What does a glittering evening with leaders of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, the Sports Night of Champions — which will feature as its speakers the football legend Phil Simms and his son Chris — have to do with inner-city Paterson?
Phil Simms, of course, retired from his 15-year career playing for the New York Giants to become a football analyst on CBS and a contributor — talking about football, natch — to Showtime. Chris Simms was an NFL quarterback for 8 years, playing for three teams, and now is a co-host on NBC, where he talks about — what else? — football.
On Tuesday, February 13, the two Simmses will be part of a full evening that includes a strolling dinner, an auction, honors, and scholarship awards.
So where does Paterson come in?
Here. The evening will include a tribute to Joseph Taub, who lived in Tenafly and died on October 27. Mr. Taub, a co-founder of Automatic Data Processing and a one-time co-owner of the New Jersey Nets, grew up very poor in Paterson. Although ADP made him very rich, he managed not only not to forget where he came from but to devote a great deal of money, time, energy, and imagination to offering children in Paterson opportunity and hope. “My father-in-law grew up in a neighborhood that was very ethnically mixed,” said Scott Tesser of Englewood. Mr. Tesser is married to Joseph and Arlene Taub’s daughter Michelle; Scott and Michelle Tesser are sponsoring the evening.
“There was a Jewish community and there was a black community; my father-in-law grew up next to Larry Doby,” Mr. Tesser said. Mr. Dobie was the first African-American to play in the American League — he played for the Cleveland Indians — and the two men stayed close throughout their lives. Together, they started the Taub-Doby Basketball League, among many other philanthropic endeavors.
“I know it’s a cliché, but my father-in-law never forgot his roots,” Mr. Tesser said. “He always remembered when he had nothing, and he just wanted to help people in Paterson. Obviously, the community changed dramatically over the years, but he never really left it.” In fact, he added, Mr. Taub often would go back to visit, a dramatically visible figure, a tall man with a great shock of bright white hair.
“He obviously had the means to help, and he did it through a combination of scholarship and sports,” Mr. Tesser said. “If you had a certain level of scholarship — your grades had to be up to a certain level — and you were involved in sports, he’d help. He funded programs that got kids off the streets. And as they moved up through the ranks, those who excelled ended up with scholarships to private high schools or colleges. As they continued to excel, he wanted to get them out of the community.
“He didn’t talk about it much. The family all knew about it, but he didn’t talk about it. He didn’t want any credit for it. He just wanted to do it.”
There weren’t very many athletic stars to come out of this program, Mr. Tesser said. There was Victor Cruz, a receiver for the New York Giants, “and a few basketball players, but that was not a failure of the program. He never expected any of these kids to survive through athletics.
“He wanted to give them a chance to get to the middle class through scholarships. The sports was just a way to draw them in.”
The evening also will honor Gordon A. Uehling III of CourtSense, who will be given the JCC Emerging Leader Award, and two students — Tobias Zypman of Cresskill High School and Alexandra George of Northern Valley Regional High School — each will get a $3,600 scholarship.
Some of the funds raised during the evening will go to families who could not afford the JCC’s programs without the help, and whose children benefit from it.
A mother in Ridgefield — she’s the Russian-born single mother of two sons — went through an acrimonious divorce “and not only do I get no support, I have to acquire a lot of debt to defend myself,” she said. (She requested anonymity; she does not want her ex-husband to read about her online.)
“My kids are 6 and 7 now,” she said. “They go to school, but when summer came there was a need to put them in camp. I work in the city full-time. I had friends whose kids went to the JCC, and I looked at it — but it was very expensive, and I couldn’t afford it.
“But my friend said that maybe I could apply for financial aid.”
She did. She submitted the documents requested of her, the request went to the scholarship committee — and her sons ends up in camp at the JCC.
“They love it,” she said. “We also are members here. This will be our third summer. It is a very good program, with great counselors. They spend a lot of energy with the kids.
“My boys are very grateful that they can be part of the JCC, and enjoy the summer. This year my older son will be in a specialty camp, the sports one — he is passionate about basketball — and there will be some science too.
“There is a great sense of community,” she concluded. “It is a very happy place. I go there and feel like my boys are part of a big family. And there are always kids and elderly people there. It is very family-centered, and it is a crucial place for the community.”
A Moroccan-born single mother of an only child, who now lives in Fort Lee, also is grateful to the JCC, for similar reasons.
“I never got any help from my son’s father, because he moved out of the country when my son was about 3 1/2, so I was on my own,” she said. “I try to give my son everything he deserves, and the JCC has been very supportive and very helpful, and without making me feel bad.
“At first, it was very hard to ask for help,” she said. “It was new for me, having to ask. But they didn’t make me feel small. They just understood my situation and they were very helpful.”
Her son started summer camp when he was 6 years old; now he’s 12, “and even now, when he doesn’t have anywhere else to go, he will just go to the JCC and play a sport there,” she said. “It is a home away from home.
“It’s just such a special place,” she concluded. “The energy when you walk in is so very welcoming and warm. And it’s not just for my son — even for me, when I walk in I can relax.”
What: The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades’ first annual Sports Night
When: On Tuesday, February 13,
at 6 p.m.
Where: At the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, 411 East Clinton Ave. in Tenafly
How much: Until January 31, it costs $180 per person; after that, it’s $250 each. Students pay $50.
For more information: Call Michal Kleiman at (210) 408-1412 or go to jccotp.org/sportsnight.