Annual VMA ‘Evening of Champs’ honors local heroes

Conor (l) and Patti Ann McDonald received a commemorative basketball from NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill (c) at a previous year’s Evening of Champions.

Villa Maria Academy continues to honor the legacy of one of New York’s great heroes as it honors students who care about physical fitness.

VMA will commemorate more than three decades of the physical fitness achievement by its students with the 31st Annual Detective Steven McDonald Evening of Champions, named after the late NYPD detective who extolled students with his message of dedication and forgiveness at previous years’ event.

McDonald, who passed in 2017, is the namesake for the event, which honors students with high achievement on the New York State Physical Fitness Test and their families with dinner and an awards ceremony, said Michael Bernard, VMA’s Physical Education director.

This year’s events will honor the school’s grades K to third on Tuesday, April 9 and grades four to eight on Wednesday, April 10, he said.

Terence Monahan, the NYPD’s Chief of Department and its only four-star chief will be the keynote speaker, and will represent Police Commissioner James O’Neill, who attended in the event in previous years.

2019 Detective Steven McDonald Courageous Spirit Awards will be presented to Pat Barr, F.D.N.Y. hero and Theresa Sareo, amputee survivor and singer.

Special guests will include Patti Ann McDonald widow of Detective McDonald; McDonald’s son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald; NYPD Chief Edward Delatorre; world boxing legends Gerry Cooney and Iran Barkley; and 1969 Miracle NY Met Art Shamsky.

Villa Maria Academy’s Evening of Champions, named for the second year in memory of hero NYPD Detective Steven McDonald (pictured), honors students who achieved the highest standards on this year’s N.Y. State Physical Fitness Test.
Photo courtesy of Mike Bernard

Bernard said that over the years, he has been able to get big name athletes and important law enforcement officials to speak to the children by simply asking if they would attend and offering invitations to many possible dignitaries.

“We try to make this event uplifting and motivational,” said Bernard. “We hope that they give a message to the kids of not giving up and trying your best.”

Bernard, who started the event when he started working at VMA, said that it evolved over the years from a simple breakfast into an event in which some 35 to 40 sponsors donate trays of food to feed up to 400 people a night and other items.

McDonald really captivated the students attention when he used to attend the event, and Bernard hopes to create similar memorable moments again this year.

“That is something that we hope for: that the children walk away with more than a trophy,” said Bernard.

He singled out parents John McGrath, James Scerbo, Gimardi Mascia and Mike Pennisi who worked tirelessly on planning the event, along with 40 other parent volunteers.

Pictured at a previous year’s Evening of Champions event are (back, l-r) Michael Bernard, VMA Physical Education director; Joseph Imperatrice, Blue Lives Matter NYC founder; NYPD assistant chief Edward Delatorre; Iran ‘The Blade’ Barkley; Zahraa Majeed, detective investigator for NYS Attorney General Schneiderman; Carlos Delgado, Blue Lives Matter NYC co-founder with Delatorre’s grandchildren (front, l-r) Dillon, Connor, Annabella and McKenna.
Silvio J. Pacifico

Reach Reporter Patrick Rocchio at (718) 260–4597. E-mail him at procchio@schnepsmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @patrickfrocchio.

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