A seventh-grade girls' basketball game turned from a competitive event to a lifesaving, life-changing experience in a matter of moments late last school year.
The game's referee "collapsed, hitting his head hard on the gym floor. He just dropped," said Coach Ryan Candurra.
Candurra, a physical education teacher at the Laddie E. Decker Sound Beach School in Miller Place, Suffolk County, and member of the Miller Place Teachers Association, put his training into action. "I rolled him on his back; it was scary," Candurra said.
Two parents, one of whom is a former Army medic and was the game's scorekeeper, also jumped in to help. Candurra performed CPR on the ref, who was beginning to turn blue.
Both teams were taken off the floor, and onlookers solemnly filed out of the gym.
After several agonizing minutes, the referee's color went from blue to pale. He started moaning. Seconds later, a crisis team from the local fire department arrived. Within hours, the referee was on an operating table, having his faulty aortic valve repaired.
"Ryan deserves a lot of praise for his quick thinking and teamwork with the parents," said Nancy Sanders, president of the Miller Place TA.
"This was a great learning experience for everyone involved, including my student-athletes," said Candurra. "The players on my team left that day knowing first hand the importance of being prepared, willing and able to respond to whatever life has in store for you."
Candurra and parents Steve Sarich and John Whimple were recognized by the school board for their heroic actions and were thanked by the referee, who's now on the road to recovery.
"I feel that becoming CPR-, first aid- and AED-certified is extremely important and I wish more teachers would," said Candurra. "There are not many courses you will take that can potentially have as powerful an effect as this one."