Autism cause brings out area's best



Every year, teams come together for a day of good basketball for an even better cause. First it was at Purchase College, then it made its way to Irvington High School: the Autism Classic.

The Bulldogs hosted eight teams on Sunday in an event that raises money for autism awareness. Irvington, which has hosted the event the last four years, donates the gym, volunteers donate their time, and the fans donate admission for the worthy cause.

“All the coaches who are here are active in Section 1, and we wanted to do something charity — to give back, pay it forward,” Bulldogs coach Gina Maher said. “We wanted to make sure that these girls realize that there comes a time in life where you have to give, and you have to do for other people.”

Each coach of the eight teams participating in Sunday’s event — Irvington, Rye, Ossining, Carmel, Valhalla, Edgemont, Ursuline and Kennedy — has spent at least 10 seasons at the helm of the varsity. Maher, Ursuline’s Beth Wooters and Ossining’s Dan Ricci are among the winningest girls basketball coaches in Section 1 history.

In fact, Wooters notched her 500th career win in the day’s opening game against Kennedy. In a thrilling start to the day, Ursuline freshman Korina Guerra scored eight points in the final 38 seconds, including a game-winning, buzzer-beating layup in the 61-60 victory.

Fans got another nail-biter in the follow-up game between Edgemont and Valhalla. The Panthers missed a potential game-tying layup with seven seconds left, allowing the Vikings to hang on for a 31-29 win after trailing entering the fourth quarter.

Reigning Class AA state champ Ossining put on a show of its own, routing Carmel 86-42 in a team effort that featured 10 different scorers. Junior Jalay Knowles paced the Pride with 28 points and 11 rebounds, most of which came in the first half.

Knowles is 11 points shy of her 1,000thvarsity point.

“Autism awareness is becoming something that is very big now,” said Maher, who is closing in on her 600th career win. “Most people are touched by it, or know somebody touched by it. Every penny (raised) goes to part of the autism community.”

In a bit of comic relief, Maher said that the event, which has always been held the Sunday before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, would likely be moved to the Saturday before in 2015 because it coincides with the NFL playoffs.

Mostly so larger crowds could attend, not so more people could watch the football games.

Twitter: @Zacchio_LoHud

Best of the rest: Rachele Beckley, Brandi Coon and Colleen Kelly each scored six points for Valhalla in the 31-29 win over Edgemont. … Maddie Eck scored 19 points for Rye in a 60-56 win over previously undefeated Irvington (12-1). … Julie Kellett had 27 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for Holy Child in a 48-38 win at Lincoln School of Rhode Island.

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