The pair of nets that hung from the basketball hoops last weekend in the gym at Samuel Field YM-YWCA appeared perfectly intact. A closer look, however, revealed a lone string dangling out of place beneath the rim at the northern end of the court.
The only other link missing from the inaugural game of the Robert Speisman Basketball Scholarship Fund a tribute held Sunday afternoon that drew about 40 players and more than 100 fans to the Ys gym proved to be Speisman himself.
A Little Neck native who spent countless hours as a kid playing hoops on that floor, Speisman died on Sept. 11 while traveling on the American Airlines plane crashed into the Pentagon by terrorists.
Basketball was one of Speismans greatest passions, a pursuit the 47-year-old senior vice president for sales at Lazare Kaplan International followed from his childhood to Irvington, N.Y., where he lived with his wife, Rena, and their three daughters: Tara, Brittany and Hayley.
In 1990, Speisman, the son-in-law of Lazare Kaplan Chairman Maurice Tempelsman, founded an adult basketball league that continues to meet every Sunday morning in Irvington. In the past year, his parents, Jack and Joyce Speisman, started the fund named for their son that has provided northeast Queens with its first free basketball league for youths.
The whole idea is that my son will always be remembered, as well as where he grew up and what he liked, Jack Speisman said.
The new league is open to boys and girls in grades 7-12. Registration began at the Y Sunday night and will continue through Oct. 23 from 7-9:30 p.m. Games will be held every Wednesday night beginning Oct. 30.
The beauty of this league is that everybodys welcome, said Nancy Amalfitano, the Ys director of activities and athletics. Were not looking for a certain level of skill, and its free. Its totally sponsored through this fund. Well include refs, T-shirt costs, the basketballs, the coaching everything will be covered through this fund. So thats what makes this really unique.
On Sunday, a squad of Speismans fellow players from Westchester County squared off against a large team of his family members and childhood friends.
He lived basketball, Joyce Speisman said of the second of her three children. Im so happy that were doing this. I think hes up there having a good time. I dont think he would know which team to root for, though. Thats the only problem.
Every action on the court represented Speismans memory, including the unveiling of a plaque with his image and an inscription to be displayed permanently at the Y. Every jersey worn in Sundays game bore a common moniker: Speis Ball.
His daughters tossed up the game ball. Marion Klepner, a family friend who had known Speisman since he was 8, sang a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful. His older brother, Steven, 51, who traveled from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. to emcee the event, introduced many of the players from the local squad and even scored a bucket on a turnaround jumper from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
Speismans nephew, Michael Weltman, 11, subbed into the game in the final minute and sank a hook shot from the lane.
Were here because, you know, a piece of Robbys in it, a piece of his heart, said Steven Speisman. My brother was a very charismatic guy, and he made all this happen. It was a beautiful day.
The aging all-stars from Irvington outscored the hometown crew, many of whose players traveled great distances to play in the game. But the days real winners should prove to be the youths of northeastern Queens.
They came from all over Washington, Florida, California, all over, Amalfitano said of the hometown teams members. Weve seen that same response in the donations weve received, and the moneys still coming in, which is wonderful.
So at the rate were going, I know that this league right now, just based on the money that weve brought in so far, could run at least a good five years.
Reach reporter Joe Whalen by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2002 Community News Group
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