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Borough’s best gear up for Empire Challenge

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Bragging rights will be decided.

Some of Queens’ top high school football players from the 2001 season will compete in the fifth annual Outback Steakhouse Empire Classic, a charity game between stars from New York City and Long Island on Wednesday, July 3.

The game, affectionately called “The Boomer Bowl,” will benefit the Boomer Esiason Foundation, the Gunnar N. Esiason Endowment Fund at Hofstra University and youth football programs in the New York metro area. Esiason, the former New York Jets quarterback, has a son, Gunnar, who has cystic fibrosis. The game will be at Hofstra University with the opening kickoff slated for 7 p.m.

Helping to coach the New York City team will be two borough representatives, Tom Pugh of Holy Cross and Mike Greene from August Martin. The head coach for the team will be Fred Snyder from Sheepshead Bay, with assistants from a host of schools inside the five boroughs, including Beach Channel, South Shore, Xaverian, Brooklyn Tech, Midwood, Canarsie, Lehman, Wagner, Columbus, Fort Hamilton and Tottenville.

“The talent level is unbelievable,” said Pugh, who has been involved with the game since its inception. “The difference between this and other all-star games I’ve seen is Boomer makes it a first-class game for all the seniors.”

The players from Queens include defensive back Woody Aime and tight end Doug Anderwkavich of Holy Cross; offensive tackle James Baldi, defensive back Craig Nelson and linebacker Rolando Garcia from Christ the King; fullback Anthony Pittman, linebacker Trevor Shamblee and wide receiver Shaine Smith from August Martin; and defensive back Brian Forman and defensive end Chris Zambrano representing St. Francis Prep.

The players will practice as a team for five days leading up to the game at the New York Jets training facility at Hofstra University with the Long Island team practicing in the morning and the New York team in the afternoon. Each player of the two teams gets to share a locker with one member of the actual Jets.

The Jets team trainers act in the same capacity for the two high school all-star teams and the equipment the pros use also is available to the players

“It’s fantastic,” Pugh said. “He makes sure all the kids picked are the best from the city and the island. The difference between the city and the island is the island kids take their cars there and the city kids meet at three different places to take the bus.”

Last year provided a memorable edition to the annual event, a 17-10 victory for the New York City team made possible by the contributions of several Queens representatives, most notably Holy Cross’ Victor Parsley.

Parsley picked off Purdue-bound quarterback Kyle Smith’s sure touchdown pass to Bryan Tornee at the City 10-yard line with 57 seconds left to preserve his team’s come-from-behind win in front of the raucous 11,373 fans.

The win avenged a tough 23-18 New York City loss in 2000 Empire Challenge.

This year’s edition promises to be another competitive affair, with a bevy of Division I caliber players on both sides of the ball and an expected crowd of 14,000 to 15,000. The rules for the game, Pugh said, benefit the offense, which could make for a high-scoring affair.

“The game is really set for the offense,” the coach said. “There are a lot of things the defense can’t do.”

With each team filled with players who already have earned full athletic scholarships to play ball next season, this game is more like a freshman college all-star game than just another high school battle. And the players, the coach said, take the game seriously.

“The drills I do everyday, the drills you do with high school kids, you see a big difference,” Pugh said. “The speed is so different. They are so fast, they all have that acceleration. They move so quickly, it’s not like a high school all-star game, even.

“It’s going to be a good game this year,” he added. “We have a lot of speed, but they are better at quarterback.”

Long Island’s team will feature a squad headed-up by head coach Keith Sachs of Wantagh High School. The top players include Penn State-bound Chris Auletta of St. Anthony’s, Babylon’s Drew Peters and Wantagh’s Patrick Walsh, both of whom will play at Notre Dame next year, and Randy Earle of Farmingdale, who is headed for Maryland.

A series of pre-game and post-game activities also is planned, including a fireworks display by Grucci. Tickets are $10 per person and are available at the Hofstra Stadium box office on game day. Gates open at 5:30 p.m.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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