Passion and Purpose – League organizers Vinny and Ann-Margaret Duminski,  right, pose with their children Tyler and Victoria, and coach Greg  Caggiano. Lori Oliwa photo
Passion and Purpose – League organizers Vinny and Ann-Margaret Duminski, right, pose with their children Tyler and Victoria, and coach Greg Caggiano. Lori Oliwa photo

By Lori Anne Oliwa and Christina Leslie | Correspondents

Two recent fundraisers by Mother Teresa Regional School students and staff proved sports and service can be woven together to benefit the community. The Atlantic Highlands grammar school used football- and floor hockey-themed activities to raise funds for pediatric cancer research and local hurricane relief while teaching its students the value of teamwork and helping others less fortunate.

Pigskin proficiency came to the fore Sept. 13 as the school participated in the “NFL Play 60” program, the National Football League’s campaign encouraging youngsters to be active for at least 60 minutes per day in attempts to reduce childhood obesity.  Students wrote football-themed essays, learned a cheer, and played in a flag football game officiated by retired NFL referee, James Quick. Other fashion-forward youngsters and their teachers donned football jerseys and donated $8.00 for the right to have purple hair extensions for two weeks.

“Combining both events in one day was inspired by the example of [linebacker] Mark Herzlich, the Giants rookie who battled Ewing’s Sarcoma,” stated MTRS principal, Melissa Whelan Wisk. One of the MTRS students, Rachel Kovach, also suffers from the disease and has been active in raising funds for pediatric cancer research. “When phys ed teacher Mrs. [Tracey] Platenyk mentioned the NFL Play 60 program, we combined the two into one event,” Wisk noted.

On Sept. 24, the school and local businesses joined together for ‘Hockey Cares,’ a hurricane relief fundraiser to benefit local victims of Hurricane Irene. MTRS coach Greg Caggiano and husband and wife team Vinny and Ann-Margaret Duminski coordinate the school’s “Street Devils” floor hockey league and proposed the fundraiser. “People in this community were hit hard, and we wanted to show the students that a little bit of help can add up to something big,” noted Vinny Duminski. Ann-Margaret continued, “We took our passion for the game and decided to turn that into something which would encourage the students to give back.”

The event, which was sponsored by the New Jersey Devils hockey team, generated over $1,000 through the sale of admission, raffle, and special contest tickets. Funds will be donated to the American Red Cross Jersey Coast Chapter in Tinton Falls to offset the costs of shelter and supplies used during the recent storm. New Jersey Natural Gas will provide an additional $1,000 donation to match what was generated by the event.

Professional hockey team the New Jersey Devils donated hockey sticks, pads, and pucks for use by the students, as well as sports memorabilia for the raffle, including a stick signed by goalie Martin Brodeur and a puck signed by left wing Zach Parise.

Former New Jersey Devil’s Center Jim Dowd attended to sign autographs and to conduct a skills-demonstration workshop. He was mobbed by a crowd upon entering the gymnasium and delivered heartfelt advice to the children. “Staying in school is the most important thing you can do. Maintain a positive attitude, surround yourself with positive people, work hard, listen to your coaches and teachers, stay out of trouble, and read as many books as you can,” Dowd advised.

Several hockey games included players from the youngest students up to teachers, parents and alumni. Wisk, who described her participation as “very competitive,” scored a goal in one of the games and also won the ‘Score-O’ contest with a strikingly accurate shot. She expressed pride in the way students support causes, something she said is a hallmark of Catholic education. “Our students approach the staff with ideas and are accustomed to helping others. It’s all very exciting,” she concluded.

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