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Lacrosse tourney raises spirits, funds

Jimmy Knap, 13, of Garden City hugs Matt

Jimmy Knap, 13, of Garden City hugs Matt Castellano, 14, of Garden City during the challenge lacrosse game during the 15th annual Jay Gallagher Memorial Tournament in Garden City. (June 17, 2012) Credit: Steve Pfost

Danny Collins, 18, a student at South Side High School in Rockville Centre, scored three goals Sunday in the 15th annual Jay Gallagher Memorial Foundation Lacrosse Tournament. But no one was keeping score.

Collins, who has Down syndrome, was playing for one of two challenger teams, which comprise children and young adults with disabilities. On these teams, parents and coaches said, it's the experience that counts.

"It's the camaraderie, the cheers, being part of a team, being the same as the other guys," said Brian Collins, Danny's father and coach of his challenger team.

It was the second year that the two challenger teams, from Garden City and Dix Hills, played in the tournament, which drew more than 120 teams and 6,000 players and spectators from six Northeastern states to St. Paul's Recreation Complex in Garden City this weekend.

Hours before Sunday's games began, Danny Collins was thrilled. "Game! Excited!" he told his mother, Jenny Collins, of Garden City.

Tony Randy, the tournament's organizer, started the event to honor Gallagher, a 1970 graduate of Garden City High School.

Gallagher, who co-captained his high school lacrosse team, played in college and coached youth teams. He died of melanoma in 1992 at 39.

Randy, a Garden City dentist, said it was an obvious choice to add the challenger teams to the tournament.

Over the years, the event, which began as a small tournament, has grown exponentially. Organizers expect to raise about $90,000 this year, to be split evenly among three cancer charities -- The Miracle Foundation, The Andy Foundation and the Mollie Biggane Melanoma Foundation. The tournament has raised more than $700,000 since it began.

The event also honors Ryan Kohart and David Leistman, Garden City residents who died Sept. 11, 2001. Leistman and Kohart were traders at Cantor Fitzgerald.

Denise Ludemann said her son James, 8, who has a mild form of autism, has blossomed playing lacrosse.

"Since I am playing this year, I feel very confident that my team's going to win," said James, as he took a break on the sideline. "I have such great players on my side."

Volunteers shadow the players on the field. Mark Ellis and Patrick Niebler, both 18 and graduating seniors at Garden City High School, volunteered Sunday.

"It teaches you patience, to be appreciative of what you have, to not take anything for granted," Ellis said.

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