TG basketball team pays a special thanks


Teachers used to get apples, but that token of appreciation is probably a vestige of the past these days.

The Toll Gate boys’ basketball team has a new tradition.

Before Tuesday’s game against Ponaganset, eight teachers were honored in a first-of-its-kind faculty appreciation ceremony. The team’s eight seniors each picked a teacher who has meant a lot to them. They wrote a few sentences about the favorite teacher, and the words were read over the loud-speaker. The teachers – wearing the road jersey of their player – were then introduced at mid-court.

I’ve seen a lot of ceremonies in my time covering high school sports, from senior nights to milestone celebrations.

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many smiles.

“It was a great thing to see,” Toll Gate coach Tom Rayko said.

The idea came from Jon Mitchell, the father of senior guard Zach Mitchell. He became involved in the booster club this year and has teamed with other parents on several new initiatives.

In an effort to connect the basketball court to the classroom – a connection that isn’t always strong – he came up with the faculty appreciation night.

“I think it’s important that the kids recognize the work the teachers do for them,” Jon Mitchell said. “And I also think it’s important that the teachers are involved with extracurricular activities outside of the classroom. I felt it would be good for both groups.”

Mitchell took the plan to Rayko. It wasn’t a tough sell.

“I thought it was a phenomenal idea,” Rayko said.

The Titans have eight seniors on the roster this season – Evan Stamps, Derryck Anderson, Ben Mann, Zach Mitchell, Kyle Toolin, Tyler Inkley, John Murphy and John Coleman. With their high school careers soon coming to an end, the chance to say thanks struck a chord. They sat down together, chose their teachers and bounced ideas off each other.

The results were sometimes heartfelt messages that might never have been sent. High school boys aren’t known for gushing, but this gave them an opportunity.

Whether they were saying thanks for an exciting class, for a little extra help, for a lesson learned or for some important guidance, the messages came through loud and clear.

“It was definitely flattering,” said science teacher Steph Catanzaro, who was selected by Stamps. “It was nice to be recognized.”

Toll Gate vice principal Candace Caluori helped Mitchell organize the event on the school’s end. The teachers – Catanzaro, Christen Collins, Erin Woulfe, Whitney

Biafore, Wayne Politelli, Kathleen Schweizer, William Aquilante and Melissa Heywood – were all on hand. When they arrived at the gym, they donned Toll Gate jerseys.

The seniors gathered at mid-court and as Mitchell read their words over the speaker, the teachers were greeted with roaring applause, a Toll Gate basketball tee shirt and a certificate of thanks.

“For your support of the players of the Toll Gate basketball team, both in and out of the classroom,” the certificate read.

Many of the teachers stuck around and watched their favorite players rally for an important victory over Ponaganset.

The night was a win-win.

“It’s funny, when you’re in high school, you can’t wait to get out,” Rayko said. “Winter break, I had kids who graduated last year coming back to visit me and all they wanted to do was to come back and play ball. You don’t realize it at the time, but that’s what it’s all about – those teachers and staff members that you connect with. This was a moment to have them say thanks.”

Here’s hoping it’s a tradition that continues.

“The teachers deserve it,” Mitchell said.

Sure beats an apple.

William Geoghegan is the sports editor at the Warwick Beacon. He can be reached at 732-3100 and


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