Scores of the world's most beloved past and present sports stars gathered with more than 750 Long Island business and community leaders on May 20 for the 38th Annual Celebrity Sports Night at the National Center for Disability Services (NCDS) in Albertson.
The event, one of Long Island's most popular fund-raisers, yielded $1.2 million in support of NCDS employment, education and training programs that support people with disabilities and the businesses that employ them.
"Celebrity Sports Night is a joyous affirmation of the NCDS vision to create a world in which people with disabilities will live simply as people and have access to all the benefits of our society," said Edmund L. Cortez, NCDS president and CEO. "We are grateful for the generosity shown by all who attended, as well as the support from our donors throughout the year. It is a thrill to have so many returning sports stars and to welcome celebrities who have joined us for the first time this year."
Headlining the stars was New York Mets legend and Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Tom "Terrific" Seaver, the 2004 Celebrity Sports Night Executive Sports Star of the Year. The New York City-based Peter Jay Sharp Foundation and its president, Norman Peck, were the event's honorees.
This year's Celebrity Sports Night included a rousing tribute to the late Dr. Henry Viscardi, the NCDS founder, who died in April 2004 at the age of 91. Cortez, Monsignor Thomas Hartman and others remembered Viscardi, renowned worldwide for his advocacy of rights for people with disabilities, for his personal courage, vision and love of children.
Cortez announced that NCDS, in Viscardi's honor, had established the Henry Viscardi Award, recognizing significant contribution to the lives of people with disabilities. As part of the tribute segment of Celebrity Sports Night, Viscardi's widow, Lucille, was named the award's first recipient.
With a lengthy cocktail reception, including a silent auction of sought-after sports memorabilia, Celebrity Sports Night 2004 provided ample opportunity for autographs and casual conversation with giants from the sports world. Joining Seaver were, among others, basketball superstars and New York Knick teammates Willis Reed and Walt "Clyde" Frazier, New York Islander greats Bobby Nystrom and Pat Lafontaine, Olympic gold-medal figure skater Sarah Hughes, New York Ranger favorite Rod Gilbert, and football legend Frank Gifford, the only individual to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player and broadcaster.
The lavish dinner that followed the reception was flavored with one of the most entertaining events seen at Long Island fund-raisers: a live musical parody with athletes treading the boards alongside students from the Henry Viscardi School for children with severe medical and physical disabilities. As she had done for the previous 15 years, Olympic figure skater Jo Jo Starbuck, who owns a production company specializing in ice shows, conceived and directed the show.
In addition to the Henry Viscardi tribute and the musical parody, the program included a live auction, spiced up by Otis Anderson, the 1990 Super Bowl MVP for the New York Giants, who put on a dazzling show as auctioneer. Former New York Jets defensive back John Dockery, one of many Sports Night regulars, served as master of ceremonies for the 17th year.
Founded in 1952, the National Center for Disability Services is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a world where people with disabilities receive the same treatment as all other people and have equal access to the benefits society offers. With a staff of more than 400, including experts in education, human resources and technology, NCDS has grown to become a global leader in the full integration people with disabilities into everyday life. More information about NCDS and its wide range of services to individuals, organizations and private-sector businesses is available at www.ncds.org.