Oceanside’s 54th annual Roller Skating Show was just about finished when Nancy Baxter, youth coordinator for the school district’s Department of Community Activities, announced there was a special guest slated to say a few words.
“I started backing away from the curtain, thinking whoever was going to come out, I need to give them space,” said Michelle Troici, one of the skating instructors.
Unexpectedly, Troici’s boyfriend emerged from behind a curtain in Army fatigues and walked over to her with a small red box in his hand, as she and the event attendees around the Oceanside Middle School gym began to see what was happening.
“I hear everybody start applauding so loudly, I see flashes of cameras all over the place, people are taking videos, everybody’s screaming, the little kids on the floor are hugging each other,” Troici recalled in one breath. “…Next thing I knew, I opened my eyes and he was on one knee, and I’m still processing it. I’m like, wait, I think I’m supposed to say yes now.”
As she did, the couple’s hands were shaking, and they momentarily struggled to get the ring on her finger.
Robert Battafarano, a teaching assistant at Oceanside Middle School who joined the Army Reserves about two years ago, said he bought the engagement ring months prior, and was pondering a special way to propose. A few weeks ago, he informed Baxter of his plan. “I’m a true romantic,” she noted, “so I said, ‘Absolutely!’”
Battafarano, who was doing his monthly drill at Fort Totten in Queens, left a bit early, and raced to the show in time for the finale, during which the young skaters bid farewell to the crowd. It was the moment he had been imagining for months.
“I was really nervous,” Battafarano said. “I mean, I’m a teacher. I’m used to being in front of a crowd, but not like that.
“I looked into the crowd and all I could see were lights in my face,” he continued, “so I just focused on her and just kind of let my heart do the talking.”
Troici, 25, an Oceanside High School grad who lives in Massapequa Park, met the Massapequa-raised Battafarano at Molloy College a few years before. The two were lab partners in a biology class there, and became friends. They ended up coincidentally signing up for another biology class in an ensuing semester. “I think that was it,” Battafarano said. “If we hadn’t been in that second bio class together, we probably wouldn’t have ended up where [we are] now.”
Troici said she did not know whether he was going to make it to the event that night.
“You could tell it was genuine surprise,” said Dino Piarulli, who was manning the spotlight glued to the two of them during what he described as a priceless moment. “She had no idea he was there and then when he got on his knee, the crowd just freaked out.”
Piarulli, who has volunteered at the event for about 15 years, previously had children in the program, and said he and those involved with the show have watched Troici grow up through the program.
Roller-skating since she was five years old, Troici became an instructor four years ago. In addition to helping the kids learn how to skate, she choreographs and instructs the routines that the skaters perform every March. In her own element, it was the perfect place to get engaged, Troici said, adding that both of their families were there to witness the moment.
“I just wanted to do something that was memorable,” Battafarano said. “She puts a lot of work into [the skating show]…and it’s something special to her so that’s what made me decide finally to do it there.”