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Holiday spirit at Oyster Bay tourney

Girls basketball players from Oyster Bay, Uniondale, Roosevelt and Greenport/Southold donate toys to Gardiner Foundation, which focuses on community outreach in the Bronx.

From left, former Oyster Bay girls basketball head

From left, former Oyster Bay girls basketball head coach, Sandy Rossen, far left; The Gardiner Foundation Inc. founder Dexter Gardiner, Sherri Gardiner  Carlton Jay, Elloy Cassell. current Oyster Bay girls basketball head coach Rex Rossen, far right; and Oyster Bay girls basketball team captains, Katrina Zucconi, Elizabeth Reilly and Sophie Kaiser pose for the Oyster Bay Lady Baymen's Toy Drive during the 14th Lady Baymen Holiday Tournament at Oyster Bay on Dec. 12. Photo Credit: Richard T. Slattery

Sometimes, it’s about way more than basketball.

In the welcome address to those in attendance at the opening of the 14th Oyster Bay girls basketball holiday tournament on Dec. 12, former Baymen coach Sandy Rossen reminded the players, parents and coaches why they were really there.

For the fourth straight year, Oyster Bay hosted a holiday toy drive in conjunction with the Gardiner Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Dexter Gardiner in 2006 that focuses on community outreach in the Bronx.

Rossen, whose son, Rex, now coaches Oyster Bay, met Gardiner years back and immediately felt the urge to help.

“This time of year, I think the concept of family comes into play, and nothing epitomizes family more than Dexter and [his wife] Sherri Gardiner” Sandy Rossen said to the crowd. “What they do for their Bronx community is really impressive.”

Athletes from Oyster Bay, Uniondale, Roosevelt and Greenport/Southold (which traveled two hours to the event) donated toys for children ages 1-13, with nearly 100 collected and added to the Gardiner Foundation’s fundraising efforts of more than 700 toys.

“It’s just huge that everyone is participating,” Oyster Bay junior Elizabeth Reilly said. “Every team brought toys. It makes us all happy.”

Uniondale won the tournament with a 56-42 win over Oyster Bay on Dec. 14, and Knights coach Nolan Dunkley said the lessons learned mean more than basketball.

“That’s what I preach to the girls, the measure of giving,” Dunkley said. “If you give, you can get in return. Right now, we’re living in a society where it’s like, ‘What can you do for me?’ But if you give without even thinking, that’s more of a blessing than receiving something.”

Gardiner, who started the foundation after six of his family members died in a car accident, decided to dedicate his life to helping those in need. He hosts a memorial basketball tournament, Thanksgiving turkey drive and a toy drive, as well as various other community outreach events.

The Baymen also participate in the turkey giveaway and helped the foundation distribute 1,300 turkeys this November.

“If you have the ability to change someone’s life, you have to do it,” Gardiner said. “I think that’s what makes the foundation what it is. It’s like a million dollars to me. It’s just a joy that it brings me.”

Gardiner said that the Oyster Bay girls basketball program “built a bridge” between the Bronx community and the Long Island girls basketball scene. Even with dissimilar circumstances, basketball is the similarity that binds.

Said Rex Rossen: “It shows that, even that we’re opponents, it’s way more than basketball.”

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