Team spirit — returning students challenge faculty

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:09

Bring in a ringer and you just may win, By John Church Ogdensburg — “We expect to win by a lot.” That was gym teacher Earl Hornyak before the state of Friday night’s fundraising basketball game between the Ogdensburg School teachers and alumni. If you consider three points a lot, then he was correct. “The teachers have only lost one out of the last four games. Our team will score in the triple figures,” he predicted. That part came true. Approximately 130 people came out to watch the annual event which was first held “...about 24 or 25 years ago,” said Hornyak. Keeping with tradition the teachers brought in a “ringer” to help keep the game close. The grounds on which the secret player was eligible to play were shaky, to say the least. “It is my ball and I make the rules,” said Hornyak, invoking the cardinal rule of all ball games. This year’s secret weapon was Joe Byrne, holder of the Ogdensburg School basketball scoring record, which still stands to this day. Byrne, who plays basketball for Nyack College, is majoring in education with a concentration on mathematics. His eligibility for Friday’s game was based on his being scheduled to be a substitute teacher for three days in May. “The competition looks pretty good,” said Byrne as he checked out the opposition. “It will not be a walkover.” A new player, Dennis Pallozzi, the school’s interim superintendent, earned his keep on the faculty team by sinking several shots from the outside and he also contributed to the defense. The faculty has wasted no time getting him involved in extracurricular activities. He only started as superintendent in January. Teacher and head referee Amy Schoonmaker sat this one out. “I’m not playing tonight,” she explained. “My fiancé won’t let me play. I’m getting married in a month. He knows I’ll play 100 percent and he doesn’t want to see me coming up the wedding aisle on crutches.” The game begins Schoonmaker cleared the court of spectators and got the players down to business. The evening suddenly turned serious. The teachers were the first to score and they set the pace for the first half. At the half the teachers had 51 points, barely keeping pace with Hornyak’s triple digit forecast, and a 15 point lead over the alumni. “They are old and they are getting tired,” said Walkill Valley High School senior, Xheleil Vukel as he headed to the locker room. “We’ll come out after the break and get at them real quick.” Returning to court the faculty expressed widely differing attitudes about the second half. “We’re coasting now,” said teacher John Fierro. “We’ll pick it up in the second half,” advised Byrne, when reminded of Hornyak’s forecast and aware of the fact that the alumni were still a threat. Despite continuing to miss shots from close under the basket and from medium distances, the alumni hit enough three pointers to keep the pressure on. By the beginning of the fourth quarter they only trailed by four points. With six minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock the game was tied at 84 points. Breaking the tie Just one minute later, the faculty fell behind by three points and Vukel’s halftime appraisal of the faculty seemed accurate. Drawing on experience, the faculty made a last ditch effort. With a slim lead and time running out Hornyak worked the ball up the sideline but was jumped by two students who leapt from the stands. Schoonmaker quickly put down the spectator revolt and the faculty shook off the interruption. With the alumni continuing to miss easy shots from close in under the basket and from the outside, the faculty was nearing its prediction of winning. From that point on the faculty made nearly all their shots and held out until the final buzzer. The final score: 104 faculty to 101 alumni. “The game has changed so much over the years. It used to be the men’s faculty against the boys 25 years ago,” said substitute teacher John Kibildis about the now co-ed teams. “The girls’ game has improved so much.” Soaked with sweat — and some with noticeable limps — the faculty exchanged post game congratulations with the alumni and posed for group photographs.