'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride."
After serving as an attendant in a dozen weddings -- with the dresses and photos to prove it -- News 12 Long Island's Elisa DiStefano, 35, who delivers morning traffic news and entertainment reports to local viewers, was long familiar with this expression.
She wore a lavender three-quarter-length number to a sorority sister's nuptials in 2005, a navy satin halter job to a childhood friend's wedding in 2008, and that same satin halter gown -- this time in pink -- to her sister's celebration a week later. She even purchased, but never wore, a brown strapless sateen dress with a burnt orange belt when the wedding she was set to wear it in was called off at the last minute.
Despite standing by as her nearest and dearest married, when it came to her own happily ever after, she remained calm and philosophical.
"If it happens, it happens," she recalls thinking.
On Aug. 28, she wed Richard Morgan Cassara, 41, better known as Coach Mo to the many basketball players he's led, in a day that seamlessly melded the traditional and modern. Their formal ceremony at St. Thomas More Roman Catholic Church in Hauppauge was followed by a reception for 350 at Oheka Castle in Huntington, at which the bride, in her glamorous gown, got down on the dance floor to do "the worm," a scene-stealing moment that sums up the spirited event. But more on that later.
A shaky start
Before meeting Cassara in 2012, friends had urged DiStefano to go the route of online dating, which she resisted.
"Everybody thought I worked too much and never took time to meet anybody," DiStefano said. "I remember people saying I was too picky."
But she didn't want to settle, or spend what little free time she had enduring so-so dates.
"My friends would ask, 'What, do you think Mr. Right is just going to find you?' And I said, 'Yes, I do.' "
And in a way, he did.
Cassara, who was then head basketball coach at Hofstra University, and currently works as a TV basketball commentator, followed -- and was amused by -- DiStefano's Twitter banter with Jamie Stuart, News 12's sports reporter. Though Cassara had never seen her on TV -- and didn't even get News 12 at the time -- he asked Stuart about her. Stuart said he thought they might be a match, and asked DiStefano for her phone number to pass along. She refused.
"I didn't know anything about basketball or him," DiStefano said. "I told Jamie to give him my email."
A witty note led to a first date, which, by both accounts did not go well. DiStefano asked Cassara what his "real" job was, aside from coaching a Division 1 basketball team.
"In my mind, I thought I was a big deal, and in her mind, she was a big deal," Cassara said. "Our egos were crushed," he continued, but "we met our match."
A few dates later, love was a slam-dunk.
The Rev. James McNamara, the priest who officiated at the nuptials, duly noted DiStefano's absence from the traffic desk during her wedding.
"It took me a little longer to get here today," he joked. (You know, no traffic reporter and all). But the couple had a lot of their own navigating to do. With friends and family traveling from 19 states and four countries, a clever invitation by Adrienne Kieran of Ipanema Press in Cold Spring Harbor featuring a map of Long Island and corresponding events helped ensure that everyone would be in the right place at the right time.
"We had a lot of people to move around," said Cassara, who rented two full-size buses and several vans to transport guests from the ceremony to the reception. The bride and groom traveled in a white antique Rolls-Royce.
Alas, there was at least one jam. As DiStefano headed to the church from her parents' home in Hauppauge -- her hair perfectly coifed in a curly, side-swept ponytail with her long, ethereal veil trailing gracefully behind -- someone (she's not saying who) stepped on it, tearing the veil and some hair out of her head. The lacy topper could have been left ragged, but DiStefano's quick-thinking mom, Grace, raced back into the house, grabbed scissors and lopped off half the veil, replacing it on her daughter's head.
Sparkle was 'the color'
Despite the mishap, the bride looked stunning in her Kenneth Pool gown, a frothy confection boasting a crystal emblazoned bodice and piles of tulle as a skirt from the Wedding Salon in Manhasset.
"It was a classic dress ... with a party at the bottom," said DiStefano. Her shoes, glistening Jimmy Choos, were a thoughtful shower gift from a group of girlfriends. And her glam, exotic diamond earrings were her "something borrowed" -- these on loan from friend Idayne Kaye of Kravit Jewelers in Oceanside, who also designed the couple's wedding bands.
Sparkle was a recurring theme of the day.
"I didn't have a color for the wedding, so I guess you could say sparkle was my color," DiStefano said.
Even the flowers, a lush palette of white and champagne hydrangeas, roses and orchids -- some submerged in glass vessels -- featured strands of crystal accents, all by Brian's Flowers in Mineola. And four of Cassara's nieces, who were flower girls, wore poufy chiffon dresses from David's Bridal with sparkly little bracelets. The cake, a 71/2-foot-tall, eight-layer masterpiece created by Oheka's pastry chef, Daniel Andreotti, had alternating tiers of chocolate cake with white chocolate mousse filling and yellow cake with hazelnut mousse filling. The confection also boasted thousands of crystals and pearls amid the handmade sugar orchids, roses and buds.
All about the music
Few couples consult the guests beforehand about what songs will get them dancing, but the response card in the invitation asked just that. And it worked. With a band, The Mystic, and a DJ, The Echo Agency, the dance floor was mobbed the entire night. The first dance was a medley of sorts -- two songs with the same name, "Just the Way You Are," by Bruno Mars and Billy Joel.
"We chose two very different songs with the same name because Bruno Mars represents our time and Billy Joel represents our Long Island love story," DiStefano said.
One of the most emotional moments of the night came when the bride invited her grandparents Elena and John Giordano, both 88, onto to the floor. The couple, celebrating their 66th wedding anniversary, danced to their own wedding song, "You Made Me Love You," recorded by Judy Garland. There wasn't a dry eye.
"I didn't have a traditional wedding party, but I wanted my family involved," said DiStefano, who, in lieu of bridesmaids, had a matron of honor, her sister, Diana Savarese, and a man of honor, her brother, Thomas DiStefano.
"And how lucky am I to have both my grandparents there at my wedding?" she asked.
About halfway into the night, Long Island's own Kim Sozzi, a chart-making pop star and friend, performed, bringing down the house.
The night never really wound down as the throng moved on to the after-party in a separate room lit in neon blue. It's there that DiStefano busted her signature move, the aforementioned "worm," for which she lay belly-down on the floor and rippled in a wavelike motion.
"I thought my mother would faint," she said.
The groom, who changed from his tux into a white dinner jacket (both custom jobs from J. Ogilvy at Joseph & Joseph in Garden City), was unsurprised by his bride's dance moves. "She gave that wedding dress a full workout," he said with a laugh.
That dress, a bit of a mess at this point, hangs in her mom's house, and DiStefano has no plans to pack it away.
"I want to wear it on our first anniversary," she said. "I truly had the best time of my life at my wedding."