Teachers described Aamir Griffin as a “nice, quiet kid” who worked hard, loved playing basketball and dreamed of making it his career. “Making my team was a big deal for him,” said Kyrk Peponakis, the junior varsity basketball coach at Benjamin N. Cardozo HS in Bayside, Queens.
Aamir, a 14-year-old freshman, was doing what he loved most — practicing on a court near his home in Jamaica — when he was killed by a stray bullet in October.
To celebrate Aamir’s life and to support his family, Peponakis organized the Aamir Griffin Memorial and Basketball Extravaganza, inviting 10 schools to join Cardozo on Dec. 7 for an all-day tournament. Every coach he called told Peponakis “We’re in,” and the Public Schools Athletic League provided referees at no cost.
The event, said Peponakis, honored the young student in a way “he would really want to be remembered.”
Before each game, Peponakis thanked the players for coming. Then he reminded them: “Cherish these days because every day is important. Aamir was just like all of you: a young man who loved to play basketball. All he was doing was playing in the park on a Saturday, like all of you have done.”
After the tragedy, UFT Chapter Leader Dino Sferrazza offered the union’s help. “The very first day, the UFT arranged to have grief counselors come to Cardozo,” he said.
For the tournament, Sferrazza worked with union representatives James Vasquez and Washington Sanchez — who recently created the Queens HS Cares program to empower and support school communities — to organize a free breakfast and lunch for the tournament’s volunteers. “We tried to help and support the coach who put this all together,” said Vasquez. Providing food and drinks for event volunteers “allowed them to focus and made sure the money raised all went to the family,” Vasquez said.
Aamir’s family also received the proceeds from a silent auction that featured basketballs signed by New York Knicks rookie RJ Barrett and NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo.
The Brooklyn Nets gave jerseys bearing Aamir’s name to his parents, and Cardozo alumnus Royal Ivey, a Knicks assistant coach, donated T-shirts for the volunteers and players. Clothing designer Ronnie Fieg, another graduate, donated 250 shirts from his popular Kith line that were sold as part of the benefit.
Aamir “had a lot of friends and a lot of people knew him. Even those who didn’t know him were touched by what happened,” Peponakis said. “Once you’re part of Cardozo,” said Sferrazza, “you’re always part of Cardozo.”