A Gridiron Bash For Charity
Rockville Gazette Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007 By Gazette Staff
For many, Thanksgiving and football go together like turkey and gravy. And for the past 10 years, alumni of the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville have been gathering Thanksgiving morning in a gridiron rumble for charity.
Twenty-six men from the classes of 1982 to 2007 will return to the school for the annual Paul Blank Invitational Football Game. The game was first played in 1998 for fun, and has since grown into a charity event raising more than $5,000 for the Association for Safe International Road Travel, a group founded by Rochelle Sobel, a teacher at the school whose son was killed in a bus crash in Turkey in 1995. ‘‘Most everybody is too young to know him, but probably had his mom as a teacher,” said Dan Fulop, a 1999 graduate and one of the first to play in the PBI as a high school senior.
Noah Zimmerman, also a 1999 graduate and this year’s event chairman, said the game has become ‘‘a nice way to keep in touch” with former classmates. ‘‘We’ve all gone our separate ways, and it’s a nice way once a year to see each other.” Each year many of the same players return to their alma mater, sometimes from as far away as California.
Ariel Oxman, a self-proclaimed ‘‘veteran,” has been a dedicated player for all 10 years.
Oxman, a 1999 graduate, was in San Francisco on a business trip this week and decided to fly in early on Wednesday morning so he wouldn’t miss Thursday’s game. ‘‘That’s dedication,” he said. ‘‘Every year the community grows more and more as people more disparate in ages come out, and we’re still doing good and still coming together for a good cause,” Oxman said.
To mark the 10th anniversary of the Paul Blank Invitational, the fundraising bar has been raised this year. Last year the game raised roughly $250 through player donations. This year local businesses have also been asked to donate and so far about $2,000 has been raised.
This year is the first the game will be played as flag football instead of a tackle game. Paul Blank, a Judaic studies teacher and the event’s namesake, said players voted for the change. ‘‘People are getting older and after nobody has done anything [athletic] all year, everyone shows up and wants to be Al Bundy and get crazy,” said Fulop, who has become known as the most injury-prone player in PBI history. Fulop broke his ankle in 2002 and dislocated his elbow two years ago, which prompted the switch.
Despite the injuries, Fulop and other JDS alumni continue to come back each year because of the camaraderie and dedication to a cause close to their community. ‘‘We don’t see an end. We’ll continue to raise money,” Zimmerman said. ‘‘It’s becoming a much bigger deal and we hope it continues to grow.”
Sobel, who founded ASIRT to help improve road conditions abroad, is thankful for the support. ‘‘The annual football game is a tremendous help to us to fulfill our mission of saving lives on the roads of the world,” she said.