Benefield: Stars come out for annual charity basketball game

Top boys and girls players from the NBL and SCL will compete Friday night in the annual Schools Plus Senior All-Star Basketball games.|

If you go

What: Schools Plus Senior All-Star Basketball Game

Who: Seniors from the North Bay and Sonoma County leagues

When: Friday, April 14. Girls tip off at 6 p.m.; boys at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Montgomery High School, 1250 Hahman Drive, Santa Rosa

Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for students

Tom Bonfigli promises to do his best to bite his lip if things get out of hand Friday night.

Cardinal Newman’s boys basketball coach is famously devoted to the fundamentals, but even this old-schooler is willing to let things fly a little in the annual Schools Plus Senior All-Star Basketball game. After all, it is an all-star game, where team defense usually goes the way of the dodo.

“You want them to have fun, you need to let them go,” he said. “You don’t want to overcoach them. It’s different than coaching your own team. I’ll try to have good body language when they throw the ball out of bounds.”

Bonfigli, who coached his Cardinals to the North Bay League title this season, will head up the 10-man roster for the NBL all-stars, while Sonoma County League-winning coach Brett Page of Analy will lead the SCL squad.

“(We talk about) a couple of things that they want to do and then we let them play,” Page said. “As a group, they look pretty good.”

On the girls side, it will be Jann Thorpe from the SCL-winning Sonoma Valley Dragons and Steve Bell, who spent 26 seasons coaching the Vikings’ varsity girls team before he retired before the most recent season.

“This is really an opportunity to give the seniors a last chance to play and to show appreciation to them and what they have given over the last four years,” Bell said.

But there is another side to the game.

For more than two decades, Schools Plus has raised funds to support arts and athletics at every middle and high school in Santa Rosa City Schools, Sonoma County’s largest school district.

After forgoing their biggest fundraiser of the year last fall, donations to Santa Rosa schools fell from $230,000 divided among 11 campuses in recent years to $150,000 this year, according to John Bribiescas, a founding member of the 26-year-old nonprofit group.

The game is a way to keep people thinking about Schools Plus, he said.

“We are looking to see what kind of foundation we are going to be, how we are going to raise money in the future,” he said.

While Schools Plus is in transition in some ways, the annual basketball game will look much like it has in recent years. Girls will tip off at 6 p.m. and the boys will go at 7:30 p.m.

That’s something that ought to be reconsidered next year. It doesn’t seem quite right to slot the girls in as the opening act for the boys as headliners year after year.

This is, after all, a thank you to the players and families so why not share the prime time love?

Regardless of the tip-off issue, it’s a unique game that allows competitors to suit up as teammates.

“It helps give players a chance to see people who are opponents over the years in a little different light,” Bell said.

“It’s a fun game. I’m sure the kids are going to get after it,” he said. “If you were to boil it down, I think it probably comes down to bragging rights.”

And for some, it’s the last time they will play for their school and for their league.

“In my mind, I just want it be a day where they are getting recognized,” Thorpe said. “It will be fun.”

It will also be competitive.

In the boys game, it might boil down to a contrast in styles.

The SCL squad has plenty of size to go with some dangerous guards. Among the notables expected to play for the SCL are Analy’s Dominic Tripodi, the Petaluma pair of Joey Potts and Austin Parreti, and the Healdsburg combination of Landon Courtman and Juan Aguilar.

It’s a different story in the NBL.

“We’re all guards,” Bonfigli said.

But they are talented guards. Suiting up for the NBL are Cardinal Newman’s Damian Wallace and Cody Baker, Montgomery’s Alex Soria, Windsor’s Kobe Roman and Kalei Aukai and Isaiah Steele from Santa Rosa, among others.

The SCL girls roster features Bella Niedermair of Analy, Grace Cutting and Alanna Johnstone of Sonoma Valley and Daisjah Shepard of Piner. The 11-strong SCL roster is a change from last year when there were not enough all-stars to field an SCL team so players from each league were mingled in an intraleague game.

The NBL girls roster features Julia Watson and Cammie Barsuglia from Montgomery, Julia Guerrero of Rancho Cotate and Taylor Hextrum of Cardinal Newman.

But some of the biggest names in girls preps hoops will not be suiting up.

Reigning All-Empire large schools girls player of the year Hailey Vice-Neat from Cardinal Newman and teammate Lauren Walker are not slated to play, nor is Santa Rosa senior Emily Codding.

Vice-Neat is committed to playing at Boise State, Walker is signed to play at the University of Portland, and Codding is heading to St. Mary’s. All three are Division 1 programs so there is a lot riding on keeping everyone healthy and whole heading into summer.

Still, the night should feature a last chance to see some of the prep stars of recent years give it one more go.

Bonfigli said he will encourage his squad to play a good looking brand of hoops.

“We are not going out there to joke around and throw up shots,” Bonfigli said. “We want to go out and play good basketball.”

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcasting on iTunes and SoundCloud “Overtime with Kerry Benefield.”

If you go

What: Schools Plus Senior All-Star Basketball Game

Who: Seniors from the North Bay and Sonoma County leagues

When: Friday, April 14. Girls tip off at 6 p.m.; boys at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Montgomery High School, 1250 Hahman Drive, Santa Rosa

Cost: $10 for adults, $5 for students

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