RED BANK: FIELD OF GIANT DREAMS

EFFU players practicing for tourney action at Eastside Park last week. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Once banished from a humble neighborhood park, the hardy men of Red Bank’s Eastside Flag Football Union are about to take it Big Time.

As in MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford. Home of the National Football League Giants and Jets. Host gridiron to next year’s Super Bowl.

Ok, so maybe some of those 82,500 seats will be empty. But for these pigskin enthusiasts, the chance to participate in the Giants-sponsored Flag Football Snow Bowl, a charity event that directs all proceeds to the New Jersey Special Olympics, it’s a dream come true.

Jeffrey Senkeleski, a telecommunications specialist from John Street, said he brought the Snow Bowl to the attention of his weekend cohorts after being introduced to the event by Phil Miron, an old college friend. Miron, whose son has Down Syndrome, is leading his own team – the Shark Finns, of Cranford – to the Snow Bowl, and encouraged Senkeleski and his team to do the same.

“Basically, we’re just a bunch of old neighborhood guys who have been throwing the ball around for about five years now every weekend during football season, nothing too official or organized, just for fun really,” Senkeleski said. “There’s 13 regulars participating in this event, and we really don’t care if we make fools of ourselves out there. It’s a great cause, and so far the response and donations we’ve received have been overwhelming. It’s a great opportunity for everyone involved, and it should be a ton of fun.”

According to Senkeleski, EFFU has raised more than $5,000, which places it fifth among the 120 teams participating in the event.

“Even though we’re unsure how well we’re going to be able to compete on the field – being old guys against a lot of younger, more serious players – the money-raising aspect is a competition in itself,” he said. “There’s even internal competition between the players to see who can raise the most,” he added.

Scott Ludwikowski, the group organizer known as ‘the Commish’ to his teammates, sees the Snow Bowl as not only a chance to raise money for a worthy cause, but also an opportunity to gauge the team’s skills against some stiff competition.

“Sometimes, we start to think we are pretty good,” he said, half-jokingly. “The problem is, we only play and scrimmage against each other, so it will be a good test to see how we play against other teams.”

Ludwikowski added that although the EFFU squad is “just a bunch of neighborhood dudes playing pick-up,” it has some players who played on a college level, as well as several experienced rugby players.

“We play our heart out week in and week out, here in Eastside Park,” he said, taking a break from practice. “We’re going to go into MetLife and do our best, with our friends and families watching us in the stands.Whether we win our games or lose them, we know we are going to be hitting up Dublin House afterwards.” The Monmouth Street watering hole is supplying the team’s game-day uniforms.

Morgan Fahey, another player on the squad, feels a particularly close connection to the cause.

“My brother actually has Down Syndrome,” he said. “So it feels really good to raise so much money for something that’s personal for me. Also, it’s a chance for myself and the other guys to relive some former glory, I guess you could say.”

The Seventh Annual NY Football Giants Snow Bowl is being held at MetLife Stadium March 1 through 3. Those looking to donate directly to the Eastside Flag Football Union can do so here.

A Princess and Pirates Fundraiser Children’s Party, organized by Eileen Labetti, wife of team member Tom, is scheduled for February 23 at The Chelsea at Tinton Falls assisted living facility to help generate funds for the team. For more information or to RSVP,  contact Eileen at 732-933-4700.

Asked about the possibility of inclement weather at the stadium – a hotbutton issue in the context of the Super Bowl – Senkeleski laughed and assured redbankgreen that a little snow or rain wouldn’t curb his team’s enthusiasm.

“If it’s hailing, we’re still going to go out there and play,” he said. “I mean, come on – it’s Giants’ Stadium. We’re very excited.”