The Ridgefield Press

December 9, 2004


RBA To Honor Tyler Ugolyn at RHS with Memorial, Basketball Courts

by Philip Mandelbaum

The high school campus off North Salem Road, which houses the Tiger Hollow sports facility for football, soccer, field hockey, lacrosse, track and field and weightlifting, does not have outdoor basketball courts. The Ridgefield Basketball Association (RBA), with a current roster of more than 1,000 local ball players, wants to change that. Years ago, the RBA renovated the outdoor courts beside Yanity Gym on Prospect Street, and dozens of youths and adults from town and abroad have come to play. In looking for its next project, President Robert Preti said, the board decided it "wanted to do something that was impactful." Between 15,000 and 20,000 kids have run around the courts with the Ridgefield Basketball Association (RBA) in the last 15 years. Tyler Ugolyn, a 1997 Ridgefield High School graduate, and a victim of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, was one of them. Shortly after completing his studies at Columbia University, Mr. Ugolyn was working in the World Trade Center when it was destroyed by two planes. The RBA plans to honor Tyler's legacy with a memorial and courts in his name. Mr. Ugolyn, an honors student and community activist, was a co-captain and star of the Ridgefield High School varsity basketball team, and a McDonald's High School All-American nominee. At Columbia, his ball-playing and volunteerism continued. "Tyler loved playing the game of basketball," said his parents Victor and Diane Ugolyn. "He first gained his basketball skills by playing for the RBA travel teams and playing on the outdoor court next to the old high school. There is no better way to continue to honor his memory than by providing the means for others youngsters to also have the opportunity to play this great game and to help them achieve their dreams."

The RBA board agrees. Its members - along with Tyler Ugolyn's friends - are organizing to build the memorial along with the outdoor courts. They are a third of the way there. The purpose is to provide more playing space, "interject a sense of Tyler" and "create a feeling of permanence," as RBA Fundraising Director Patrick Kenny put it. The half-acre, lighted park, with a regulation basketball court and six baskets, is expected to be constructed between the Route-116 entrance to the high school campus and the school's new student center. The courts would be placed to the right of the parking lot's service road. The memorial, with a flag pole, benches and picnic tables, would be built on the grass across the roadway. Before the project can begin, however, the RBA will need more money.

Its fundraising efforts with the current association roster has been a success, according to Neil Gollogly, the director of basketball operations. But, even with further contributions from the Tyler Ugolyn Foundation, additional funding is needed.  The RBA "would like this to be the community's gift to the town's youngsters," said Mr. Preti, the board president. He hopes the community will contribute the funds to make the project possible, and take pride and ownership in it once it's built.

The ground-breaking for the project is expected early this Spring. The dedication has been planned for the four-year anniversary of Mr. Ugolyn's death, on Sept. 11, 2005.

Mr. Preti said the RBA hopes the high school's first outdoor courts become "a meeting place" for high schoolers. "We chose the high school because Tyler was an accomplished high school student-athlete and a lot of what this centers on is that it's a place for high school kids to follow the example Tyler led. Tyler's attitude was a positive one, a constructive and community-minded one, and he found a positive outlet through basketball... In this day and age, when people get caught up in all this other stuff, it's really about what's in front of you - playing the game," said Mr. Preti.

Mr. Ugolyn would probably agree. He is remembered by one of his high school teachers to have said, "I just love playing the game." While studying at Columbia, he ran an inner-city youth basketball league for Harlem children, "encouraging kids interested in basketball to compliment their talents with a focus on academics and the personal values of generosity and integrity," according to the RBA's fundraising pamphlet. Meanwhile, he volunteered at a soup kitchen. While at Ridgefield High School, Mr. Ugolyn was an honors student, a member of the National Honor Society, worked with Safe Rides, Young Life, and Big Brother-Big Sister, and served as the student-athlete representative for Parent-to-Parent. Mr. Gollogly, Mr. Preti, Mr. Kenny and other RBA parents hope the memorial and court will honor and proliferate that legacy, providing today's youth with a model, and a safe place to go after school and on the weekends. "We gain some comfort in Jackie Robinson's epitaph, which says that the value of one's life is not determined by the number of years but by the number of lives you've touched," said Mr. Ugolyn's parents.

The RBA's fund-raisers are looking for donations (about $125,000 is needed), as well as what Mr. Preti called "qualitative help," like the services of landscape and architectural designers.

 Inquiries should be made to Mr. Kenny at 917-209-1907, Mr. Preti at 438-6107, or Mr. Gollogly at 431-3434. Tax-deductible donations should be made payable to "Tyler's Court," and mailed to the Ridgefield Basketball Association, at P.O. Box 335, in Ridgefield.


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