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Ozone Park students honor A.L. champs

It seemed a bit out of place in the heart of Queens, but a 15-foot, 75-pound inflatable baseball honoring the New York Yankees’ trip to the World Series found its way last Thursday to the school yard of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School in Ozone Park.

The school, run by Sister Mary Marguerite Torre, sister of New York Yankees Manager Joe Torre, was chosen by sporting goods retailer The Sports Authority to kick off a weeklong tri-state area tour by the giant baseball.

Sister Torre’s students, along with local firefighters and police officers, signed the ball, which will be presented to the Yankees after the World Series.

“We thought New Yorkers needed a lift after the events of Sept. 11,” said Scott Miranda, a spokesman for The Sports Authority. “We had heroes in the fire and police departments that have carried us and the Yankees came through for the city as well.”

Although the students would have needed a fire truck’s ladder to reach the top of the inflatable ball, they were content to sign their names and messages on the sphere’s more accessible areas.

“I wrote ‘I live to love Yankees,’” said seventh-grader Dominic Scurry. “I wrote ‘What’s up Yankees? Champions forever, players for life,’” said Benjamin Orson, a sixth grader, at the school at 92nd Street and Rockaway Boulevard.

Students gathered around their principal and watched her inscribe a message to her brother’s team. “Joe and team,” she wrote, “God Bless You, Sr. Marguerite.”

A line of seventh graders chanted “Let’s Go Yankees” as they prepared to sign the ball, but not all the students were fans of the Bronx Bombers.

“This is great, but I’m still a Mets fan no matter what,” said seventh grader Samantha Tomeo. “This is Queens, really.”

Ricardo Timgson, a seventh grader, said, “I was going to write ‘Let’s go Mets,’ but they wouldn’t let me.”

One student had words of encouragement for the Yankees’ World Series opponent. “I like the ‘Big Unit,’” said sixth grader Steven Hough, referring to the Arizona Diamondback pitcher Randy Johnson. “I wrote, ‘Let’s go D-Backs.’”

As the students in groups of about 50 at a time scurried to put their names and words on the ball, police officers from the 106th Precinct and firefighters from Engine 185 looked on in delight.

“We’re out here to support New York because everyone in New York has been affected,” said Kenneth Zorn, the community affairs officer of the 106th Precinct. “Bringing normalcy into people’s lives is helping the healing process.”

Lt. Elvio Capocci of the 106th Precinct said it was nice to gather for a happy event in a time that has been dominated by sorrow. “It’s good to forget about it for a while, to see the smiles,” he said.

“We came out to show support for the kids and the community and for everyone in the city of New York,” said Ernie Gill a firefighter from Engine 185. “I feel lucky to be here.”

Sister Torre applauded the efforts of New York’s rescue personnel, noting she was especially proud of Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, a graduate of Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary School. “It’s so good to see them to thank them for all they’ve done for the city,” she said.

Acknowledging that her school is in Queens, she also had words for any of her students whose allegiance may lie with New York’s National League baseball club.

“Hopefully, no Mets fans put messages I’ll have to erase,” said Sister Torre, laughing.

Reach reporter Daniel Massey by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 156.

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