Jun 15 2021

Fields Are Filled With Beautiful People

Everyone enjoyed opening day during May for the Beautiful People baseball league in Orange County. Following the lifting of COVID restrictions, players were able to have some outdoor fun, see old friends, meet other players for the first time and return to the large grass field, the rubberized field and the tee-ball field.

Beautiful People is pleased, as we all are, to begin to place the pandemic far away from the ballpark. The 14-year-old charity unites athletes, parents and volunteers. It is part of the national adaptive baseball Miracle League. The local organization recently added soccer, basketball and cheerleading to its programs.

For some athletes, such as Parimala, this was their first time on these ball fields and possibly their initial exposure to baseball. Meanwhile, a boy in a Day-Glo orange shirt quickly donned a helmet, clutched his bat and ran with old friends toward one of the fields. Elsa, a black lab service dog accompanied nine-year-old Kenny to most places on the field but stood back and only watched as the boy spun his motorized wheelchair to catch the ball when he played first base.

The 120 athletes in the league are from towns throughout Orange but also from Sullivan County and New Jersey. They have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other health concerns. The games are not just for children. Since programs for older youth and adults are limited, the players’ ages range from six to 32.

Beautiful People attempted a variety of virtual programs over the last year. Some were more successful than other online activities. The goal was to keep the community engaged during the pandemic and provide a vital outlet and release for the athletes and their parents.

COVID reduced the number of “buddies” to shadow the players now that they are back on the field. The preferred ratio of adults to players at Beautiful People is one-to-one but that is not possible right now. The loss of volunteers is an issue that all nonprofits have endured during the pandemic. League organizers hope the ratio quickly will adjust during the coming months.

It’s one step at a time, with the first day on the fields on a warm Sunday featuring plenty of whoops and cheers.

It’s nice to be back!

May 01 2021

Striking Out Stars Nothing To Sneeze At

Eddie Feigner never played a major league baseball game. But he became famous as a barnstorming showman with his four-man softball team.

Eddie’s team, known as the King and His Court, traveled around the world, similar to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Along with Eddie, the team only fielded a catcher, first baseman and shortstop. Spanning more than five decades beginning during 1946, the team played approximately 10,000 games in all 50 states and more than 100 countries for 200 million fans. Many from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Westchester recall seeing Eddie hold court.

The former U.S. Marine, whose pitches were clocked as fast as 104 miles per hour, was known for throwing from behind his back, between his legs while kneeing and blindfolded. A 2002 list of the 10 greatest pitchers featured Eddie along with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

Eddie’s most impressive feat may have been when he struck out six straight major league hitters during an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium during 1967. The batters were the top stars of the time—Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew. Each player won a Most Valuable Player award during the 1960s, and all but Maury are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

To honor his service as a U.S. Marine, Eddie and his team often played against military personnel at bases and on the decks of aircraft carriers. Considerable amounts of ticket profits were donated to charity. Following Operation Desert Storm, Eddie placed veteran support as the chief charity for game proceeds.

Eddie made light of his relative unknown status in the sports world. When Sports Illustrated named him the most underrated athlete of his time during 1972, he replied, “I’m a pipsqueak because I’m caught in a nothing game. It’s like being a world-champion nose-blower.”

Eddie has been gone for about 14 years, but he remains vivid in the memories of so many fans and the many others he helped with the proceeds from the games.

Mar 15 2021

Empowering The Girls Of Long Island

The girls of Long Island have great friends at Girls on the Run. The local council of Girls on the Run International is providing our young ladies with virtual and in-person programs during these unusual times.

Girls on the Run delivers a physical, activity-based, positive youth development program for girls from third to eighth grades. The girls who participate in the programs develop and improve competence, become more confident in themselves, develop strength of character, respond to others and themselves with care, create positive connections with peers and adults, and positively contribute to their community and society.

More than 100 girls in Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in last fall’s programs. All sessions are led by trained volunteer coaches.

Practices during the eight-week program are held outdoors. Participants and coaches maintain social distance and employ proper sanitary/protection materials that adhere to local COVID-19 guidelines. When weather isn’t favorable, rain dates or virtual lessons mirror in-person lessons.

Girls on the Run also offers financial assistance for families on a tight budget to ensure that no girl is unable to participate in the program.

Parents have been positive about the Girls on the Run programs. A mom of a fourth-grade student noticed “a very positive change in her overall attitude and behavior.” Another parent of a fifth-grade student indicated that her daughter “really enjoyed it and looked forward to going to practice very Wednesday and Friday.

Learn more about Girls on the Run Long Island at www.gotrlongisland.org . Besides girls for the programs, the organization seeks women and men as volunteers for a number of opportunities, including team coaches.

Congratulations to everyone who supports this wonderful program for the girls of Long Island.

Nov 15 2020

Marty Lyons Grants 8,000 Wishes For Ill Children

On March 4, 1982, Rocky was born to New York Jets defensive tackle Marty Lyons and his wife. Marty recalls that the moment was a tremendous joy.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck the Lyons family during the following days. His father died from a heart attack at the age of 58. Two days later, a boy of five who Marty served as a Big Brother, died from leukemia.

What should have been a happy time for Marty instead left him shaken. Known for his toughness on the field, he now was searching for answers.

Eventually, Marty realized that highs and lows are part of life. Then, he said, it dawned on him that “this was the platform God gave me, to play in the NFL, and use that platform to help terminally ill children.”

The pain now made sense to Marty and it gave him a purpose beyond professional football.

The Marty Lyons Foundation began later that year. The organization’s mission is to grant wishes to children between three and 17 years old who have a terminal or life-threatening illness. Wishes can be a trip to Disney World or a laptop for schoolwork from the hospital.

Marty clearly remembers the first wish that came to the foundation. The young man, Steven, hoped to attend the Super Bowl in Tampa when the Oakland Raiders played the Washington Redskins.  Marty asked the Jets organization for guidance. The Jets organized a press conference to announce that they would be granting the wish and raised awareness for the new foundation. Unfortunately, Steven passed away before the foundation granted his wish. Despite only briefly knowing each other, Steven impacted Marty’s life.

Steven was proud to be the first wish for the new foundation. The boy’s father, shortly after his son died, gave Marty some insight on how to proceed — “Just remember one thing: do it because you want to do it. Don’t do it because you want to read about it.”

Close to 40 years later, Marty’s foundation now has operations in 13 states. Almost 8,000 children have received their wishes. Hundreds of wishes await funds to be granted.

The foundation actively is fundraising and seeking donations as the number of wishes far exceeds the financial resources provided by donations. Ninety percent of all donations are dedicated to the wish program.

Marty accomplished much on the field, placing him in the Jets Ring of Honor. His legacy, though, will be his work with the foundation, though he insists his contributions are nothing compared to the young people who are fighting life-altering diseases. He always states that the boys and girls who pass away are teachers and that the rest of us need to take the time to develop relationships with them and listen to their messages.

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.