NAUGATUCK — The stars came out in Naugatuck last Saturday for the first Josh Ruccio Scholarship basketball game and the Greyhounds’ gymnasium was filled to capacity.
It appeared as though the entire borough came out to support a scholarship fund that has awarded $500 scholarships to eight Naugatuck seniors over the past two years in honor of the former coach and 1994 Naugy High graduate.
Greg Rice served as DJ, announcing to the crowd the New School graduates (2002-13) and the Old School graduates (1984-2000) as both teams high-fived the Little Pal kids lined up at the door. The support was so overwhelming several players who came ready to play weren’t even on the original rosters.
Former Naugatuck girls basketball coach Keith Raczkowski and current boys soccer coach Art Nunes served as referees. Naugatuck girls coach Jodie Ruccio and her staff of Kara Caron, Heather Yablonski, Sean Dunn and Karl Evangelista coached the New School while Steve Hensley served as team manager. The Old School was coached by Brian Sullivan and Joe DiStasio.
The game was secondary as everyone came out for the same purpose: To honor the man they affectionately called “Roosh.”
Josh Ruccio died suddenly Jan. 16, 2012 at the age of 35. He was a fixture on the Naugatuck sports scene for more than 20 years. He played baseball and basketball at the high school, coached at every level of youth sports in the borough and also served as vice president of the Naugatuck Hall of Fame.
Some 499 tickets were sold for the game and the crowd, plus raffles, generated a little over $6,000 for a scholarship fund that will serve the students at Naugatuck High School for a long time to come.
“I have never seen anything like this,” said Jodie Ruccio of the overwhelming support displayed by the Naugatuck community. “I had students from Maple Hill in the stands with their parents. I had friends bringing their aunts and uncles and the entire families with them. I never really expected so many from the community to come out like this. It was truly amazing the support they showed.”
Following the opening tip-off, the pace of the game was fast and furious as the New School didn’t want to get shown up by the Old School. Most players wore wide smiles, just happy to be back on the hardwood to show they still have game.
Shawn Mobilio ‘06 (game-high 19 points) was simply unstoppable as the New School raced out to a 12-3 lead. The Old School, led by the Greyhounds all-time boys leading scorer Mike Wilson ‘99 (11 points) and Scot Crosswait ‘92 (10 points) began to close the gap at 17-13 with 6:03 left in the first period.
Robert Servidas ‘06 (13 points) and Anthony Mariano ‘09 (13 points) gave the New School a 28-18 lead at the end of the first period. The Old School, helped by Brian Cardoza ‘98 (nine points), started to chip away and finally took its first lead at 36-35 with 4:13 left in the first half.
The New School struck back with Zac Mercer ‘12 (10 points) hitting a turn-around jumper in the lane followed by a 3-pointer from the top of the key. Joe Edmunds ‘95 closed the gap at 40-39 by netting a 3-ball off the window. The Old School wasn’t counting on the cagey outside shot from Julia Longo ‘10, who nailed a 3 at the buzzer to give the New School a 45-39 lead at the break.
At halftime, the scholarship winners from the last two years (Zac Mercer, Nolan Kinne, Amber Kuczenski and Michelle Scinto in 2012, and Sydney Cotto, Chris Sheedy, Brianna Ritter and Steph Lima in 2013) were introduced to the crowd. Then the Little Pal kids took center court for a spirited game.
The second half remained fast and furious and the game came down to the final minutes before the New School held on for a seat-grabbing, 90-87 win over the Old School.
“Brian (Sullivan) yelled over to me that he was sorry but he was going to keep his starters in down the stretch,” Jodie Ruccio said. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry, I’m keeping mine in, too.’”
The first Josh Ruccio Scholarship basketball game, which is planned to be an annual event, surpassed all expectations.
“I thought we would only need one set of bleachers pulled out, and I’m glad they talked me out of it,” Jodie Ruccio said. “I really didn’t expect this kind of crowd. I was really touched that they all came out to support Josh, who was really a take-his-shirt-off-his-back-for-you kind of guy.”