WASHINGTON – Catholic University assistant men's basketball coach Ryan Hyland's mind will be on the exhibition game between his team and George Washington on Saturday afternoon. But his heart will be in his hometown of Breezy Point, N.Y.
Following the 2 p.m. game at GW's Smith Center, Hyland will drive home to assist with relief efforts following Monday's devastating storm surge and fire caused by hybrid Superstorm Sandy. He's collected food, clothing and other essential items from friends all week.
"I probably have too much for my car already," Hyland said.
Hyland's family's home flooded with about 11-12 feet of water, damaging the foundation and completely submerging the basement and part of the first floor. Despite this, he said his family is fortunate it didn't suffer as much damage as many of his neighbors.
"We're lucky compared to most people," he said.
Because of its location between the Atlantic Ocean and Jamaica Bay on the western edge of Rockaway Peninsula, Breezy Point residents expect flooding when huge storms arrive. But no one expected the six-alarm fire that took about 200 firefighters to extinguish.
Driven by downed power lines and high winds, the blaze quickly spread from house to house. When it was over, 111 homes were completely destroyed and another 20 damaged. Hyland's home is about three blocks from the fire zone. Miraculously, no one was killed in Breezy Point.
"The hardest part is how close this town is," he said. "We're a close-knit community."
Hyland served as a CUA manager and student assistant coach under Cardinal Head Coach Steve Howes before graduating in 2011. Howes said he's proud of Hyland for wanting to get back home and help his family, friends and neighbors.
"It's incredible how bad the storm was," he said. "You just have to pray that the suffering comes to an end for these people soon."
This isn't the first time tragedy has struck this part of Queens. Twenty-nine Breezy Point firefighters and business professionals were killed on 9/11. Two months later, at nearby Belle Harbor, 265 were killed in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587.
In addition to his parents, Chris and Theresa, Hyland has aunts, uncles and grandparents who live in Breezy Point. His younger brother, T.J., is one of the team's managers and a student assistant. He's studying abroad in Spain this semester.
"It's hard on him to be over in Spain right now," Hyland said. "He wants to be back home."
Written by Chris McManes, a former CUA Sports Information Director.