CONSENSUS SAYS FUNDRAISER WAS ALL-AROUND TRIUMPH
For the fifth consecutive year, hundreds of people filed into the Morris Community High School gymnasium Saturday night to benefit the Special Olympics Illinois organization with a charity basketball game.
“The Faculty vs. The Fuzz” has become an annual mainstay on the Morris Police Department’s fundraising schedule and has evolved into a cherished event within the community.
The brainchild of Morris police officer Derek Zumbahlen, an avid basketball player and former MCHS athlete, the game has grown on a yearly basis. Last season saw the addition of a 10-minute intra-squad scrimmage between the Special Connections program, and this year it was once again one of the many highlights of the evening.
“I know that the Special Connections really looks forward to this thing every year, and they really enjoy themselves,” Zumbahlen said. “We definitely enjoy watching them.”
The white team was able to edge out the red team 14-8, but both teams finished the scrimmage that preceded the Faculty vs. Fuzz game with a standing ovation. It was a moment that personified what the evening was about.
“Anyone who knows anything about Morris knows that Morris is synonymous with community spirit and volunteerism. Each year we’ve hoped to make this thing bigger and better, and I think we have,” Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said. “From the band coming out and playing, to the officials that volunteer their time, to the high school staff ... seeing all these people here was fantastic.”
And as it turned out, the people who showed up to support the cause were also treated to a pretty good basketball game.
The Fuzz jumped out to a 10-0 lead and looked as if they’d be running away with it, but the MCHS faculty were able to follow with an 11-2 run of their own to close out the first quarter. Vice Principal Jeff Johnson, a former varsity basketball coach at Morris, coached the faculty.
“Anytime you get to be in an event like this and give back, it’s exciting,” Johnson said. “It was a good crowd. Everybody comes out and supports it, and every year it kinda gets a little bit bigger. It has turned out to be a great event for everybody.”
On the court, the Fuzz was fueled by Zumbahlen who put up 36 points for the cops. The faculty was paced by 13 points from history teacher Bill Lauer and 10 points from Superintendent Pat Halloran.
The Fuzz led the game from wire-to-wire, but late in the fourth quarter there was some semblance of drama, even though the score was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. The faculty was able to cut the lead down to just one when a 3-pointer by varsity basketball coach Joe Blumberg made it 54-53 with less than three minutes remaining.
However, Zumbahlen was able to salt the game away by hitting all four of his fourth-quarter free throws as the Fuzz cruised to a 65-57 win in a game that certainly had no true losers.
“We thought this year we might have a chance,” Johnson said. “We’re all out here competing, and a lot of us are obviously former athletes, so we want to win, but, like I said, in the end that’s not what it’s about.”
All told, the Faculty vs. Fuzz charity basketball game generally winds up raising right around $2,000 for the Illinois Special Olympics, with hopes that it will continue to grow as the years go on and people become more aware of the cause.
“Recently, I got in contact with Matt Johnson who is (one of) the directors of the Special Olympics down in Bloomington, and we’re hoping to get a little bit more involved directly with him," Zumbahlen said. "They put it on their website, so that helped, but this is sort of like the kickoff of our fiscal year. We’ll have the Torch Run and then after that we’ll do the Cop on Top deal at Dunkin’ Donuts."
Entertainment & Inspiration
Musical savant DeBlois plays multiple shows to benefit Special Connections
Musical savant Tony DeBlois knows how to play 8,000 songs, but the first song he played at his performance Sunday was one everyone knew — “Happy Birthday.”
“Tuesday is my birthday, sing along everybody!” said DeBlois as he played the birthday song at the start of his piano concert held at Immaculate Conception Church as a fundraiser for Special Connections of Grundy County.
DeBlois, of Randolph, Mass., is a 39-year-old blind and autistic man who has Savant Syndrome, which is a “rare condition” in which someone who has an emotional disorder or subnormal intelligence has an extraordinary gift. Savants have been known for their math, music, art and mechanical abilities.
DeBlois’ extraordinary gift is in music. He can play 23 instruments and can sing in 11 languages.
This weekend he performed multiple times, including at several Masses at the catholic church, including singing in Spanish at the Spanish Mass; a dueling piano show Saturday night; and an evening performance Sunday.
At Saturday’s performance, held at Chapin’s North Banquets inside the Quality Inn, more than 200 people watched DeBlois and local celebrity Tony Kidonakis do a dueling piano show, said Jennifer Price, president of Special Connections.
It was DeBlois’ first time doing a dueling piano show and it was such a hit they are already planning to do it again next year at a bigger venue, she said.
At Sunday’s performance, more than 400 attended.
Special Connections of Grundy County is an organization with the goal of providing information and resources, as well as social, recreational and leisure opportunities, for the developmentally disabled community, from children to adults.
Last year, DeBlois helped raise more than $5,000 with one show for Special Connections. Totals have not been counted yet for this year’s shows.
“It’s definitely a significant amount, which is amazing, but more important even, and the reason we do this concert, is to inspire people,” said Price.
The goal in bringing DeBlois to Morris originally, and why the organization continues to, is to show people what the special-needs community has to offer, she said, and how great their abilities are.
Noemi Noscal of Morris brought her son, Nathen, to DeBlois’ Sunday night solo performance to show her son the strengths of someone who is different.
“It’s good for him to have inspiration and to not be scared,” she said.
THE SUNDAY SHOW
DeBlois performances are always different, said Price, and attract both new and repeat observers.
“Last year, we saw him for the first time and then we went last night and at the Sunday Masses too. It’s a blessing to see him. You can go your whole life and not see a savant and what they’re capable of. It’s fantastic,” said Doug Cotter of Morris.
At Sunday’s performance, DeBlois spent the first half playing pieces he enjoys most, and ones that were written just for him. The second half was all requested songs.
Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” “Over the Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” The Beatles’ “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and some Liberace hits were some of the crowd favorites.
During “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” he sang some of it in German.
DeBlois’ mother, Janice, shared stories with the audience as she introduced the next song he was performing.
In the first half of his Sunday concert, DeBlois sang a few songs from his “Thank God for Life” Christian CD. Prior to him singing the title song, Janice told the story of her son’s birth.
DeBlois was born blind and at 1 pound and 3/4 of an ounce. The doctors told her she should let her son die.
“Oh what the world would be missing,” said Janice to the audience as her son started playing “Thank God for Life.”
DeBlois ended his concert with what he called a “special message.”
“It’s OK to be different. Believe in yourself. Don’t give up on your dreams. Always have high hopes,” he said.
And the three most important words, he said, are: “Practice, practice, practice.”
For more information, to purchase DeBlois’ CDs or donate toward his next recording visit www.tonydeblois.com.
For additional information about Special Connections visit specialconnections.org.