Each year, on a crisp night in January, the Mineola High School academic, administrative and athletic communities takes special pride in recognizing the contributions of one of its lost angels.
Reggie Carter, a former St. John's University and New York Knicks basketball player, was an assistant principal at Mineola High School before passing away during the Christmas break in 1999.
In his short time at Mineola High School, Reggie made a lasting mark on his students and colleagues. Beginning in 2000, members of the boys basketball team wished to memorialize Carter's gifts and talents in a special night that honors the basketball program and raises funds for a senior scholarship in his name. On Friday, Jan. 23. Reggie Carter was once again remembered in the Mineola High School gymnasium as Reggie Carter Night was held.
The theme of the evening is not only to recognize Carter and raise funds for the scholarship, but to honor a member of the basketball teams that meet his outstanding qualities. For the first seven years of the award, a boys basketball player was selected to wear number 35, the number Carter wore as a player, for this game. In 2008, a decision was made to also give a member of the girls basketball team the honor.
English teacher Mike Furey made an inspirational speech remembering Mr. Carter to begin the evening. Furey said his nervousness entering the school district in 1996 was buoyed by Carter's presence as a new administrator the same year. This was an acknowledgement of the respect and friendship fostered by Carter to his colleagues in Mineola High School.
This year's choices to wear Carter's are special individuals with a common bond. Both athletes are three-year varsity players who have helped to build the programs over the past few years. In an odd coincidence, both students are carpool partners who begin each day at 7 a.m. on their journey to Mineola High School.
Girls varsity head coach Denise Zunno introduced her selection with emotion. Senior MaryAnn Sanderleaf was a key part of the Lady Mustangs basketball team that met an unfortunate fate last year. In the middle of one of the team's practices, Sanderleaf fell to the hardwood in pain and was lost for the next year to ACL surgery, which required intense rehabilitation.
MaryAnn came back to play her final season in a thigh to ankle brace to protect her knee and still is a significant three-point threat to opponents. Her desire, courage and tenacity in returning from a serious injury are secondary only to her commitment to Mustang athletics, teamwork and loyalty. She is a deserving choice to be recognized on Reggie Carter Night.
Varsity boys head coach Jim Hegmann, who was making his third annual speech on Reggie Carter night, recognized a three-year varsity player TJ Winters as the 2009 winner. TJ has played his entire Mustang career under the renewed success of the Mustangs basketball program.
A role player on the 2007 team that fell just short of making the playoffs, the leading scorer on last year's team that captured the school's first conference championship in 22 years and a key player on this year's team, TJ has been a part of both the good times and the tough times. Throughout his career, his intensity has never wavered and his leadership and unselfishness make him a valued teammate. Coach Hegmann spoke of these qualities as he named TJ the Reggie Carter honoree.
The games played on Reggie Carter Night are always spirited and entertaining and this year was no exception. Another near capacity crowd filled the gymnasium to see two exciting games.
The girls varsity team triumphed over Clarke High School as Sanderleaf drilled late threes to ignite the spectators. In the nightcap, the boys team extended a valiant effort but fell just short of knocking off the conference-leading Wheatley Wildcats. Winters brought the crowd to its feet when he knocked down a three while getting fouled and converted a rare four-point play to the rousing chants of "Reg-gie Car-ter, Reg-gie Car-ter" echoing through the gym.
Carter's memory and spirit is definitely alive in Mineola High School. The recipient of the Reggie Carter Annual Scholarship will be announced at the senior awards breakfast later this year.