The Fort Lee Lady Bridgemen basketball team fell to the Dumont Huskies Tuesday evening at , 46-35, in a matchup of Big North Conference foes.
Fort Lee trailed by scores of 14-1 after the first quarter and 22-6 at halftime but rallied to within as few as eight points after a three-pointer by Ally Long—the senior guard’s second three-point shot of the fourth quarter—late in the game before time ran out on the team’s hopes for an epic comeback.
The loss dropped Fort Lee’s record to 8-12 on the season as they prepare for the upcoming state tournament. Earlier in the evening, the freshman girls came from behind to win their game, 28-24, and the JV team lost in a nail-biter, 54-53.
But Tuesday night was about more than just basketball.
It was Fort Lee’s second annual “Coaches vs. Cancer” game to raise money for the American Cancer Society; the girls decorated the gym to raise awareness of the various forms of cancer, and local businesses and families donated food, drinks and baked goods, with all proceeds from the sale of refreshments going to the organization that funds research and helps people fighting the disease.
By the end of the evening, the tally was $710, but varsity head coach Stacie Zafiris said that number may well go up because the remaining food was going to be sold Wednesday at school, and several people at , where she teaches, told her they planned to donate.
“It feels amazing; I’m very proud of the girls from all three levels, especially the varsity team,” Zafiris said. “I thought the gymnasium looked amazing tonight. I think they did a really nice job, and they stood up for a really great cause. It’s very dear to my heart, and it’s very dear to theirs.”
She added, “It’s something that we hope that we can continue to do in Fort Lee.”
Long and Megan Gimson, both of whom have been on the varsity team since their freshman year, were excited to learn how much money the event raised, and said it felt great to be a part of it.
“Last year we did only pink, and this year we tried to bring more attention to other kinds of cancers,” Gimson said. “We felt we all needed to do something for such a good cause.”
She also said some of the players dedicated their efforts to a specific type of cancer that was “dear to their hearts.”
Long said it was a lot of work inflating balloons and decorating the gym, but it was well worth the effort.
Fort Lee Girls Recreation Basketball League president Michael Klein was also on hand at the Fort Lee High School gym Tuesday supporting the cause. Klein said he contacted the seeking businesses to “donate whatever they could afford.”
“It’s for a great cause, and it’s great for the community,” said Klein, who’s seen all of the girls on the varsity team come through the recreation league. “We had a great turnout tonight; we got a lot of support. My dad passed away from a form of cancer so I’m an advocate for any donations that people give. It hits home.”
Among those sponsoring the event were , Pomodoro Pizza, and , on Anderson Avenue and on Lemoine Avenue.
Klein gave “kudos to ‘Coach Z’” for organizing the event, while also needing to coach a tough basketball game.
“I just think it’s a testament to everyone who was here; everyone who donated,” Zafiris said. “So many people in the community have really helped, and it just was a great night.”
Assistant coach of the varsity team Demba Mane, who also coaches the freshman team, said Tuesday’s event transcends sport.
“Tomorrow, if you were to open up a newspaper, you wouldn’t see this; you’d see the box score,” Mane said. “It’s just trying to do more—using basketball as a tool to do more.”
Of the game itself, Zafiris said the team is waiting to find out who their opponent will be in the first round of the state tournament.
“Right now, all these games are basically preparation because we would like to do something and try to compete in the state tournament and possibly win a game,” she said.
Senior guard/forward Gimson said, “We came out with intensity, but our shots just weren’t falling.”
“But we never stopped; we never gave up,” she said. “At one point we were only down by eight instead of being down by 16 … we fought back, and we played hard. That’s all you can really ask for … we’re hoping just to take from this experience and put it into the state tournament. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”
Long also thought the team “did a lot of great things” Tuesday, but she said they could have driven to the basket a little more to create more opportunities for open shooters.
Zafiris said she saw positives in Tuesday’s game as well.
“It’s just something that I’ve always said about our team and about our program: we never give up; we never give in,” she said. “And no matter what the score is, they always play with pride, and they keep representing the program, their families and the community very, very well.”
Editor's note: Zafiris told Patch Wednesday that donations totaled $904.57 by the end of the day.