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Duel on the Hardwood Aids Wounded Warrior Project

Howell Middle School South faculty remain undefeated in battle with students

Tim Preston figured he'd be hearing about it Wednesday.

"I know they're going to be trash-talking," the Howell Middle School South eighth-grader said, after the students fell just short against the faculty team, 57-54, during Tuesday night's benefit game to aid the Wounded Warrior Project. "I'm just not sure how bad it might be."

The game -- which has been held almost annually for more than 10 years -- brings the school together in a fun way while at the same time bringing awareness to a cause.

Arthur Perez, a special education teacher at the school who also serves as student council adviser, said in the initial years the game, which was started by Cherie Reid, the former student council adviser, benefited the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

In 2007 Reid and Perez shifted focus to the Wounded Warrior Project.

"The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were dragging on then," Perez said, and one thing they noticed was how many of the soldiers were coming home with serious injuries.

"The technology has improved so much that there are so many men and women surviving wounds that they would have died from in previous years," he said. "It hit me real hard. Being aware of what was happening, it (supporting the Wounded Warrior Project) was something I wanted to do."

Reid had already been involved with honoring soldiers killed in action with a butterfly tree that was the focus of a news program in 2010. The tree has been displayed at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia and has more than 6,000 butterflies representing more than 31 states.

"Cherie agreed with me," about raising money for the Wounded Warrior Project, Perez said. The efforts have raised between $1,200 and $1,500 per year, he said.

That number looked to be exceeded this year, with what Tom Feaster, the building principal, said was the biggest crowd he's seen for the event.

"As a veteran, it's pretty special that they chose this," said Feaster, who was a lieutenant commander in the Navy and served from 1970-1993. "It's a terrific cause."

The Wounded Warrior Project assisted wounded veterans who are returning from duty in a variety of ways, from providing therapy to prosthetics to helping them find work.

"Just to be able to help someone who has been fighting for us means a lot," said Preston, who has uncles who have served in the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Julia Harvey, an eighth-grader on the girls middle school team, said it was fun playing against her coach, Steve Milkowski, and the other faculty members, including Vice Principal Pete Goodall.

"It was tough," she said, "but they play for fun."

Milkowski, who played in the first benefit game the school held, said he enjoys showing his players that he can play basketball as well as coach.

There's only one problem, he said.

"They stay the same age, and we keep getting older," he said with a laugh.

Perez said the game was a success because so many people chipped in to help, including the school's Parent-Teacher Organization, headed by Carol McAleevy; the referees who volunteered their time; teacher Bonnie Vella, whose husband donated the T-shirts for the faculty team, science teacher Alexis Burke, who manned the concession stand because she can't play any longer. Sixth-grader Alex Morton volunteered to coach the student team, Perez said, and Ryan Foley, the student council president, rallied and marshalled the student volunteers.

"We even had a kid who showed up dressed up as Gumby," Perez said.

The faculty members who participated were Tara "Third-Degree" Byrnes; Josh "Point O" Caruso; Trish "Air" Sorrentino, Kathy "Clutch" Lynch; Steve "The Milkman Always Delivers" Milkowski; Danielle "Mama Gi" Gianelos; Chris "Trigga" Seiler; Pete "Plasta Baby P Block" Goodall; "Hatin" Kaitlyn McNerlin; Mr. Klein "The White Castle" and Mr. V "The Burger King."

Playing for the students were the 8th-grade members of Howell South's middle school basketball teams: Kevin Bailey, Diana Bajramovic, Stephanie Bock, Brian Chaballa, Marissa Crafasi, Ryan Goodwin, Julia Harvey, Britanny Lucey, Troy Miller, Matt Morton, Taylor Pietrangelo, Tim Preston, Russel Quinlan, Zach Rucci, Nicolette Runko, Emma Winkley and James Wynne.

And, last but not least, Chris Pietropollo was Gumby.

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