Written by Stephen Levine, email@example.com Wednesday, 10 July 2013 00:00
For almost three decades, Al Vanasco has been the president of the Garden City Athletic Association (GCAA). The mayor of Garden City recognized these 30 years of hard work, along with Vanasco’s fellow long time GCAA member, Lee Cook, at a board meeting last month.
One of the main programs Vanasco and Cook helped put together was the Challenger League, 25 years ago. The program within the organization provides athletic opportunities to children ages 6-21 with mental and physical handicaps.
“I think it’s a great thing for the kids,” says Vanasco. “The Special Olympics are great but they’re only once a year. Here they get to be part of a team, be part of a group and have a lot of fun.”
Vanasco’s role in Garden City athletics began when his kids were very young and on both the baseball and softball teams. The now-president wanted to get involved with the team and eventually got involved with the GCAA in general.
Once the idea for the Challenger program was originated, everybody on the board was on board.
“The board was great and said ‘Let’s do it,’” said Vanasco. I decided to run the program and it grew from 8 [kids] to 20 [kids] to 200 [kids]”
Sports in the Challenger program include basketball, lacrosse and recently baseball. The athletic association is also working to add tennis into the equation.
Vanasco’s efforts over the past three decades to level the playing field for children with various disabilities has not gone unnoticed by the community. One of his biggest fans is Mayor John Watras.
“Obviously Al is a star. He has been with the association for 30 years and it’s a incredible the work he has done,” Watras explained. “The Challenger League is something available to make sure everyone gets a fair shake.”
According to Vanasco, the tournament for the program hosts over 200 kids across fields in Garden City, Floral Park and East Meadow.
When Vanasco first got involved, kids didn’t have regular programs to go to and now have baseball, softball, and basketball, thunder football, field hockey, and miniature golf on Friday nights at Eisenhower Park and the aforementioned Challenger Program, all for free.
To go beyond these sports, Vanasco says it’s always important to give something back and that’s just what the GCAA did when they began to include the Challenger Division in the annual Turkey Trot 15 years ago.
The race set on every Thanksgiving morning helps these kids raise money for charities. According to Vanasco, last year the racers raised over $150,000 for their selected charities.
Most of the workers for the GCAA and the Challenger League are volunteers who have been with Vanasco since Day one. Vanasco describes the work him and his volunteers do as a “thing of love.” Everyone who helps out does it becaus they love to do it.
As a viewer of many of the GCAA Challenger events, Vanasco’s biggest satisfaction is seeing kids prove that with hard work and determination anything is possible.
“People think they can’t do this or that but these are not defining handicaps,” says Vanasco. “They just find a way and it’s great to watch. They go up and down the field and show everyone what they can do.”