Several New York Mets players, along with football legend Joe Namath and other celebrities from the sports world, were on Long Island last night, meeting and greeting fans at The Viscardi Center in Albertson to help raise $1.9 million for the nonprofit.
The 51st annual Celebrity Sports Night, which was attended by more than 700 people, featured Mets players Wilmer Flores, Jose Reyes, TJ Rivera and Zack Wheeler, along with their skipper, Terry Collins, and several coaches. During the event’s cocktail hour, fans queued up for photos and autographs with stars from multiple sports. The longest line was for Joe Namath, the former New York Jets quarterback who is a perennial participant in the event.
The athletes later appeared on stage during the formal part of the evening’s events, which featured performances by students at the organization’s Henry Viscardi School, which serves 170 children with severe physical disabilities in grades K-12.
Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who was the Republican nominee for president in 1996, was honored during the event for his long-time advocacy on disabilities issues.
Calling him “the most powerful disabilities champion this country has ever known,” The Viscardi Center President and CEO John Kemp introduced Dole, his fellow Kansan and friend of nearly 50 years.
“With all the experience I have had, I have never been prouder to be at an event than I am to be here tonight,” Dole said in a speech that also included several jokes.
“Never give a former senator a microphone,” he quipped toward the end. “We haven’t been able to talk for a long time.”
Other sports stars in attendance included Clark Gillies, former New York Islanders captain, and Wesley Walker, who enjoyed a successful career with the New York Jets despite being born blind in one eye.
“The kids at The Viscardi Center inspire me,” said Walker, who has attended Celebrity Sports Night for many years.
The manager of the Mets was in good spirits, despite his team’s recent woes on the field.
In response to a question about whether the Mets would win the World Series this year, Collins replied, “That’s the plan.”
He added, “We have to get some of our health back.”
The evening’s events included silent and live auctions featuring many one-of-a-kind sports-themed prizes. Two attendees won “An Amazin’ Day in the Mets Owner’s Suite,” a special package for 15 people, with bids of $17,000. The “Game, Set, Match” prize, featuring 20 tickets to a U.S. Open match in a luxury suite, fetched $21,000.
The New York Mets organization was honored as Sportsmen of the Year. Other honorees included Jan Burman, president of the Garden City-based Engel Burman Group, and the Pascuccis, a philanthropic Long Island family.
Last year’s Celebrity Sports Night – the 50th – raised a record $4.4 million for The Viscardi Center, which is a network of nonprofits that educate, employ and empower children and adults with disabilities.
Name: Long Island