EAST NORTHPORT, New York, May 29
BY: Andrew Wroblewski
For the sixth straight year, students piled into the East Northport Middle School gym last Thursday for the annual Clash of the Classes – but this year was different.
More than 200 students again participated in the event’s 10 contests, ranging from a three-legged race to beach ball volleyball – but this year was different.
And just like last year, faculty members and PTA affiliates swarmed the gym and halls trying to keep the chaos in order – but this year was different.
More than $1,200 was raised during the night in memory of a fallen member of the East Northport Middle School family, and that’s where the difference begins.
This year, the annual contest to see who’s the best between the sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders – and their teachers – was put forth in the name of a lost friend: Leslie Spanko.
“She was a dear friend of mine, along with a lot of the teachers who work here,” Michael Toppi, a math teacher at the school and host of the night, said.
Spanko, 62, a former English teacher at the school, died suddenly in December from a stroke. The school, its faculty, and its students were devastated, but on Thursday they rallied to show that Spanko would not be forgotten.
“It was a tragic year,” Toppi said. “[Spanko] was an inspiration and was honestly just loved by every student in this district. We’re really one big happy family here – and she was obviously a very big part of that.”
While the eighth-graders ended up earning the school’s bragging rights as the night came to an end, those rights may best serve as background noise to the money raised for a scholarship that will be recognized in Spanko’s name.
“We have done [Clash of the Classes] for a couple of years now and normally we’ve done it as a PTA fundraiser, so [this year] we’re still helping them out, but we’re also using part of the money to go to the scholarship as well,” Toppi said, adding that it will hopefully be established by next year. “We’re looking to provide anywhere between $500 and $750 to a graduating senior that’s interested in journalism or any type of English field because that was obviously her first love.”
Also awarded will be two $50 gift certificates – given to a boy and a girl of East Northport Middle School’s graduating eighth-graders – to honor students who “exuberate or have wonderful community service,” said Toppi.
“This one [was] special,” Pat DeStefano, principal of the school, said of this year’s clash. “[Leslie Spanko] had been here for many, many years – I think she had been in the district 20, 30 years – and she really was a part of this building. She was a dedicated educated, worked hard every day, and loved her subject area: English.”
There is also a special surprise in store, which Toppi said will be put together with the funds raised during the event that will serve as a memorial to Spanko. While details of the tribute are still in the works, Toppi promised that “the kids are going to love it.”
Originally published: Long Islander News: Record (Thursday, May 29, 2014; A4)