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Community members take to the court in Hoops for Hope tribute

Local friends and community members come out to play 3 on 3 basketball in support of, and to pay respects to, Jake Engel during the Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley

Four years ago, Jake Engel of Miller Place lived in Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson. It’s to that same ministry that the Engel family is donating the proceeds from their first Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser on Tuesday, which they want to make an annual event.

Last Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, 22-year-old Engel died of a heroin overdose. Engel was born on July 18, 1993. Engel’s wake was on Friday at the O.B. Davis Funeral Home in Miller Place. The mass took place on Saturday at Saint Louis De Montfort church in Sound Beach.

But the Engel family wanted to do one more thing to remember their loved one. After the funeral, Engel’s younger brother, Patrick, wanted to find a way to remember his brother and raise money for a good cause.

Pat Engel dribbles the ball at the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley
Pat Engel dribbles the ball at the Jake Engel Hoops for Hope fundraiser. Photo by Giselle Barkley

“All the proceeds are going to Hope House … He lived there for about two years and it’s a great program,” Pat Engel said. “He made a lot of friends; [it was] probably the best years of his life.”

According to its website, Hope House Ministries aims to “provide compassionate, comprehensive and competent care for the poor, the marginal and the wounded among us.”

According to family friend Lisa Nordin, of Miller Place, various people in need seek shelter at Hope House. While the organization helps people in times of need, the community also wanted to band together in a time of need.

“After this tragedy, we just felt like, as a community, we have to get together and fight against drugs and drug dealers,” Nordin said.

About 15 small, self-appointed teams donated money to participate in this event, where they played half-court basketball at the basketball court at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai.

Brian Sztabnik was one of the many people who attended and participated in the Engel’s Hoops for Hope.

Sztabnik and several others said Engel “loved coming to the beach and he loved playing basketball.”

“They figured might as well put the two things together and have a benefit, and bring the community together, raise some money and celebrate his life,” he said.

Pat Engel said his older brother enjoyed the beach, adding that he was a clammer and spent 8 to 12 hours at the beach, daily.

Countless community members gathered to donate money and participate in the event. Many of them knew Jake Engel in high school. With their help, Hoops for Hope raised more than $5,000 for Hope House Ministries.

Pat Engel thought the event had a good turnout, especially considering it was planned in three days. He also thought this new, annual event was a good way to raise money and honor his brother.

“Jake, he had a wonderful sense of humor,” Engel said. “He could light up the room with his smile. He cared about everyone that cared about him. He loved his family, and his family loved him.”

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Courtney Clasen reaches for the rim. File photo by Bill Landon

By Clayton Collier

Going through the process of choosing a college for a high school senior is tough enough, but for one student-athlete, factoring in both academics and athletics made the decision all the more difficult.

For Shoreham-Wading River’s Courtney Clasen, who committed to play basketball at Coastal Carolina University in South Carolina, the first decision to be made was whether to remain on the court or the soccer pitch.

“It wasn’t an easy decision at all,” said Clasen, who also ran track. “I’m passionate about both sports. However, I saw a future in basketball. It was hard answering coaches when I didn’t know what sport I wanted to pursue.”

Clasen’s father, Craig, said his daughter’s decision was somewhat unexpected as they had long believed she would play soccer in college.

“It was a little surprising because she had been involved with club soccer since like sixth grade,” he said. “But I’m proud of her, she’s an incredible student, she’s an incredible athlete and she worked her tail off.”

Courtney Clasen said the decision between the two sports she loved weighed on her, only becoming more difficult throughout her junior year as her passion for basketball became stronger.

Courtney Clasen races downcourt with the ball. File photo by Bill Landon
Courtney Clasen races downcourt with the ball. File photo by Bill Landon

“I was an emotional basket case and I was extremely overwhelmed,” she said. “I remember breaking down in class several times my junior year because there wasn’t enough time for it all and I couldn’t make a decision.”

Opting to play Athletic Amateur Union basketball last summer, she began receiving interest from Coastal Carolina after seeing her play in a tournament in Washington, D.C.

“She’s a flat out athlete that does great things on both ends of the ball,” said Jaida Williams, the head women’s basketball coach at Coastal Carolina. “I believe her competitive edge is what made Courtney stand out above anyone else.”

Clasen said it was her official visit that convinced her to become a Chanticleer.

She enjoyed the warm weather and said it felt like home to her. Clasen recalled that she was immediately struck by the fact that the university’s mascot coincidentally wore the number 54, the same as her late-classmate Tom Cutinella, who died from a head injury in October following an on-field collision during a football game.

“I kind of stopped right in my tracks and got the chills really bad,” said Clasen of the mascot’s number, which represents 1954, the year of Costal Carolina’s founding. “No one really understood why besides my parents until my parents explained it.”

Clasen, who described herself as friendly with Cutinella, said seeing the number 54 really hit home.

“He was one of those kids that everyone was friends with,” she said.

Clasen verbally committed to Coastal Carolina in January and signed her National Letter of Intent in April. The plan for the forward is to redshirt her academic freshman year.

“It gives me a chance to get stronger and develop my game further,” she said. “It’s actually the option I prefer since I chose to play basketball over soccer in college so late.”

Williams said redshirting a year will give Clasen the opportunity to focus solely on basketball.

“During her entire career she’s been a dual-sport athlete,” Williams said. “I am excited to see the progress that Courtney will make when her focus is primarily on basketball.”

Shoreham-Wading River’s girls’ basketball head coach Adam Lievre said he is pleased to see his star athlete move on to the next phase of her life, though Clasen filled a number of roles on his squad that now need to be filled.

“She did it all,” he said. “We relied on her to be our main scorer, passer, rebounder and to block shots. We have very big shoes to fill going forward.”

As much as he enjoyed coaching the Academic All-County athlete, Lievre said it is the Clasen off the court that he will remember most fondly.

“As a person,” he said. “She is someone I would want my kids to turn out to be like.”