By Robert Cole
Although the middle school athletes from George J. Ryan MS 216 in Fresh Meadows fell short of their goal to capture the citywide middle school basketball championship trophy, the smiles that broke out on their faces as they received their runner-up medals and trophy revealed that they are CHAMPS.
CHAMPS, which is an acronym for “Cooperative, Healthy, Active, Motivated, Positive, Students,” has served middle school athletes throughout the city for 15 years, offering a variety of athletic activities throughout the academic year.
“The goal of the program is to provide opportunities for all middle school students to participate in before and after school sports programs regardless of their athletic ability,” CHAMPS coordinator and basketball commissioner Alan Semel said. “It’s great that middle school students have the opportunity to participate in sports and life-time fitness, it gives them a chance to participate in competitive basketball that teaches them a lot and prepares them for high school.”
The Ryan MS 216 team came into the game with high hopes after winning its semifinal game on Thursday, which put them into their first championship game. But they ran into a tough, athletic IS 323 team from Brooklyn that also had their eyes on the championship prize.
The boys from Ryan could not overcome some championship nerves and early pressure from the Brooklynites, and ultimately lost 49-39 contest.
The defensive pressure from IS 323 led to five steals in the first quarter, which turned into to seven points. Meanwhile, the Brooklyn defense held the Ryan offense to two points, scored by the team’s leading scorer Kelyn Sanches, who finished with 11 points. The Brooklyn champs fed off the energy of their defense and exploded on the other end of the court, draining three three-point baskets and closing the first quarter with three dunks by Diovion Famikinde to take a 22-2 lead into the second.
Ryan eventually settled into the game behind the play of their center Mohammal Shah, who finished the game with 10 points. But the Queens champs still trailed 30-12 at the half.
Despite the deficit, the Ryan players stayed together and continued to fight, eventually cutting the deficit to 45-37 in the fourth quarter, after Kelyn Sanches drained a jumper.
“It was a slow start, but I am really proud of how the team fought back, they did not give up, they kept grinding it out to cut the lead to eight points, from being down 22, and they gave themselves a chance,” Ryan coach Paul Vigoda said.
Vigoda instructed his team to foul on the defensive end of the court in an effort to keep IS 323 from running out the clock, but they could not complete the comeback and were handed a hard-fought 49-39 defeat.
“We all did an amazing job over the past two years, and I hope everyone does well in the future,” said Sanches, who expects to be a team leader next year as an eight-grader.”
Despite the loss, Vigoda said he could not be happier with his team’s effort.
“I have been doing this for 15 years now. We went to the final four in 2016 and this was my first time in the finals. I could not be more proud of the team. They did a great job,” he said.