Wyandanch officials and coaches were overjoyed Tuesday that the New York Jets rescued their football season, donating $25,000 to help keep the team playing this year.
The donation, announced this week at the school’s football field, pushed the financially strapped district past the $350,000 it needed to restore its sports programs this year amid deep budget cuts and staff layoffs.
“I’m surprised. I’m shocked,” said varsity football coach Josh Shields. “It’s great that we have this for the kids. It is great everyone is coming down and wanting to chip in for the community because it is a great community.”
Wide-eyed members of the team watched as former Jets fullback Tony Richardson and Elijah Hodges, Jets coordinator of youth football, presented an enlarged symbolic check to the district.
Other donations from philanthropists, along with a state grant of $150,000 from the Suffolk County Police Department, have given the district enough funds to operate its full sports program for the year, said Wyandanch Acting Superintendent Gina Talbert.
Sports and all after-school programs were cut after the district enacted a $69 million contingency budget following the rejection by voters of two proposed budgets that would have raised taxes 40 percent and 20 percent, respectively.
The district officially authorized fall sports on Friday after it raised enough money.
“When we found out about this school here and in particular this high school football team, it was a very short conversation: Let’s help,” Hodges said. “One of the main things that we like to do here within the organization of the Jets is remove barriers of access.”
Richardson said, “It takes a community to lock arms and put something like this together.”
Talbert said the Jets had “made a deposit, they’ve made an investment into the lives of our scholars. What you’ve done today, you’ve increased attendance in school. … You’ve sparked dreams and made childhood memories a reality for our scholars.”
One player, Jaden McNaughton, 18, said he thought the season was going to be canceled but now that it has been saved, “I am going to make the best of it.”
“Sports helps basically all of us on this team stay in school,” he added.
The Jets connection was made through West Islip philanthropist Steve Castleton, who started off the fundraising drive two weeks ago with a $10,000 donation. Castleton also works with the Jets on military aid activities.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who helped arrange the police department grant, said he played football at North Babylon High School.
"I think this is going to be a big positive step forward for this district," Bellone said.
The Wyandanch team’s season opener is Sept. 13 at Greenport High School.