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Teachers compete, raise money to help Tyler Ponzio

Teachers at Ronkonkoma Middle School participate in a

Teachers at Ronkonkoma Middle School participate in a competition to raise money for former student Tyler Ponzio, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Jan. 18, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

As the final bell rang at Ronkonkoma Middle School on Thursday, students were filing into the gymnasium instead of clamoring their way out the door.

More than 200 students purchased tickets to watch their teachers “make fools of themselves” for a good cause, said Cathy Mongiello, a sixth-grade math teacher at the school.

“Teachers for Ty” was a faculty-organized fundraiser that split the teachers into teams to participate in games like tug-of-war, a three-legged sack race and a free-throw competition. All the proceeds from the event would go to the Ponzio family of Ronkonkoma, whose 14-year-old son, Tyler — a ninth grader at Connetquot High School  — was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Mongiello said Tyler, who was her student last year, went for his first treatment after Christmas and was undergoing his second treatment on Thursday.

“Tyler has always been there for everybody else and so has his family,” she said. “So we’re stepping up for Ty.”

She said Tyler is an honor student and dedicated athlete who is the captain of almost every team he’s on.

They raised about $1,250 in ticket sales and were selling $15 T-shirts with the slogan "Ty will win," rubber bracelets and other merchandise, Mongiello said.

“Every cent of that will go to the Ponzio family to assist with everything they need right now,” she said.

Inside the gymnasium, students filled the bleachers to cheer for their teachers and support their classmate. When staff members announced they’d be selling more rubber bracelets near the doorway, a line of students — cash in hand — formed almost instantly.

Samantha Lomangino, 13, of Ronkonkoma, said it was fun to watch her teachers run around the gym, but all the students realized they were there for something more important.

“I feel really bad for him,” she said. “This is a really good thing that we can do.”

Tracy Steininger, a math teacher at the middle school who was participating in the event, said all the teachers at the school were eager to support Tyler, although not without some friendly competition.

“The teachers here are ridiculously competitive,” she said. “They’re not even speaking to each other during the course of the day or the week prior. But in the end, we’re all good friends and we’re here for one reason.”

Tyler's mother, Christine Ponzio, 40, said the family was aware the teachers were organizing the event, but she didn't know the magnitude of it. She said for her and her husband, Michael, it was an eye-opening experience.

“You don’t really know, as a parent, the impact your child can leave on people,” she said. “You just know them as your child, so to see them all come together, it was overwhelming.”

She said she hoped Tyler could watch the event take place through video chat Thursday, but his treatment schedule prevented it. Instead, she said her family received text messages, pictures and video messages throughout the day and night.

She said he was laughing as he recognized his teachers participating in the activities.

“I think he’s amazing,” she said. “He’s getting a ton of medication and dealing with the side effects of chemo and not being able to go to school and not being able to play sports. He’s really positive. He’s very confident that he’s going to be OK.”

Pictured above: Teachers at Ronkonkoma Middle School participate in a competition to raise money for the family of former student Tyler Ponzio, who was recently diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma. (Jan. 18, 2012)

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