To honor his all-star father, Gordon Thomas created the Alzheimer’s All-Star Basketball Classic, which was held at Oyster Bay High School last Saturday.
Thomas’s father, Detective John Edward Thomas Sr. — the first African-American police officer in Suffolk County and a pole-vaulter who competed in the Police Olympics in the 1970s — died of Alzheimer’s in 2010.
“I started this as a way to educate people about the disease, and it’s been getting bigger every year,” Thomas said. “[Alzheimer’s] is a debilitating illness, and it’s devastating to see someone who was once so active decline through the disease.”
The annual event consists of two games, a girls’ game and a boys’ game. The players come from high schools all over Long Island, and Thomas said that some athletes from Division I colleges return to take part as well.
Each player chosen for the Classic is required to attend an Awareness Night prior to the event, which helps the players understand what their participation really means.
“The players get the chance to engage in ‘sensitivity training,’ which imitates the symptoms of Alzheimer’s and shows them how difficult it is to live with the disease,” said Christine Rice, community outreach and events coordinator for the Long Island Alzheimer’s Foundation.
This year, LIAF will be the recipient of all the money raised at the Classic, which Rice said will help support the organization’s programs and services. The event charges admission, and also raises funds via sponsorships and advertising in its commemorative program.
“Certain people can’t afford to come [to the foundation]; Alzheimer’s is an expensive disease,” said Tori Cohen, executive director of LIAF. “The donations will give patients, and the families of those patients, some respite.”
Cohen added that LIAF has been honored by the Classic before, and said that Thomas understands the meaningful work the foundation does in combating Alzheimer’s disease.
“We’re excited to be a part of it,” Cohen said. “It really makes a difference, and helps us to help as many people as we can.”
Both games featured players from Nassau and Suffolk counties competing against one another. Sandy Rossen, the head coach of the Oyster Bay varsity girls’ basketball team, said the event was a great success.
“We worked [with Thomas] to bring the event to the high school, and over 1,000 people attended,” Rossen said. “The Nassau girls’ team had a great win over the Suffolk girls’ team — they won 108-56.”
Gianna Gotti, a senior and the point guard for the Lady Baymen, has played in the Classic every year since she was a freshman. “It’s like a commitment for me,” she said.
“We appreciate everything Gordon has done for us, and we’re thankful he chose us so that we can continue to help those with Alzheimer’s,” Rice said.