More than 300 towns across the state organized simultaneous runs.
This year marked the 25th year that Hudson County police officers have raised money for the event that empowers children and adults with disabilities to become physically fit, productive and respected members of society through sports training and competition.
Each town mapped out a course and then passed the torch. For example, the Union City course started at 49th and Bergenline, proceeded south on Bergenline to 22nd, west on 22nd to Summit, 22nd Street and Summit Avenue south to Fifth Street and Summit, then west to Fifth and Kennedy where the torch was passed to Jersey City officers. That course was about 2.5 miles.
There were about 30 participants, and the run took less than 30 minutes.
"Police officers pass the torch, just like in the Olympics," said Gabe Piomelli, state delegate, New Jersey Policemen's Benevolent Association (PBA). "Organizations, businesses, corporations, and individuals donate."
North Bergen bears the torch
North Bergen law enforcement has been involved in the torch run for 12 years, according to Captain Robert Dowd of the North Bergen Police Department.
"We have two goals," he said. "One is to bring awareness to a great cause, and the other, the primary goal, is to raise funds for people with special needs."
He said they raised $9,400 for the cause. "This was a great achievement, and we had a lot of help," he said. Even before the race, money was raised in schools. "We have a great relationship with the schools," he said, citing the cooperation of Superintendent of Schools Robert Dandorph as well as School Resource Officer Detective Enrique Marrero, and North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco.
Dowd said that six North Bergen police officers ran the entire 14-mile course, all the way to Raymond Boulevard in Newark. They were Santos Benetiz, Anthony Caramucci, Ramon DeJesus, George Finkeldey, Cynthia Vargas, and Thomas Yfantis.
Major contributors, according to Dowd, included Stephen Guido of Westside Transload ($500); Howard McPherson of Champion Construction ($500); Marks Tavern ($400); and more than $2,300 from North Bergen school system employees.
"We went for it, it was a concerted team effort," Dowd said. "It was a great day and a great run."
Mayor goes the extra mile
"The police officers do all the work for this symbolic torch run, which brings awareness and raises money for the Special Olympics," said West New York Mayor Sal Vega. "For the last two years I've run the entire course with the police officers from North Bergen to Newark-the course loops around Jersey for 12 miles. Like many others, I support the Special Olympics." "I don't know how much of an athlete I am," he continued, "but I always ran, in grade school, high school, college, and after college competitively. Growing up as a runner I had dreams of going to the Olympics. Some children were not able to fulfill their dreams until the Special Olympics, and I'm old enough to remember that the Kennedy family had something to do with it." Vega said the West New York contingent raised about $6,000. Local fuzz bring in funds
Chris Scardino, president of Local 8 of the PBA, which represents the Union City Police Department, has been onboard since the run's inception in 1983.
"Last year, the state raised about $2 million for the Special Olympics," he said after the run, "and Union City PBA Local 8 raised just over $14,100 to be ranked in the top 10."
Scardino explained that special T-shirts are made for the torch run. "In New Jersey only the top 10 departments get to be on the shirt," he said.
They won't know until all the money is counted whether they won a slot on the shirt. "Our goal was to make the shirt for this year's 25 anniversary," Scardino said.
"The Special Olympics gives kids who are disabled a right to compete like anybody else."
He added that donors give anywhere from $10 to $5,000, depending on the business. "People donate from loose change to thousands of dollars," he said. "It doesn't matter. In the end it all adds up."
Scardino sang the praises of Police Officer Angie Lugo, who worked hard soliciting sponsors. "I want to give credit to her and acknowledge her," he said. "She went door to door raising money for the cause."
"It was a great day for the run, and it was nice to see people out there cheering us on for such a great cause," he added.
"This whole thing is not about us," Scardino said. "I want to emphasize it's about the kids. It's all about them."
For his part, Union City Chief of Police Charles Everett credits the PBA for the success of the program. "The PBA has been a real agent for this," he said. "Even though the department supports their action, the credit goes to the union."
"It's a good thing for the unions and the police department to participate," he continued. "It gives us a chance to show support for the community, and the Special Olympics is special in terms of giving vulnerable people an opportunity to engage in sports and live as fully as someone more capable.
"It allows people who would otherwise not be able to compete to build self esteem and live life just as fully-but just work harder at it."
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