A refreshing breeze from the Moriches Bay and community spirit imbued the families gathered at the Union Avenue Dock in Center Moriches on a Sunday afternoon.
The Town of Brookhaven hosted the third annual Keith Romaine Memorial Snapper Derby, Sept. 18 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Co-sponsored by the Montauk Surfcasters Association with support from the Chamber of Commerce of the Moriches, the friendly competition in honor of Romaine, the late son of Brookhaven supervisor Ed Romaine, has attracted support from families and friends throughout the community since its 2020 inception.
“All the kids have smiles on their faces, and that’s the most important part,” Brookhaven Town councilman Dan Panico said. “The fish are already jumping, so we’ll see at the end of the day who comes out victorious.
“I have no doubt everyone’s going to have a great time,” he continued. “It’s a great event for the memory of Joseph Rera, and this is named after my friend and councilman Keith Romaine, who used to fish off this very dock.”
Romaine died in 2009 at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola, from complications brought on by a viral infection. He was 36.
This year, 79 children from Center Moriches and surrounding communities signed up for the catch-and-release tournament. In the 4 to 12 age group, Grace Scalezi came out on top with a 10-inch snapper. Nick Hristidis led the pack amongst the 12 and 1/2 to 18-year-olds with his 10-and-3/4-inch catch.
The third incarnation of the event in Romaine’s name followed last year’s efforts to honor another member of the Center Moriches community who died before his time: Joseph Rera. The 16-year-old died on Nov. 6, 2020, at Cupsogue Beach County Park in Westhampton Beach. Closure eluded his friends and family until his body was recovered on Dec. 4, 2020.
During and following this strife, the community rallied behind Rera’s loved ones, donating $28,996 to a GoFundMe page one of his friends formed to support the Rera family. The community doubled down to support an initiative another one of Rera’s friends kicked off to renovate and establish a plaque at the Union Avenue Dock in his honor.
At this year’s derby, families were asked to donate $5 per child to the Joseph Rera Memorial Scholarship Fund. Parents were happy to both enjoy time with their families as the summer waned and support another.
“We’re here donating to the Joseph Rera fund, a great cause,” said Manorville native Kathleen Milano, cheering on her children Olivia Milano, 13, and Vincent Milano, 7, at the derby. “We didn’t know him personally, but we followed his story. We know a lot of people in Center Moriches that knew him, so we wanted to come support him and his family.”
In total, the event raised $1,605 to the Joseph Rera Scholarship Fund. In addition to the funds raised from the community, the Montauk Surfcasters Association, which co-sponsors similar derbies across the island each summer season, stepped up with a major boost.
“We have a $1000 check for the [Joseph Rera Foundation] scholarship,” William Jakob, of the Montauk Surfcasters Association, said. “Last year we had just under $1,000. It’s all about helping the kids.”
Rera’s enthusiasm for fishing, which he did often at the Union Avenue Dock, was felt at the event. Parents helped young children untangle and cast their lines and cheered them on as they reeled in their snappers. Many little ones, including 7-year-old Cole Reed, strained to peer over the railing to crank in their hauls.
“This is what they love to do,” Lindsay Heinz, Reed’s mother, of East Quogue, said, minutes before he caught his first snapper of the day.
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