MILLBURN, NJ — A new tradition kicked off yesterday at Millburn High School, as a dozen flag football teams came together to play for the memory of a beloved former coach in the district.
Coach Carmen Guarino died in June from a rare form of pancreatic cancer. Over his 12 years in the Millburn School District, he coached multiple teams and taught physical education. His family was present at this year's football home opener, where the district honored his memory with a halftime ceremony.
In the weeks following the ceremony, the students whose lives he touched were looking for a way to honor him, while also fundraising for a charitable cause that would help to keep his memory alive.
For Alex Schoen, Michael Lieberberg, Mac Novich and Steven Montuoro, who all played under Guarino, the answer came to them suddenly; flag football.
The four Millburn alumni got to work and within a month of the first announcement, the tournament was ready to go. Called the Carmen Guarino Classic, money raised from the event would be donated to the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.
Prior to game time, the group had raised almost $7,000. The organizers estimated that they would make somewhere between $8,000 and $10,000 when all was said and done.
For Lieberberg, standing on the field and seeing the end results of the planning come to fruition, he felt that the group could not have honored Coach Guarino in a more perfect way.
"It was very important to us," Lieberberg said. "We think that this event perfectly honors Carmen and everything that he ws about. Bringing people together, having fun, playing football and doing something good for your community. And we're very proud to have put it on, and we're thrilled with th turnout."
Along with the entry fee, prize raffles were held throughout the day to keep raising funds. Some of the prizes were four Giants tickets and a signed football.
One of the players on the field was Coach Guarino's son CJ. He played on a team of his friends and family members. Guarino said seeing players out on the field competing and having a blast in his dad's honor is an incredible feeling.
"When people come to the services and the game, [it's] a lot of older people, friends of my dad," Guarino said. "To see this, a flag football game with guys who are younger than me, students and players that he had from 2010 up to '17 and '18, for them to come out and still play, it's great."
"It really shows you how good of a teacher and coach he was," Guarino added.
As the sun set behind the high school, it came down to two teams; a group of current Millburn Football players and a group of recent alumni. In thrilling fashion, the current team held on by a hair to defeat the alumni. Hudson Parris, one of the players on that team said the group was competing in Guarino's memory, which made the win all the sweeter.
"It feels great, Parris said. "We loved Coach Guarino and the whole football team [does] too."
Coming off a 7-3 regular season finish, the best result for the shool since the 1960s, he said that the Guarino tournament was the perfect capper for the seniors on the flag squad before they graduate in the Spring.
"Everyone made plays today," Parris added. "It was a great day."