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Tremendous turnout for St. Raphael's 13th Winter Classic

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A crowded gymnasium roared with applause and cheered on the teams competing in the 13th annual Winter Classic at St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Church, in East Meadow. From Feb. 13 through 23, hundreds of athletes competed on roughly 40 teams from parishes across Long Island.

“The turnout was incredible,” said Dave Hudzik, the director of the church’s CYO basketball program. “We had packed crowds at every game.”

He noted that this year’s tournament stood out for the incredible showing of sportsmanship and camaraderie from all the competing teams. For example, Hudzik described, when someone would fall and athletes from opposing teams would stop to help them up.

“I was thoroughly impressed,” he said. “It was undeniably the best tournament as far as sportsmanship goes.”

This year’s tournament also brought a guest of honor: Bishop John Oliver Barres of the Diocese of Rockville Centre.

On Saturday evening, Bishop Barres led a mass at the church before he appeared at the tournament to address the crowd. Barres is a huge basketball fan and a former athlete on the Princeton University Tigers Varsity team.

“He was so happy to be there,” Hudzik said. “He was amazed at how we ran the tournament and represent the Diocese by mentoring the kids through basketball.”

The tournament started in 2007 with a handful of teams, but, Hudzik said, it has grown so much that it has become a highlight of the church’s — and the community’s — calendar. Local businesses make contributions as well, including Garden Social and Stew Leonard’s.

Taking home championships were St. Brigid’s Catholic Church of Westbury’s fourth and sixth-grade teams and St. Raphael’s fifth, seventh and eighth-grade teams.

The competition was tense in the seventh-grade division, when both St. Raphael’s teams played each other and echoed last year’s final face-off in their respective division. The team that lost last year ended up getting their revenge and finish first this time around.

Singing the National Anthem over the course of the weekend was Molly Hudzik, Ysa Diaz, Desarea Stevens, Lindsey Hamburger, Sofia Hudzik, Shay Stergis and Emily Huber, who closed the tournament.