By Jay Cook |
RUMSON – The game of basketball meant everything to Theresa Autino and her son, Chris.
It didn’t matter if he was playing in Tinton Falls for home games at Ranney School or around the state. Theresa just wanted to see him play.
Yet, on May 26, that all changed. Theresa passed away at the age of 52 after battling ALS for two-and-a-half-years, leaving a void in Chris’ life, both on and off the court. Despite losing the most important person in his life, it hasn’t stopped Autino from honoring his mother’s memory with friends, teammates, and the greater Rumson community this weekend.
“It left an impact on me, as a young man,” the 16-year-old Autino said on Monday, talking about his mother’s illness. “I do this all for her, it’s all for her.”
A Class of 2019 forward for Ranney and Under Armour-sponsored AAU squad Team Rio, Autino is launching Theresa’s Throwdown, a three-on-three benefit basketball tournament in memory of his mother at Victory Park in Rumson on Aug. 19.
The idea was hatched when driving home from Syracuse University after his oldest sister, Jessica, graduated. Autino was looking for a way to raise funds for Joan Dancy & PALS Foundation, a charity organization aimed to improve the lives of patients and families fighting ALS in Monmouth and Ocean counties.
Autino attributed the foundation to providing Theresa with a high quality of life during her last years. He said wheelchairs were readily accessible, vans to travel across the country were provided, and beds for a comfortable night sleep were all there for her.
“They were with my mother through the whole thing,” Autino said. “From when she first got diagnosed to the end.”
With the support of his uncle, Al Ponenti, the newly-addressed Rumson family ran with the plan for a basketball tournament. Autino enlisted help from his family members and coaches, either for or against his teams.
There are three co-ed divisions for Theresa’s Throwdown: 13-and-under; high school; and 20-and-up. So far, about 35 total teams have signed up to play all day on Saturday afternoon.
Of those squads, “The high school division is going to be competitive – I made sure of that,” Autino said. “It’s the best Shore Conference talent in one area playing 3 on 3.”
It will be a who’s who of local basketball talent showing up on Saturday to play some outdoor basketball. The entire Ranney Panthers team, including nationally ranked Bryan Antoine and Scottie Lewis, “will of course be there,” Autino said.
He anticipates that the entire RFH Bulldogs team will be ready to play, as well as hoops players from Red Bank Catholic, Christian Brothers Academy, Marlboro High School, and Manalapan High School, among others from the northern part of the state.
But the one player who won’t be suiting up is Autino. It’s his event he says, so he has to monitor the tournament. That goes to ensuring everybody knows what time they’re playing, and making sure the raffles go off on time, and also setting up the food provided by Val’s Tavern, a Rumson staple, just a few minutes down the road.
“I can’t go out to play and leave everybody else with my work,” Autino said with a laugh. “I wouldn’t hear the end of that.”
Regardless of the money raised or the expected turnout, Autino said the tournament is the perfect way to celebrate his mom’s life. He simply couldn’t think of a better way to do it.
“It’s basketball because that’s just what she loved,” he said. “It always made her happy coming to my games.”
The entry fee for Theresa’s Throwdown is $50 per team, with all proceeds going to Joan Dancy & PALS Foundation. Check in time on Aug. 19 is from 10:30 a.m. to noon, at which point the day-long hoops tournament begins. Victory Park is located at 1 Lafayette St. in Rumson, right between Rumson Pharmacy and Brennan’s Delicatessen.
This article was first published in the Aug. 17-24, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times
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