It's more than a game
The Empire Challenge is a truly special event for all involved.
“This game,” said MSG Varsity’s Mike Quick, “it’s the most important event that we do all year as far as high school sports. When we cover games, it’s always about who wins and loses. Tonight, there is no loser. The winner is cystic fibrosis.”
Former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason founded the Empire Challenge in support of the Boomer Esiason Foundation. Esiason’s mission is to increase awareness and education about cystic fibrosis, improve the lives of those suffering from the disease and strives to find a cure for the illness. The charity was launched in 1993, shortly after Esiason’s two-year-old son, Gunner, was diagnosed with CF. A few years later, the Empire Challenge, a football game between the most elite high school players from Long Island and New York City, was created to help make a difference.
“It brings together the game that I love so much with the community that I live in and grew up in,” Esiason said. “Together, we raise money for a disease that is so close to my heart.”
Seventeen years after its inception, the game continues to reach new heights. More than 12,000 people attended the game in 2012, a new record.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this night,” said sportscaster Kenny Albert, who called the game live on MSG Varsity.
Not only do the fans realize how special the Empire Challenge is, the players do too.
“We’ve been picked for this challenge, and it’s a great honor to play for such a great cause,” said Syosset linebacker Evan Kappatos. “You get to experience a different atmosphere, playing with people you never thought you would be in a game with. It’s really exciting.”
Kappatos also showed how thrilled he was to play in this game by his performance on the field. The Princeton-bound star ended his brilliant high school career with a bang, leading Long Island’s defense to shut down New York City. Although disappointed his days at Syosset must come to a close, Kappatos is excited to move on to Princeton and to help contribute to collegiate-level victories.
For the participants, this was the last high school football game they ever played, making the night all the more special. Some are not continuing to play in college, representing their hometowns for the final time under the lights. The athletes agreed that playing with the best of the best for a wonderful cause was the perfect way to complete their time in high school.
Though Long Island ended up with a 31-7 victory, Mike Quick was right—the true winner was cystic fibrosis.