The crosstown rival Edison and J.P. Stevens basketball teams are uniting for a common cause, turning their second meeting of this season into a benefit game for The Marisa Tufaro Foundation, whose mission is to help Middlesex County children in need.
During the shootaround before the Jan. 25 contest, which tips off 7 p.m. at Edison High School, players from both teams will wear specially designed T-shirts in their respective school colors.
The T-shirts bear the foundation’s official logo on the front. The words “Marisa’s Missionaries” are inscribed on the back under a basketball flanked by angel wings and positioned beneath a halo. The words “The Edison Eagles and J.P. Stevens Hawks fly with an angel to support The Marisa Tufaro Foundation” are also part of the T-shirt design.
“Having the opportunity to contribute and spread the word of The Marisa Tufaro Foundation is a great honor and coincides with what our team believes,” said Edison girls basketball coach Frank Eckert.
Marisa, who would have been a freshman at Edison High School this year, died last January at the age of 13 following a courageous battle with a rare form of stage IV cancer after a heart transplant.
“Our team philosophy is to fight to the end and to never give up. It’s the type of thinking that has given our team so much success. I’ve had the chance to meet Marisa a few times throughout the years and she truly was a confident person that would always push forward past any obstacle. Marisa was also a very generous person, which is why our team felt so compelled to be a part of the foundation’s mission.”
Since its inception less than six months ago, the foundation has already made a profound impact, assisting children associated with Bristol-Myers Squibb Children’s Hospital, Saint Peter’s University Children’s Hospital, Hands of Hope, Kiddie Keep Well Camp, the Lakeview School, Special Strides Therapeutic Riding Center, the Ronald McDonald House of Central Jersey and others. The foundation, which serves as Marisa’s legacy, is scheduled to announce two new initiatives in the coming weeks.
Frank Noppenberger, executive director of the Greater Middlesex Conference, who also serves on The Marisa Tufaro Foundation’s board of trustees, has known Eckert for years and praised him for hosting the benefit game.
“He’s a quality person and continues to demonstrate what a fine individual and great teacher he is,” Noppenberger said. “I’m happy to see his success as an educator and basketball coach.”
Under Eckert, who teaches physical education at Lindeneau Elementary School, Edison is currently ranked No. 6 in the Home News Tribune Top 10. The Eagles own a deceptive 4-6 record with their losses coming against teams with a combined 48-6 mark. Last week Edison proved its mettle, gutting out a 45-41 double-overtime victory against fourth-ranked South Brunswick.
J.P. Stevens, which lost its initial meeting with Edison, broke into the Home News Tribune Top 10 rankings last week. Since falling to their crosstown rivals, the Hawks have won four of their last five games with their only loss during that stretch to third-ranked Piscataway.
Noppenberger praised Edison and J.P. Stevens, noting that regardless of the game’s outcome, both teams are winners for working together to help children in need.
“Scholastic athletics is still one of the purest things,” Noppenberger said. “They can run an event like this for a great cause and for the right reasons. Helping others and learning to pay it forward – that’s what this game is all about.”
The Edison girls basketball team has been actively engaged in the community, spending time with a local Cub Scout troop before a game earlier this season and hosting a “Pink Out” memorial game for former township recreation director and NJ Rising Stars girls basketball program director John Spiess on Wednesday night.
“I just think it’s great how Frank, his staff and the girls are reaching out and doing what they can with the community and helping out the best they can,” Edison High School athletics director Jeff DiCocco said. “It just shows what a great bunch of young women they are in the classroom, on the court and in the community.”
Later this year, Eckert’s players will volunteer their time with the Herbert Hoover Middle School Marisa’s Makers Club, which Marisa’s former teacher, Shannon Marasco, moderates and formed in tribute to Marisa as a way of honoring her passion for crafting and desire to make others happy. The club’s mantra is “connecting to the community one craft at a time.”
Marisa’s mother, Cyndi, a 1988 Edison graduate and longtime educator in the district, and father Greg, a longtime Home News Tribune sportswriter, established The Marisa Tufaro Foundation in her loving memory.
Marisa was born with a complex cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries. A heart transplant, performed to extend Marisa’s life, tragically cut it short after a postoperative complication developed into a rare form of Stage IV cancer. After radiation and chemotherapy treatments failed to thwart the relentless onslaught of an aggressive disease that riddled her brain and body, Marisa succumbed to her illness following a valiant battle.
Despite keeping hundreds of doctor’s appointments and being hospitalized for more than two years, Marisa lived a vibrant life that inspired. Many of her former classmates from James Monroe Elementary School and Herbert Hoover Middle School are currently Edison High School students.
Prior to the Jan. 25 game against J.P. Stevens, players from Edison will distribute commemorative foundation silicone wristbands to classmates at the high school, while supplies last.
Volunteers from the foundation will be in attendance at the game to distribute thank you letters with information about the tax-exempt nonprofit to spectators.