The Shining Stars Ambassadors — a special needs traveling basketball team that plays area first responders were in town to play the Oceanport PBA — not only to have some fun on the court, but to build friendship and understanding. Presented by Shining Stars Network — a non profit dedicated to shining the light on the special needs community through the performing arts and sports — those in attendance were treated to a game that featured some great plays and teamwork.
The Ambassadors faced the PBA in the first half, before both teams were combined in the second half so everyone could get to know each other better. “Everyone had a wonderful time,” noted Shining Stars Network President and Monmouth Park television host Mike Curci, who along with his wife Sally, are the driving force behind the organization. “The Oceanport police were amazing, immediately making our team feel at home. Our thanks to Mayor Jay Coffey the Oceanport Boro Council, Police chief Mike Kelly and the Oceanport PBA for making this such a memorable event.”
The players took the floor after a stirring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner by Ambassador Brian McAuliffe. Mayor Coffey, an avid basketball fan and referee, officiated the contest and once again came away impressed with the impact the night had on everyone involved. “I had the privilege of reffing the game that the Super Bowl and World Series have and then some,” said Mayor Coffey. “I can’t imagine a more rewarding, uplifting and illuminating game has ever been played on that court. Our police officers are actually pretty good basketball players, but their hardwood skills pale in comparison to their collective compassion, grace and humanity. We are blessed to have them protecting our boro. The Shining Stars Ambassadors played their hearts out from the opening whistle and both teams played the game with ear-to-ear smiles on their faces.”
At halftime, there was also a dance party that got the crowd involved. There are plans already in the works for the Ambassadors to return for another game. “Everybody who watched the game from the stands (including, incredibly, Monmouth Beach legends Ernie Brina and Dickie Keller) couldn’t help but smile and be uplifted by what was happening on and off the court. We’re going to schedule another game in the near future and Oceanport should turn out in great numbers to support the next one. Big thank you’s to Mike Curci of Shining Stars Network for allowing us all to be part of this. Chief Mike “3 seconds” Kelly and P.O. John “Gimme the Damn Ball” Weir for coordinating everything. and Mike Fagliarone, Micky Perulli, Greg Lauretta, Dan Petrocelli, Nike Chenoweth and Chuck Svenson for playing so well and giving the Shining Stars Ambassadors a night they will never forget.”
“This was great for not only us and the police department but the community as a whole in Oceanport to have the Shining Stars Ambassadors come here and show their stuff,” noted Oceanport Police Chief Mike Kelly. “They’re a great team, great athleticism. It brought the community together, very special.”
“It was a great experience, can’t wait to do it again,” said police officer John Weir, who was instrumental in organizing the event. “Amazing athletes and amazing people with the organization. It was just a great time. You get so much out of it knowing how much joy they get out of the game.”
“It was awesome, It was unbelievable, a lot of fun.” said police officer Mike Fagliarone. “I can’t even put into words. I think it helps bring awareness, it helps bring understanding and cameraderie. It helps build team and friendships.”
All proceeds go to Shining Stars Network, a 501(c)(3) non profit that shines the light on the special needs community by creating events in the performing arts, sports and more. One of their big events is “An Evening of Shining Stars” — an annual talent show which features 35 special needs cast members — and last year, drew an audience of more than 1,000. This year’s show will take place on Friday May 3, 2019 at the Union County Performing Arts Center.
“The show will feature our cast singing and dancing to songs from Broadway and movies,” added Curci, “Their performances are truly amazing and we are inspired every day by their talent and preparation. We hope to bring our talent show to the Monmouth County area sometime this year.”
As for the Ambassadors, they can’t wait for a return match against the PBA. “As soon as the final buzzer sounded, we were making plans for another game,” added Mike Curci. “Inclusion is a big part of what Shining Stars is about, and we can’t thank Oceanport enough for allowing us to share our mission.”