Written by Mary Ann Kampfe
Members of the Knollwood School Girls and Boys Basketball teams claimed victory in the annual "March Madness" fundraiser held in the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School gymnasium on the evening of March 27.
"As an eighth grader, I was thrilled that the students took the 'bragging rights' back from the teachers," said Tori Hyduke, co-captain of the Knollwood girls basketball team. "I look forward to March Madness every year, and the excitement this year was off the charts."
After eighth-grader Jake Rallo performed a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, the students squared off against staff members from Viola L. Sickles and Knollwood schools in Fair Haven much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowd. As the final buzzer sounded, the score of the closely contested game stood at 85-81 in favor of the students.
The student-athletes prevailed in the "nail-biter" despite the best efforts of the 33-player strong staff team including Tracy "The Calculator" Cook, Phillip "Slam Duck" Duck, Karen "Flo-Sanity" Florio, Jeffrey "El Profesor" Hoffman, CJ "C-Lightning" Jarosinski, Kerry "Lay-Up" Leahey, Annie "McBuckets" McCarthy, Christy "Crisp-Cross-Over" Molnar, Hugh "X-Factor" O'Hare, Matt "En Fuego" Russoniello and Sue "Warrior" Wyckoff.
Knollwood School Principal Kevin "Dunkin' Davis" Davis and Fair Haven Superintendent of Schools Nelson "Super Psyched" Ribon took to the court as well. Sickles School Principal Susan Alston was one of the team's Coaches, and former Knollwood School Principal Thomas Famulary served as referee.
Student and staff cheerleaders rallied both teams at the sold-out event, which raised funds for the Booster Club at Knollwood School in support of athletic programs.
"The teachers work so hard for our children, yet still manage to make the time to 'hang out' with the kids at this special event," said Booster Club President Jennie Lucci, who provided a great deal of organizational support for March Madness.
Adding to the fun atmosphere were commemorative T-shirts thrown into the crowd, and giveaways such as foam fingers, pom-poms, and "banger" noisemakers
The Free Throw Contest, a yearly highlight, was held during halftime and featured semi-finalists who had won contests held at Sickles and Knollwood Schools leading up to March Madness. The victor in the Kindergarten through second grade category was Nick Rigby. Evan Quon won the contest for third through fifth graders, and Stephen Edler triumphed in the contest for sixth through eighth graders.
New attractions at this year's March Madness included a "spirit" giveaway to the first 100 students entering the RFH gym, and a "Coach for the Game" drawing for all spectators in grades one through five.
The winners of the Coach for the Game drawing were Grace Tambaro and Emily Gagliano. They were provided with official "Coach" T-shirts, clipboards, and coaching passes and were invited to sit with the teams on the sidelines.
"I am so thankful for everyone who participated in March Madness, whether by cheering, coaching, playing, or being a valuable member of the audience" said fifth-grade teacher Tara "Triple Threat" Mattison, who organized the faculty team roster. "My message to my teammates is 'Remember to ice up your injuries this weekend, and prepare for victory next year.'"
The faculty team prevailed in last year's March Madness, and had hoped to claim another win this year.
But the student team, comprised of sixth through eighth graders, had other plans. Still, a good time was had by all.
"What a great night!" said Davis. "The gym was rocking with cheering students and families, and with so many teachers participating, there was not enough room on the bench for everyone."
"I want to express my thanks to Jennie Lucci and the Booster Club for organizing such a great event, and thanks to the team at RFH for hosting the game."
Fair Haven Superintendent of Schools Nelson Ribon noted that Fair Haven is a special place, and events such as March Madness bring the area's strong sense of community to center stage.
"This fabulous high-energy event is great for so many, but especially for the hundreds of children who attended and for those who played against the staff," said Ribon. "Years from now, the score and the victor of the game will be forgotten, but the memories of this fun night will last for a long, long time."
"I know they will for me, and I can't wait for next year!"