Tournament -- Ugolyn basketball event celebrates the love of the
Posted on 02/05/2009
By GEORGE ALBANO
March Madness has arrived a month early in Wilton. Especially if you
happen to be a player, coach, volunteer or just a fan of the Tyler
Ugolyn Memorial Valentine's Basketball Tournament, being held at Our
Lady of Fatima School from Jan. 29 to Feb. 13.
"It runs 16 straight days," said Sarah Fair of Westport, who, along
with her husband Matt, serves as co-athletic director at the K-8
Wilton school. "This year we have 45 teams, mostly Catholic schools
within the Bridgeport Diocese."
The tournament is broken down into six divisions: Boys and girls
varsity for seventh and eighth grade, boys and girls junior varsity
for fifth and sixth grade, and boys and girls junior-junior varsity,
for third and fourth grade.
That adds up to a lot of basketball.
"Last Saturday we had 21 games," Fair noted. "The gym was packed,
"The first game Saturday started at eight in the morning and the
last game was not over 'til eight at night," added Bill Coupe, a
Wilton resident who's also involved with the tournament.
This is the 11th year of the popular tournament, but only the second
under its new name.
"It used to be called the Valentine's Classic," said Fair, who's
been involved with the tourney for the last half-dozen years.
"That's what it was originally called and it always runs the first
two weeks of February. "But last year, we re-named it the Tyler
Ugolyn Memorial Valentine's Basketball Tournament."
Tyler Ugolyn was a 1993 graduate of Our Lady of Fatima from
Ridgefield, who tragically lost his life in the World Trade Center
attacks on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He was only 23 and a
recent graduate of Columbia University, where he played basketball.
"He worked for Fred Alger Management, a money market firm in the
Twin Towers," Coupe said. "Ridgefield actually now has a Catholic
school, St. Mary's, but it didn't back when Tyler was growing up. So
his parents sent him to Fatima because it was more of a regional
Ugolyn certainly made quite an impression on the hardwood during his
"Our pastor, Father (Michael) Palmer, is a huge basketball fan,"
Coupe said. "He used to be the pastor at a parish in Bridgeport, so
he knows good basketball players, and he said Tyler Ugolyn was by
far and away the best basketball player to come out of Our Lady at
He wasn't the only one Ugolyn impressed. The 1997 Ridgefield High
School graduate was a two-time All-FCIAC Central Division selection
and, as a senior, was a McDonald's All-American and a Street &
Smith's top 250 recruit.
Ugolyn went on to enjoy a stellar career at Columbia, where the
Lions' annual start-of-the-season basketball tournament known as the
Columbia Classic was renamed the Tyler Ugolyn Columbia Classic in
honor of the former shooting guard.
His impact in college, however, went even beyond the basketball
"He started a group called Columbia Catholic Athletes," Coupe said.
"It was an organization of athletes at Columbia who were motivated
by their faith like Tyler was. He used to also run clinics for
underprivileged kids in places like Harlem while he was at
In that vein, the Tyler Ugolyn Foundation was established by his
parents, Diane and Victor Ugolyn, who still live in Ridgefield, and
his younger brother Trevor. The Foundation's primary purpose is to
support youth basketball through skills clinics and the refurbishing
In fact, several courts nationwide have been renovated and funded
through the Foundation and named "Tyler's Courts" with a plaque
installed at each court bearing the words "I just love playing the
game," a quote attributed to Tyler while in high school.
What's more, in September the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in
Springfield, Mass., where Tyler was born, announced it was
partnering with the Foundation to refurbish one of the local YMCA
"And every year, wherever the college Final Four is held, the
Basketball Hall of Fame refurbishes a court in that city through
Tyler's Foundation," Coupe added.
Closer to home, Ugolyn's former school on Danbury Road is also doing
its part to keep his memory alive through its annual basketball
"It's all about kids and school spirit and that's what Tyler was all
about," Fair said. "He was a very spirited young man."
Fair and her husband have four children, three of which - their
eighth- and sixth-grade daughters and a son in fourth grade -are all
playing in the tournament. Their second-grade daughter will be
eligible to play next year.
"It's really a family-oriented tournament," Sarah Fair said. "We get
a lot of people who come back every year and comment how much they
like it. There's great sportsmanship, real good competition, and
great food. We have the best kitchen in Fairfield County.
"All the work that goes into it - and there's a lot - is all done by
volunteers. We get a lot of support from parents."
That includes herself and her husband, who volunteer as the school's
"Matt and Sarah do most of the administration work for the
tournament," Coupe pointed out. "They do all the referee scheduling,
"This is our major fund raiser for the year and all the proceeds go
to support athletics at Our Lady," Fair said. "It allows us to keep
running boys and girls basketball, girls field hockey, and a co-ed
cross-country team. This is such a great boost for the school."
Adding to the excitement, the Our Lady of Fatima teams in the
tournament are doing pretty good so far. Both the boys and girls
varsity teams, as well as the girls JJV team, all entered play this
week still undefeated.
"So far we're holding our own," Fair said.
Coupe's two children - a sixth-grade daughter and an eighth-grade
son - also attend the school and are playing in the tournament.
"I never knew Tyler personally," he said, "but Sports Illustrated
featured him in an article in their post 9-11 issue. I finally put
two and two together and figured out the kid I just read about
attended the same school my kids go to."
Fair also never knew Tyler, but "I met his parents last year," she
said. "They came to the tournament and Mr. Ugolyn spoke to the crowd
about Tyler's spirit and competitiveness. We're hoping they return
"It's just a great tournament," she concluded. "It's fun for our
school and fun for the kids."