Wantagh school district announces 9/11 Memorial 5K fundraiser


As the 23rd anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the Wantagh school district looks to find ways for students never to forget what happened on that tragic day.

At a May Board of Education meeting at the high school, Principal Paul Guzzone and Assistant Principal Christopher Widmann announced the Wantagh Warrior 9/11 Memorial 5K, a fundraising run that will take place on Sept. 22. According to Guzzone, the race will help fund programs for students and staff to recognize the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

“This is too important of an event that occurred to not have something on campus here for remembrance,” Guzzone said.

The run, according to Guzzone, will be a partnership with the Gary Sinise Foundation, a public charity that organizes numerous programs to honor veterans and first responders. The foundation has worked with the Wantagh district in the past. In April 2023, students from the high school took part in the foundation’s Soaring Valor program, traveled to the National WWII Museum, in New Orleans, to tour it and speak with veterans who served in World War II.

Last August, the district worked with the foundation again, this time inviting high school juniors to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in Manhattan, to learn about the attacks and the sacrifices of those who died that day.

According to Guzzone, the trip was a memorable experience for all those who took part. “It was really life-changing, quite honestly,” he said. “Those are my words, but also the words of our students that went as well as the parents.”

After the Manhattan trip, Guzzone said, the high school faculty formed a committee to find ways to locally honor those who died on 9/11 or from 9/11-related illnesses. The committee decided on a 5K run to help raise money for future trips to the museum as well as other initiatives, such as a senior scholarship and a memorial of the district’s own at one of its buildings.

The Sinise Foundation, according to Guzzone, agreed to be a Gold Star Sponsor, the highest level of sponsorship for the event. Jim Ravella, senior vice president for programs at the foundation, said it was an honor to support the Wantagh community.

“We provide a lot of services to veterans, first responders, their families, and our active-duty Guard (and) Reserve,” Ravella said, referring to the National Guard and Army Reserve. “That is a big part of our mission, but this is also at the core of who Gary is, and why this foundation exists is to connect to the next generation.”

Since the event’s announcement last month, Guzzone said, the reaction from the community has been “tremendous.” Organizations including Jovia Financial Credit Union, Coldwell Banker and the Helix Contracting Corp have signed up as sponsors, along with community groups.

Guzzone says it’s not just students who benefit from learning about 9/11, but the next generation of educators as well. The district, he said, already has teachers who were not alive when terrorists attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.

“We want to make sure that we’re educating students,” Guzzone said. “We also have a responsibility now, as the elder statesman of education, to make sure that we’re educating our educators, so they’re in a great position to pass along that knowledge to students, because they’re not going to have those stories.”

In his last 10 years as an administrator at Oceanside and Wantagh high schools, Guzzone said, he didn’t need to ask teachers what their lesson plans were for Sept. 11, because they all recalled what happened that day, and remembered watching news footage of smoke pouring out of the towers, or calling loved ones to see if they were OK. For Guzzone, it is crucial to keep these stories from being lost over time.

“It’s important to keep this alive and tangible and real, not only for our students, but for educators,” he said, “because it’s going to be their responsibility to continue passing along this knowledge.”

The inaugural Wantagh Warrior 9/11 Memorial 5K will take place on the high school track on Sunday, Sept. 22, at 9:30 a.m. For more information, go to tinyurl.com/Wantagh-911-5k.