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Patchogue-Medford’s first Hall of Fame night was a true family affair

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Sure, the room was filled with the likes of judges, ambassadors, legendary sportswriters and Hollywood stars.

But you wouldn’t know it.

To the hundreds who packed the gym and auditorium at Patchogue-Medford High School Friday night, it was just a bunch of Pat-Med people getting together again.

It was family.

And these were by no means distant relatives at the inaugural Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.

For years, they car-pooled to dance or baseball. They went to games together. They got close.

In that vain, actor Kevin Connolly (1992) said he recently re-purchased his childhood home on First Avenue in Medford.

“And now it’s in the family to stay,” he said.

Federal judge Denise Jefferson Casper (1986), who grew up on Pennsylvania Avenue, had a bunch of family staying at her aunt’s house on Jamaica Avenue Friday so they could all attend the ceremonies.

Her grandfather actually graduated from what was then Patchogue High School in 1928.

“So we have deep roots,” she said.

And Actress Renee Felice Smith (2003), who plays Nell Jones NCIS Los Angeles, said she’s visited the high school every year for the past five or six years to present arts scholarships.

“I just know that if I were in school and someone came back to visit — someone who was doing what I wanted to do, and came from a similar background as me — that would be impactful,” she said.

That’s pretty much the overall point of the Hall of Fame.

It’s about the students in the district, and showing them that anything is possible in this world, even for middle- or working-class kids from First Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue.

“You just need to keep going, keep one step in front of the other,” Felise Smith said.

The fledging Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame project took a huge leap in August, when its founders established themselves as a 501c3 nonprofit organization.

They then started collecting donations and sponsorships toward a $500,000 hall of fame building that will — one day — welcome all students, staffers and visitors to the high school.

In January they announced the 2016 inductees: 10 people and an athletic team. (List below.)

“Our initial estimates and thoughts about the project were only limited by our imaginations,” said Manny Felouzis, the president of the booster club that hatched the project. “As we put our team together, the concept, the theory, the philosophy, expanded beyond any of our wildest dreams.”

The Hall of Fame — this year and each year moving forward — will honor distinguished Patchogue-Medford graduates, as well as others who have contributed to the district schools and wider community.

The inaugural class was chosen by the group’s board, but future inductees will be nominated by the public and then picked by a committee in each of three categories: sports, music, fine arts and entertainment, and a general category.

As part of Friday’s festivities, many of the honorees spent time at the high school for what’s called a mentoring day.

Judge Casper met with students in a criminal justice class Friday morning, she said.

“They had great questions,” she said. “They asked me about how I became a judge. If I enjoy it. What advice I had for them. Did I always want to be a judge? Some of them asked me about the hardest part.”

So what is the hardest part?

“Sentencing is probably the most challenging,” she said.

Related: Judge Casper admonishes James ‘Whitey’ Bulger before sentencing him to two life terms

Also announced at the end of Friday night’s ceremonies was that Dr. Michael Hynes, the district’s superintendent, would be entering the Hall of Fame as the first Person of the Year.

“These are the ultimate role models for the students, people from their hometowns,” Dr. Hynes said in an interview before his knowledge of the recognition. “A lot of people who we might put on a pedestal, we can only relate to them so much. With this, maybe the kids lived on the same street, and their aspirations can really connect with them.”

“A lot of our kids saw that today as they interacted with these inductees. For me, that’s the gift that will keep on giving for years to come.”

Connolly, who played Eric “E” Murphy on HBO’s Entourage from 2004-2011, said he was beyond humbled to be included the inaugural Hall of Fame class.

“I mean, I’m here with a federal judge,” he said.

“I think that’s a tad bit more important than my performance in The Notebook.”

THE INDUCTEES

Denise Jeffferson Casper (1986)

Kevin Connolly (1992)

Anthony Famiglietti (1996)

Lt. Michael Murphy (1994)

John Papanek (1969)

Nancy Bikoff Pettit (1971)

Paul Pontieri (1965)

Renee Felice Smith (2003)

Marcus Stroman (2009)

W. Burgharht Turner (teacher)

TEAM

1977 Varsity Football Team

PERSON OF THE YEAR

Patchogue-Medford Superintendent Michael Hynes


Top photo: Actress Renee Felice Smith poses for photos before Friday night’s ceremonies.

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Actor Kevin Connolly reunited with retired Pat-Med guidance counselor Patty O’Neill.

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Student Elizabeth Marge with Lt. Michael Murphy’s father, Daniel Murphy.

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Some of the many student volunteers who helped make Friday night’s event possible.

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Volunteers hand out drinks to those who sat for dinner Friday night.

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High school band members played throughout the nearly two-hour dinner party.

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Some of the honorees Friday evening, before the induction ceremonies.

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com