For the fifth consecutive year, hundreds of people filed into the Morris Community High School gymnasium Saturday night to benefit the Special Olympics Illinois organization with a charity basketball game.
“The Faculty vs. The Fuzz” has become an annual mainstay on the Morris Police Department’s fundraising schedule and has evolved into a cherished event within the community.
The brainchild of Morris police officer Derek Zumbahlen, an avid basketball player and former MCHS athlete, the game has grown on a yearly basis. Last season saw the addition of a 10-minute intra-squad scrimmage between the Special Connections program, and this year it was once again one of the many highlights of the evening.
“I know that the Special Connections really looks forward to this thing every year, and they really enjoy themselves,” Zumbahlen said. “We definitely enjoy watching them.”
The white team was able to edge out the red team 14-8, but both teams finished the scrimmage that preceded the Faculty vs. Fuzz game with a standing ovation. It was a moment that personified what the evening was about.
“Anyone who knows anything about Morris knows that Morris is synonymous with community spirit and volunteerism. Each year we’ve hoped to make this thing bigger and better, and I think we have,” Morris Police Chief Brent Dite said. “From the band coming out and playing, to the officials that volunteer their time, to the high school staff ... seeing all these people here was fantastic.”
And as it turned out, the people who showed up to support the cause were also treated to a pretty good basketball game.
The Fuzz jumped out to a 10-0 lead and looked as if they’d be running away with it, but the MCHS faculty were able to follow with an 11-2 run of their own to close out the first quarter. Vice Principal Jeff Johnson, a former varsity basketball coach at Morris, coached the faculty.
“Anytime you get to be in an event like this and give back, it’s exciting,” Johnson said. “It was a good crowd. Everybody comes out and supports it, and every year it kinda gets a little bit bigger. It has turned out to be a great event for everybody.”
On the court, the Fuzz was fueled by Zumbahlen who put up 36 points for the cops. The faculty was paced by 13 points from history teacher Bill Lauer and 10 points from Superintendent Pat Halloran.
The Fuzz led the game from wire-to-wire, but late in the fourth quarter there was some semblance of drama, even though the score was of little consequence in the grand scheme of things. The faculty was able to cut the lead down to just one when a 3-pointer by varsity basketball coach Joe Blumberg made it 54-53 with less than three minutes remaining.
However, Zumbahlen was able to salt the game away by hitting all four of his fourth-quarter free throws as the Fuzz cruised to a 65-57 win in a game that certainly had no true losers.
“We thought this year we might have a chance,” Johnson said. “We’re all out here competing, and a lot of us are obviously former athletes, so we want to win, but, like I said, in the end that’s not what it’s about.”
All told, the Faculty vs. Fuzz charity basketball game generally winds up raising right around $2,000 for the Illinois Special Olympics, with hopes that it will continue to grow as the years go on and people become more aware of the cause.
“Recently, I got in contact with Matt Johnson who is (one of) the directors of the Special Olympics down in Bloomington, and we’re hoping to get a little bit more involved directly with him," Zumbahlen said. "They put it on their website, so that helped, but this is sort of like the kickoff of our fiscal year. We’ll have the Torch Run and then after that we’ll do the Cop on Top deal at Dunkin’ Donuts."