While snow might have delayed the start of the three-day, 7th Annual Jamie Bliss Basketball Tournament, it could not stop the players, coaches, volunteers, parents and West Caldwell Mayor Joseph Tempesta from trekking out for the championship finals held Saturday at James Caldwell High School.
Co-hosted by the Caldwell Athletic Club and the West Caldwell-Caldwell Recreation Department, the goal of the tournament is to raise money for the Jamie Bliss Scholarship Fund, given to selected graduating seniors at Caldwell High School.
James "Jamie" Bliss was a junior at Caldwell when he collapsed and died during a routine football practice in October 2006.
Lisa Merriweather, Director of Basketball for the Caldwells Athletic Club and the head coach for the 7th/8th grade girls travel team, founded the annual basketball tournament to honor Bliss's memory.
Merriweather said,"I am very passionate about this tournament for two reasons: Jamie was a role model, an honor student, a student athlete, and a wonderful young man whose life on this earth was cut way too short. Jamie was my son's teammate, and he was on the field with Jamie and the rest of the football team when Jamie passed."
Tempesta, who spoke at the awards presentation after the 8th grade boys final said, "Jamie Bliss was a great man. He was a student athlete who died just before he turned 17. He was a good friend of mine personally and a good friend of the community."
For Merriweather, who spends about 60 hours preparing for the tournament, it is a "labor of love" and a family affair. Merriweather runs the tournament with her mother, Hester Tynes, and with help from her son, DJ, a 2006 JCHS graduate and Bliss's teammate, as well as her spouse, Dennis.
The tournament has grown from its 2006 inception, and now comprises 12 teams, including the WC-C Travel Recreation 8th Grade Boys team and the 7th/8th Grade Girls team. The tournament has become so successful that in recent years teams have been closed out of entering.
With a one-day delay start due to the Dec. 26 snowstorm, preliminary rounds began for both the girls and boys teams on Thursday, Dec. 27 and Friday, Dec. 28.
With a total of eight games, Merriweather secured all certified referees to volunteer their time, including West Caldwell Recreation Director Gabe DiMasi.
In addition to these volunteers, parents helped out by working the snack stand and collecting admission fees under the supervision of Tynes.
While both the boys and girls WC-C travel teams advanced to the finals, they both eventually lost to West Orange and Bloomfield respectively.
However, by advancing to the finals, both teams witnessed the awards ceremony and tribute to Jamie Bliss. Individual recognition for tournament play was also awarded to Paul Theobald and Bryan Novak for the Boys team and Brittany Costigan and Abbey Lawrence for the Girls team.
"This is what I need to do to give back," Merriweather stated.
Through the tournament, "Jamie Bliss's legacy lives on," Tempesta said.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the Jamie Bliss Memorial Scholarship can mail their donation to Lisa Merriweather, West Caldwell Recreation Department, 5 Fairfield Ave., West Caldwell, NJ 07006.