WOODBRIDGE – The 22 boys and 22 girls bowling teams that converged on Majestic Lanes on Saturday were hoping to take something home to put in their high school’s trophy cases.
Giving, however, is much more in the spirit of the Marisa Tufaro Classic.
The bowlers, parents, coaches and fans brought new and unwrapped toys to be donated to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Bristol-Myers Children’s Hospital in New Brunswick.
Puzzles, games, action figures, books, basketballs and more were collected as everyone arrived Saturday morning.
The back room looked like a toy store, with all manner of footballs, dolls, race cars and dump trucks piled high on tables.
This bowling tournament is a fitting way to honor the memory of Marisa, the daughter of Cyindi, an Edison elementary school principal, and Greg, a sportswriter. They founded The Marisa Tufaro Foundation in loving memory of their daughter after she passed away on Jan. 30, 2017.
Marisa is the inspiration behind the season-opening tournament. She was born with a heart defect that prevented her from taking part in some physical activities, but bowling wasn’t one of them. In fact, she loved the sport.
Saturday’s event served not only as a fundraiser for their nonprofit, but as a toy drive for pediatric patients at the hospital.
With the upcoming holidays as the backdrop to the Marisa Tufaro Classic, you could see why it was an emotional day and you could understand why the bowling teams that came from as far north as Bergen Tech and from as far south as Howell were so generous on Saturday.
“Especially around the holiday season, you want to look out for people who maybe went through some adversity in their life,” said Carteret girls bowling coach Nick Panos. “This tournament personifies the holiday season. You have a packed house always. Our Carteret Bowling Club made a donation (to the Marisa Tufaro Foundation) last year, and we’re going to do that again this year. That’s the most important part of today is the feel-good story around the holiday season. To win is the cherry on top.”
Panos’ team exacted a measure of revenge Saturday, sweeping a best-of-five final from tournament host Woodbridge (198-147, 166-148 and 194-159), which not only handed the Ramblers their lone regular-season defeat a year ago, but also edged them in a best-of-three series to win the conference tournament title last season.
In the boys division, Jackson Liberty overcame some adversity to win. The Lions rallied in the final game of qualifying to finish four pins ahead of Woodbridge to edge the host and two-time defending state titlists for the fourth and final spot in the championship round. In the finals, Jackson Liberty dropped its first two games to second-seeded Linden before regaining the form that enabled the team to capture the first Tournament of Champions title in any sport in school history a year ago.
The biggest winners on Saturday, however, were the children who will benefit from the donations to the Marisa Tufaro Foundation.
Established just over two years ago, The Marisa Tufaro Foundation has already made a profound impact, donating more than $100,000 and spearheading multiple community initiatives to fulfill its mission of helping pediatric patients and other children in need throughout the greater Middlesex County area.
The nonprofit has also donated thousands of toys, nonperishable food items, winter jackets, baby supplies and other items upon which it has placed no monetary value.
In addition, the nonprofit awards college scholarship dollars to exceptional high school students who advance its mission, and provides elementary and middle school students with scholarships to attend a weeklong summer camp at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum.
Marisa Tufaro, who would have been a junior this year at Edison High School, was born with a complex cardiac defect that required six open-heart surgeries. Despite being hospitalized for more than two years and maintaining hundreds of doctor’s appointments, she lived a vibrant life that inspired. After her sixth surgery, Marisa developed two life-threatening conditions that necessitated a heart transplant. A postoperative complication developed into a rare form of cancer that riddled her brain and body. Marisa succumbed to her illness at just 13 years old.
The donated toys will be available for distribution, not only during the holiday season, but throughout the year, to meet the needs of pediatric patients, all of whom can benefit at any time from a diversion to help cope with the stress and pain that can accompany treatments, medical procedures and extended admissions.
Parents of hospitalized children, some of whom are overwhelmed with medical bills and other related costs, may not be able to afford presents, or are so consumed with caring for their ill child that shopping, even online, is not a possibility or a priority.
Greg and Cyndi helped organize the bowling event along with tournament director/Woodbridge High School head coach Amanda Small. They greeted bowlers and bowling coaches, helped collect the toy donations, handed out awards and were gracious hosts for the day of bowling they say Marisa would have loved. After all, she would ask them to take her to Stelton Lanes in Piscataway and Milford Lanes during family vacations in Delaware.
The Tufaros penned a heartfelt thank you letter on the foundation’s Facebook page.
“We hope your benevolence is returned exponentially and that you have a happy and healthy holiday season,” it read.