EDISON – With a personal connection to an alumnus, Noah Torino was able to prepare some of his Middlesex County All-Star teammates for Monday’s visit to the Lakeview School, an experience which many considered life-changing.
As about 100 players and cheerleaders splintered into small groups to interact inside separate classrooms with students, Torino momentarily broke away from the pack to spend time with his uncle, a Lakeview School graduate.
Noah and Machi Torino reunited in a foyer outside the school’s main entrance, where they talked briefly about MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, a charity football game between recently graduated high school seniors from Middlesex and Union counties.
All proceeds from the event, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception, benefit the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities, and Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside. The Union County All-Stars visited the latter on Monday.
“Some people don’t really understand,” Torino said of the Lakeview School’s students, who have nearly 100 different medical diagnoses. “There’s a totally different side of people who have disabilities. If you get to know them, rather than judge them by if they’re in a wheelchair or how they walk, that’s where I come from.”
Torino, an Old Bridge graduate who will play defensive end in Thursday’s all-star game at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium (kickoff is 7 p.m.), offered some advice to his Middlesex County teammates
“I just told them treat (the students) like they are another person,” Torino said. “That’s the best thing you can tell anybody. It (the visit) is a lot to take in right now, especially if you’ve never been here, never been around people with disabilities.”
Nestled across from a lake in a picturesque section of Edison’s Roosevelt Park, the Lakeview School is one of the nation’s largest day programs for children with multiple disabilities. The 60,000-square-foot state-of-the art facility has spacious suites for occupational, physical and speech therapy. Lakeview School boasts the most extensive clinical staff of any private or public school in the state, providing consultant medical and psychological services, specialized nursing services, social services and medical screenings.
Money from the Snapple Bowl helped fund the school’s multi-purpose room, in which the Middlesex County All-Stars held their annual pep rally, and will soon be applied to the school’s new aquatic center, on which the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities will break ground later this year.
Venus Majeski, director of development and community relations at the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities, delivered her annual pre-visit pep talk to the players and cheerleaders inside the Lakeview School cafeteria, where the all-stars congregated before venturing to the classrooms.
“Many people wouldn’t understand how life-changing this visit to Lakeview School is,” Majeski said. “I understand it because I’ve seen it now for 22 years. The team will come in and they’ll be a little apprehensive — being that deer in the headlights — and then they have a chance to connect and engage with our students. I think that while they learn something about our students, they’re also learning about themselves in terms of their own character growth.”
The all-stars and Lakeview School students engaged in a variety of activities including dancing, playing tee ball, making arts and crafts and designing posters for the pep rally.
“When they come back (to the cafeteria after interacting with students), they are relaxed and happy and they understood that they’ve made a difference,” Majeski said of the once nervous players and cheerleaders. “This game is bigger than just a few moments out on the field. It’s about financial help and making a difference and seeing the eyes of a child and recognizing, not the differences, but the similarities of who we are.”
Majeski said the all-stars’ annual visit to the Lakeview School reflects a world slowly changing for the better in which society is becoming increasingly acceptant of one another’s differences.
“I think this is where we are trying to go as a nation, as a global community, to erase the differences and see the similarities,” Majeski said. “And you know what, the Snapple Bowl has been doing that for 22 years.”
Mascots from four Middlesex County high schools — Middlesex, North Brunswick, J.P. Stevens and Woodbridge –— who also visited on Monday were the biggest hit among Lakeview School students.
The quartet was part of a nine-member group which recently competed in the inaugural Snapple Bowl Mascot Challenge, a competition that promoted the game on social media while helping to raise nearly $5,000 for the beneficiaries.
“The mascots have had a tremendous impact on the Snapple Bowl period, but having them today at the pep rally (and in the classrooms) was just phenomenal,” said Marcus Borden, the game’s founder and director. “Each one of them interacted with the kids and the smiles on the kids’ faces was contagious. It was just unbelievable.”
The mascots were introduced along with every player and cheerleader during the pep rally. Some Lakeview School students used their augmentative devices to cheer, while those students who could make noise loudly expressed their appreciation to the Middlesex County team.
Noah Torino’s uncle, who took part in the event as a Lakeview School student, had to leave before this year’s pep rally got underway, but Machi will continue to return to his alma mater.
“Even though he graduated years ago, he still remains in touch,” Majeski said of Machi Torino. “He comes to our programs, he attends our proms and he comes to different activities. He is one of the most engaging students that I’ve known in Lakeview School. He was friends with everyone. Despite the fact that Machi has significant disabilities, he doesn’t let that define him. He sees life as something to be grabbed and to live. Noah’s uncle really is a rock star. Machi Torino is the epitome of cool. I know that so many, especially the guys at Lakeview, try to use him as a role model because he is so cool. He’s a terrific young man who really works very hard to overcome his disability and just have a productive and happy life.”
As Amanda Lombardi, a recent J.P. Stevens graduate also known as mascot “Heather the Hawk,” left the Lakeview School, she did not give Borden an opportunity to thank her for her participation. She instead thanked Borden for allowing her to be a part of the event.
“She said this was such a great experience,” Borden said. “I think that sums it all up.”
Staff Writer Greg Tufaro: email@example.com
What: MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII, New Jersey’s most successful charity all-star football game
Where: Kean University’s Alumni Stadium, Union
When: 7 p.m. Thursday, July 16
Participants: Recently graduated high school senior players and cheerleaders from Middlesex and Union counties.
About the event
Beneficiaries: All proceeds from the game, which has raised more than $485,000 since its inception, benefit Children’s Specialized Hospital and the Lakeview School, a program of the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities.
Practice venues: Colonia High School (Middlesex County All-Stars) and Union High School (Union County All-Stars).
Key dates: Snapple Bowl banquet at Pines Manor restaurant in Edison July 15.
Tickets: Can be purchased at the gate for $10.
Previewing the game: Leading up to Snapple Bowl XXII, the Home News Tribune, Courier News and MyCentralJersey.com will feature at least one story daily, as well as videos.
Game coverage: Look for a game story, a notebook, a Middlesex County sidebar, a Union County sidebar, an A1 story, a photo gallery and video highlights from Snapple Bowl XXII in the Home News Tribune, Courier News and at MyCentralJersey.com.
Social media: Follow us via Twitter @MyCJ_Sports and @SnappleBowl for updates and to interact with reporters and Snapple Bowl XXII game director Marcus Borden.
MyCentralJersey.com Snapple Bowl XXII official web site: Can be found at https://worknotes.com/NJ/SouthRiver/SnappleBowl/