The LHS girls basketball team hosted the Alley-Oop for Autism tournament on April 26, bringing together teams from Linden police, fire, recreation/DPW, and Linden Public Schools to raise money for programs for individuals with autism. 

By Gary Miller

The Linden High School girls basketball team hosted a basketball tournament Thursday, April 26, where everyone walked away a winner.

The first Alley-Oop for Autism featured teams from the Linden Public Schools, Linden Police Department, Linden Fire Department, and Linden Department of Public Property and Community Services. They helped raise awareness of autism and $1,200 for the Union County Spectrum All-Stars, a parent-organized group that provides recreation and sports activities to individuals with autism.

“I think the organization provides our autism community with opportunities and experiences that may not otherwise be afforded those opportunities,” said Jason Fekete, the LHS girls basketball coach, who organized the event. “I think it’s important that autistic children have the same opportunities as everybody else.”

>> SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THE ALLEY-OOP FOR AUTISM

Lori Gonzalez, leader of the Spectrum All-Stars, said the tournament was a great idea and that the group is blessed to have the support of the Linden community.

“Linden has been right there supporting us in everything we’re tried to do, for our program, for our kids,” she said. “So that we can give them a social life and to allow them to have the opportunities that every other child would have.

The day of the tournament, new numbers were released on the autism rate for children in New Jersey, which has the highest rate of autism in the nation. The state went from 1 in 41 children being diagnosed with autism to 1 in 34, an increase of 19 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“So you can see how critical things are getting for our children and the services that are so desperately needed for our kids,” Gonzalez told the crowd at the start of the tournament. “There are things out there, but it’s never enough. That’s why our plan is to keep providing more, and work harder to try to make Linden the gold standard for autism services.”

large group photo of all the teams in the Alley-Oop for Autism tournament with Spectrum All-Stars children and parents

Organizers and members of the four teams in the Alley-Oop for Autism tournament gather together with children and parents from the Union County Spectrum All-Stars.

Fekete, who has a younger brother with autism, said he brought up the idea of a tournament to his players, and they were excited to help. Fekete, who formerly also coached girls volleyball at LHS, started the volleyball Pink Out event that is held every fall to raise money to fight breast cancer.

“I think it’s important for the girls to understand about charity and philanthropy,” he said. “This is a way for us to help give back. They were very excited about it. It’s a fun opportunity.”

The event raised money through ticket sales, T-shirt sales, raffles, sponsorships, and donations from the four unions that represent the teams.

The night started with the Fire Department against the Police Department, with the police coming out on top. Then the recreation/DPW team defeated the schools. Rec/DPW won the championship over the police, with Laron Capers capturing the MVP award.

James Harper, assistant LHS girls basketball coach and fourth-grade teacher at School No. 1, led the schools over the Fire Department to win the MVP in the consolation game.

“It’s fun, but we also have some competition here!” Fekete said.