. That is really the greatest award.”

The recognition was presented by John K. Mara, co-owner of the Giants, in memory of his uncle. Harry played 13 seasons for the family-run Giants and he was selected to nine Pro Bowls. During the presentation, John said that Harry embodies all the qualities of a sportsman and a leader.

Harry has donated his time to many charities, including United Way, Boys & Girls Clubs of America, Boy Scouts of America and Habitat for Humanity. He founded Minority Athletes Networking with former Giants teammates George Martin and the late Ron Johnson. Members of the organization serve as positive role models for young people.

As he accepted the award, Harry credited the Giants for providing him with a unique platform that allowed him to connect with people of all ages and all backgrounds. Harry added that he is proud to represent an organization that always encouraged him to pursue his personal goal of making a difference in the lives of so many people.

Jan 02 2019

Fighting Irish Help Bronx Residents For The Holidays

A few weeks ago, Notre Dame football played in the Shamrock Series against Syracuse at Yankee Stadium. It was a time for the Fighting Irish to shine on the field but also an opportunity to be of service to the community.

About 100 alumni and friends participated in the alumni association’s project at a Manhattan hotel, packing more than 400 Thanksgiving meal boxes for families and wrapping more than 100 gifts for children supported by Part of the Solution (POTS), a multiservice agency for the poor in The Bronx.

Besides football, Notre Dame always supports a community it visits. Since the game was in The Bronx, the alumni identified POTS as an organization to support. POTS is a one-step shop, offering services for people moving from crises to stability to self-sufficiency.

Each meal box was packed with potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, apples, corn, green beans, cranberries and a store voucher for a turkey. Whenever Notre Dame plays in a special event or bowl game, it supports the local community. Service is a large component of the university culture. In this instance, the football games is the centerpiece of the school’s visit to New York City but the community support is the crowning jewel of what Notre Dame is all about.

The New York alumni group includes The Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and Westchester and Rockland counties. The alumni reflect on their time at the university and reflect the values of giving back to the community that they learned during those days.

Notre Dame did win the football game, but that takes a backseat to the smiles they brought to needy families during the holidays.

Dec 02 2018

Let’s Go Mets! - An All-Star Hospital Visit

Michael Conforto, the young Mets all-star outfielder, always prefers to lead by example. He does this on and off the field.

Michael completed the first from the time he started to play baseball. His leadership has continued during his first several years in the major leagues. Now, he is expanding the second by extending his relationship with the Mets community.

This past season, Michael visited The Cancer Center for Kids at NYU Winthrop Hospital and its Children’s Medical Center in Mineola. “Conforto Cares” is Michael’s program that raises awareness about pediatric cancer and the challenges faced by its young patients.

For a while, “Conforto Cares” regularly had hosted young patients and their families at the Mets Citi Field home. Michael, however, decided that he also wanted to visit the youngsters at their temporary home where they receive their daily treatments. This past summer, during the first of many visits, Michael distributed Mets t-shirts to the patients and family members. He also provided pop-up replicas of the Mets home-run apple. Autographs and photos, of course, were a popular feature with the kids.

Back at the ballpark, whenever the children and their families visit, Michael and the Mets string together a series of hits for a memorable day. Their guests receive a tour of the stadium and the Mets clubhouse. They learn about scoreboard operations, and this includes seeing the magic button that raises the authentic home-run apple in centerfield. The children also practice their swings in the batting practice cages. Then, it is time for lunch with Michael.

Michael’s goal is to help these children forget about the rigors of their treatments and just enjoy themselves as kids. “Conforto Cares” is a grand slam!

Jan 15 2018

Primary Care Assist For Amateur Hockey Community

A wife of a college hockey coach is not only married to the man. She is married to the game.

Mary Gosek long ago embraced her role in upstate Oswego and throughout the larger hockey community. According to her husband, Mary knew everyone. Ed Gosek is in his 15th year as the head coach at the State University of New York Oswego.

Mary was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a few years ago. The community she knew so well rallied to support her. Hockey Coaches Care is just one group that skated to center ice for Mary. The program provided a grant that helped her receive tests that were not covered by her health insurance.

Last year, a healthy Mary attended the Hockey Coaches Care banquet to thank everyone who had supported her and her family. She also championed the many others who have been helped over the past 15 years by the program.

Anyone who has played the game here on Long Island knows that the hockey world is a tight community. We see this regularly on the National Hockey League level as the league, teams and players frequently support a variety of causes. The same occurs in the game’s amateur and youth ranks, and many of us have seen the outpouring of love right here in the rinks of Nassau and Suffolk counties.

Since its founding, Hockey Coaches Care has awarded more than $100,000 in grants for coaches, their family members and amateur players. The Goseks will ensure that the program continues to grow to help other families.

At the banquet, Mary stated that the amount of a grant is not the most important aspect of the program. The emotional connection to the hockey community, she said, is the key component that helps people in their time of need.