Saugerties school staff to take on Harlem Wizards in fundraiser

Left to right, Cahill teachers Rina Liepshutz, Alexandra Gambino, Mary Garland, Stacey Hopf, Elizabeth Ruzzo, Jamie Monroe, Lori Puertas, and Cahill principal Dawn Scannapieco and secretary Heidi Roth listen as Harlem Wizard basketball player John Smith, far right, explains what is expected of them during an upcoming fundraising event that pits teachers against Wizards. (Photo by Crispin Kott)

Saugerties elementary school teachers and administrators will take on the Harlem Wizards in a basketball game in the Saugerties High School gym on Sunday, November 24. The fundraising event is sponsored by the Cahill Elementary PTA. The Wizards aim primarily to entertain crowds with a combination of “tricks, hoops and alley oops.” Their opponents in the fundraiser, elementary school educators from Saugerties, have been until now mostly renowned for their off-court abilities. 

“You provide the team to play against them and they willingly come embarrass your teachers,” said Cahill PTA president Kristin Koegel, a Rhinbeck science teacher with direct experience of being embarrassed by the Wizards. “I’ve played in three games against them, and it’s all a whole lot of fun. The kids get a kick out of it and it’s a really great community-building event.”


Koegel said the event should be entertaining for everyone in the crowd. “It is a really high-energy mostly scripted basketball game,” she said. “There’s a lot comedy involved. They [the Wizards, not the teachers] get lot of audience involvement before they get onto the court. They have dance contests, they have parent free-throw contest. It’s a really fun, high-energy, interactive show.” 

John “Big J” Smith, a Harlem Wizard for the past decade, visited the four Saugerties elementary schools last month, giving kids a look at trick basketball maneuvers and drumming up interest in the big game. 

“The response was amazing,” reported Smith. “The kids were excited. Everyone was full of smiles.” Smith, a graduate of the College of Staten Island with a degree in sociology, is six-foot-eight with a size 18 shoe. He has played pro ball overseas for six years in eight different countries. He’s traveled the world with the Wizards, entertaining crowds in 38 different countries. 

Smith echoed Koegel’s assessment of the Harlem Wizards experience. “The community should look forward to a night of family fun, laughter, joy and a sense of togetherness,” he said,

The Wizards get a lot out of the experience, too. “Well, it means everything,” Smith said. “Being able to go into a school district and bring joy and smiles to everyone is the best thing in the world. To be able to spread a sense of positivity throughout the country and world is an honor. We get a sense of contentment: Knowing that we were able to make someone’s day a little bit better is all we need. You never know who needs a boost of positivity and joy in their lives.” 

The game will serve as a fundraiser for the Cahill PTA, which raises money for everything from field trips to after-school programs, teacher mini-grants for classroom materials to assemblies. They also help provide clothing through the nurse’s office for underprivileged students, including outerwear and socks. 

“So we kind of run the gamut of supplementing the school’s funding for our students,” said Koegel. 

Tickets are available by searching the district calendar for November 24. Tickets range from $10 for students, $13 for general admission, $20 for reserved seating near courtside and a poster. A $30 courtside plus package includes a reserved seat, a pregame meet-and-greet with the Wizards, a commemorative lanyard, a color photograph, and $10 off a Wizards replica jersey. The game will take place on Sunday, November 24 at 5:30 p.m., with doors opening at 4:30 p.m.