By Peter Schwartz
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Despite Mother Nature’s efforts, it was a beautiful evening at Hofstra University on Tuesday night. Sure, there was plenty of rain and two lightning delays, but it didn’t matter. Despite stormy conditions at Shuart Stadium, the end result was all that counted.
In fact, there was really nothing that could take away from the real meaning of the 20th annual UnitedHealthcare Empire Challenge, an All-Star high school football game presented by the Boomer Esiason Foundation, pitting Long Island against New York City. For the record, Long Island won for the fifth straight year, beating New York City 34-27.
But the final score was irrelevant.
Proceeds from the event support area youth football and the fight against cystic fibrosis. The money raised is distributed between the Gunnar H. Esiason Endowed Scholarship at Hofstra University, high school athletic programs, tickets provided to local youth groups and the cystic fibrosis community.
WFAN host Boomer Esiason started his foundation in 1993 when his son, Gunnar, was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. The BEF works with medical and business communities — along with volunteers — to improve awareness, education and quality of life for those who are affected by the disease. The foundation also raises money to help find a cure.
Without question, one of the highlights in the history of the Empire Challenge was when Gunnar played in the 2009 contest. Today, Gunnar is the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for his alma mater, Friends Academy on Long Island, and also serves as program director for his father’s foundation.
For me personally, the Empire Challenge is something that I look forward to every year. It is one of the premier sporting events on Long Island, and has really grown over the years. Aside from the fact that it’s all for a good cause, it’s a family event that has a little something for everybody. It’s always a privilege to attend.
The pregame fan fest is a big hit with the kids. The Islanders bring their mascot, Sparky, and the Ice Girls. The team sets up a bounce house and a prize wheel featuring photos of some players. The Jets are supportive of the event as well, as they bring their fan fest obstacle course, slides and quarterback challenge.
There was also a VIP tailgate party, musical entertainment and games for kids.
As for the game, Smithtown East quarterback John Daniggelis, set to play at Yale, was the brightest of the graduating seniors that participated. He was the game’s most valuable player with 121 yards through the air and a touchdown pass. He added 66 yards on the ground and a rushing touchdown.
For New York City, Poly Prep star Chris Parker was the player of the game with six catches for 119 yards. He totaled 219 all-purpose yards at wide receiver, running back and special teams. He will play at Rutgers next season.
A crowd of 9,628 braved the conditions on Tuesday night to support the cause and watch a high school football game. Some rooted for Long Island and some rooted for New York City, but all of them were there for the benefit of something more important.
They were all there to support some very worthy causes, and that is the biggest touchdown of all.
For more information on the Boomer Esiason Foundation, visit the organization’s website at www.esiason.org. If you couldn’t make it to the game but would like to help in the fight against cystic fibrosis, text “Boomer” to 90999 to make a one-time $5 donation.
The game was televised by MSG Varsity, with Kenny Albert and Marty Lyons on the call. To watch the game on demand, go to www.msgvarsity.com.