'Tis the season for compassion

Sachem East's Anthony Messina controls William Floyd's Steve Sachem East's Anthony Messina controls William Floyd's Steve Iannone for back points in their 126-pound match. (Dec. 19, 2012) Photo Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

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Gregg Sarra Newsday Columnist Gregg Sarra

Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer. ...

We kicked off the winter high school sports season with an incredible night of giving as the Sachem community came out in support of Sachem Takes Down Cancer -- a double-dual meet aimed at helping former All-County wrestler Paul Di Iorio. The 2008 Sachem East graduate is in the fight for his life against a rare form of cancer.

The teams at Sachem East and Sachem North hosted Floyd and Brentwood before a large and enthusiastic crowd Wednesday evening. The event was heightened by our MSG Varsity cameras for both dual meets, wrestled side by side, something never done before on Long Island.

"It was an extremely satisfying night," Sachem East coach Sean O'Hara said. "The wrestling community is family -- they're just so tight. They came out for a great person in support of his personal battle and showed how much we all care."

Sachem isn't the only place where the emotion flowed for a loved one early in this winter season. While the Flaming Arrows faithful from both sides of the district came together for all the right reasons, the bowling community in East Islip was planning to pay a season-long tribute to a loved one lost.

The death of beloved boys bowling coach Rick Papandrea, after a seven-month battle with stomach cancer, left the program stunned. Papandrea, a man who left an indelible mark on the sport, loved by both the boys and girls teams, was a key proponent of the sport and its influence on young people.

"Rick helped everybody, every kid that came into his pro shop," said East Islip girls bowling coach Harold Cooley, who knew Papandrea since they were teenagers. "It wasn't just about his program, it was about all the bowlers. And he would work with all of them. This was just a great all around guy."

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Through the first two weeks of the winter season the boys and the girls at East Islip are again rolling toward a shot at the county and state championships. The girls are averaging 1,005 pins per game and the boys hold a Long-Island leading 1,130.6 average.

"You know Rick is looking down on us," Cooley said. "His name is embroidered on the sleeves of all of their bowling shirts."

Papandrea, always thrilled to be a part of every big bowling event, will be missed.

The winter also offers us a chance to watch some of the top programs in track, fencing, wrestling and basketball. There is no one better than the girls and boys fencing teams at Ward Melville.

When you talk about dominance in any sport on any platform the Ward Melville fencers have to be included in the conversation.

The girls have not lost in 11 years, a 163-match win streak. The boys are in search of their sixth straight Long Island championship.

How about those encounters in the hallways of Setauket high school?

Who's more skilled in sabre, foil or epee, the boys or the girls? Touche'!

And on the track this winter watch for the Uniondale boys and girls indoor teams. The boys are out to defend the Nassau title and the girls will vie for the crown.

On the hardwood, the teams at Long Island Lutheran could win locally and at the state level. And on the mat, Wantagh, looks to repeat as the top-ranked Large Schools team in the state.

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We kicked off the season with compassion and in the holiday spirit. Here's to a glorious and healthy 2013. Happy Holidays to all!

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