Memory of crash victims lives through survivors, Camp Anchor
A year ago, three young adults were killed in horrific Long Island crash
The three and two survivors were on their way to camp for challenged kids
They will be remembered Saturday in benefit basketball game at St. John's
The heat is so intense it feels as if the sky is going to start melting from above, and below the heat rises off the parking lot asphalt in shimmery ribbons. But a hundred yards away, down on the beach, the ocean breakers are rolling in, and the kids are wading and laughing, and what could be better for a summer camper than to have your own stretch of Long Island Sound?
Then again, with more than 600 campers each day, it's not as if you can herd the whole group down to the water together. Some of them get to swim in one of the three pools. Others are in the dance tent. The music tent. So many tents. The slip 'n slide.
The campers are everywhere, aged 6 to 40, all shapes and sizes, most of them smiling. Who wouldn't? I've stumbled onto some sort of Shangri-La, on the blue-water coast of Nassau County: Camp Anchor, the Town of Hempstead's jewel. As I stroll the grounds with 40-year camp director Joe Lentini, as we sift through groups of campers going from one activity to the next, campers high-five him. One shouts out, "I love you, Man!" -- not ironically.
When one of the campers high-fives me, I find myself wondering what I looked like to the camper. Probably very unusual. Probably very ... special.
The kid himself had Down's Syndrome. The kids and adults around him are physically challenged in various ways, or were born with spina bifida, or autism, or some condition that classifies them to the outside world as special, but is, to them, the norm. At Camp Anchor, a guy like me is completely out of place. It's a singular institution that enriches its volunteers and staff as much as it enriches the 1,000 special-needs children and adults it services through the year. There's not only a mile-long waiting list for the special-needs campers, there's a waiting list to be a volunteer. And once you make it to volunteer level, you have to be the best of the best to be hired on as staff.
The five kids from Floral Park were all on staff. Jamie Malone, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Richmond set to start her career as a teacher in the fall; her younger sister Paige, 19, a student at Richmond; Michael Mulhall, 22, a recent graduate of the University of Scranton; Michael's younger sister Justine, and her best friend Kelly Murphy.
Justine was at the wheel that morning, one year ago, at 8:45, going south on the on the Meadowbrook Parkway to camp, a commute they'd all done a hundred times, when a driver suddenly veered into Justine's lane. She yanked the wheel of the Honda to the left to avoid a collision, then turned back to the right, to return to her lane, but the car kept turning, and curled off the parkway and into a tree. Jamie and Paige Malone and Michael Mulhall were dead.
Justine and Kelly were not seriously injured.
On Saturday afternoon St. John's University's Carnesseca Arena there will be a benefit basketball game in their honor. It promises to be the hoops exhibition game of the summer. The teams playing will comprise athletes from the NBA, to its D-League, from European leagues to Division I, all of them gathering not to show their stuff, but to raise money for the camp and the Malone scholarship fund -- and not incidentally, to honor a father named Jim Malone, a lifetime basketball man who also happens to coach high school basketball for all the right reasons.
Babylon's Danny Green was the Nassau County player of the year before he went on to star at UNC. He's a San Antonio Spur now. He'll be joined by, among others, Brooklyn's Jamine Peterson, a Providence standout coming in after his first year in the D League; Queens' Tyrone Nash, who just graduated from Notre Dame; St. John's Paris Horne, he of the flailing dunks; and Jeff Xavier, coming off a season in Spain. Vernon Goodridge and Antoine Pereson were D-Leaguers last season, Dan Geriot and Kevin Hovne will represent the Richmond Spiders.
For one summer afternoon, with the NBA closed down, the true city game will once again rule the sporting landscape -- which, as any New Yorker knows, is the way it should always be.
It was Joe Lynch's idea. Lynch, heading into his senior year at St. John's, was Paige Malone's boyfriend, and when she died they were in love in that singularly ideal and idealistic way that only 19-year-olds can be in love. And when that kind of love is snuffed out at its apex it becomes the kind of thing that drives a kid to find some way to equal its strength of emotion, in the absence of the girl herself -- the girl with whom you shared the first kiss, and then, it turned out, the last kiss, on the exact same street corner.
But Lynch was wise enough to know that his suffering was nothing next to Jim Malone's. For a father to lose two daughters? At once? Neither yet married? Neither yet mothers? On their way to the camp that defined both of their lives? Inconceivable. So Lynch organized the game because he figured that if he reached out to the local stars, then maybe the father would be able, for one afternoon, to coach some real talent.
Lynch rented the arena. Word came back that Jim Malone would not be allowed to coach one of the all-star teams. The NCAA forbids a high school coach coaching in a Division I arena.
Lynch was disappointed, but not bowed. This was all the more reason to do it right. Jim Malone deserved it.
As has long been obvious to young Joe Lynch and everyone else in Floral Park, N.Y. -- a tidy, pleasant suburb where the half-hourly hum of the train pulling out of the station dutifully announces the commute into and out of the city and every village resident knows that this good American life is not only better than it was for their ancestors but will be even better for their industrious kids, and their kids' kids -- Jamie and Paige's dad was an unusual man, in that he was a very unusual basketball coach.
A graduate of storied Holy Cross High in Queens and then Stonybrook back in the '80s, Malone was learning the coaching trade as an assistant under Bobby Valvano at Division I St. Francis -- until he quickly tired of the recruiting sleaze and decided that the coaching he really wanted to do had to be about the game and the kids and nothing else.
So he took the head coaching job at Beach Channel High, way down in Rockaway and closer to home, took a college-counselor and golf coach position at Garden City High, next door to Floral Park, even though Garden City kids had their own pros at the three local clubs. There was no golf at Beach Channel. Beach was a dream born in 1983: a new city high school rising from a poor-to-middle class neighborhood planted on the thin slice of land flanked by Jamaica Bay to the north and the Atlantic Ocean to the south, an off-the-radar city neighborhood that owed its history to fishing, to nature.
The school would revolutionarily offer marine studies, give the kids of local fishermen a chance to better the ecosystem of their environment, and in learning to change their distinct slice of New York, change their own destinies.
His first year, 15 kids showed up in the gym. But within four years Jim Malone had somehow brought Beach an unlikely basketball championship. Not only were his kids just local kids, he had little support in his quixotic quest. No faculty volunteered to man the time clock, or provide security, or do anything; no faculty ever showed up for a single game. No parents ever attended a game.
On the other hand, the Beach gig gave to Jim Malone the idealist, the educator, a weird freedom to run a New York City high school basketball program exactly the way he wanted to run it: pure, free of hollow promises and power-grabbing coaching stunts that exploited the kids.
It was assumed that Jim was going to take the head job at Holy Cross a dozen years ago -- step up in class, get out of Rockaway, where the dream down at Beach was going south as more and more other districts dumped their underachievers onto its huge campus.
He didn't take it. Not just because Holy Cross would have meant returning to the world where the parents scream at the coach, or as happened to Ron Naclerio over at Cardoza, come out of the stands and actually punch the coach. No, the Beach Channel gig had become more than basketball. It was a calling. It was public service, without feeling he was making a sacrifice.
It was like the job his two precious daughters had embraced for the last few years: doing good, off the radar, for all the right reasons. Not because it looks good on the resume. Because, at the end of the day, he loves the kids, even if their parents never show up to see a game.