By REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — Sixth-grader Catie Lasek admits playing the board game Monopoly can get a little monotonous.
“It takes too long,” she said.
But on Nov. 7 at Van Antwerp Middle School, Lasek wasn’t bored at all. Instead of the tiny metal cat she usually chooses while playing Monopoly from the box, she hopped right into the game and sat down on a square to wait for her next turn.
It was all part of the annual Niska-Game, the Niskayuna Community Action Program’s sole annual fundraiser, a life-sized game of Monopoly for the district’s middle school students.
“I’m excited about having fun with my friends,” said Lasek, whose entire team dressed in matching pajamas, Niska-Game T-shirts, and candy-striped headbands to accentuate their team spirit.
Local businesses, community groups and individuals sponsor the game, which takes place in two separate rounds on successive evenings due to the large number of students who sign up. In addition to sponsorships, the organization raises money by allowing players to exchange $1 of real money for $5 of Monopoly cash.
The rules and setup are fundamentally similar to the classic board game, but with local twists. There’s no jail — instead, a player who landed on that loathsome corner spot was stuck in the Niskayuna Transfer Station, where he or she had to climb into a metal garbage can and wait to be freed by a lucky roll of the dice or a get-out-of-jail card.
Sponsors’ names label the squares on the game board, replacing the traditional Monopoly properties. Lucky teams claimed the Niskayuna Teachers’ Association for $100 in Monopoly money, Mario’s Pizza for $140, and GE Global Research for $200.
Instead of passing “Go,” teams were handed $50 in play money for passing Niskayuna Town Hall. Each elementary school in the district was represented, too, and any player who landed on the grade school he or she graduated from was rewarded with $100.
Finally, between each turn, students put on skits, answered trivia questions, and performed other quick activities.
Fueled by weekend excitement and sugary refreshments from the bake sale in the hallway outside the gym, the Monopoly players were wildly energetic. Town Supervisor Joe Landry and Van Antwerp Principal Luke Rakoczy donned somber black judges’ robes (ancient leftover graduation gowns) and refereed the madness.
Eighth-grader Meghan Kehoe was eager to get started, especially since she and her team won the year before, scoring a huge bag of candy. She was especially hopeful that the team, all dressed in matching burgundy shirts, would land on the Hillside Elementary space. That alone could have won them another round of giant Monopoly.
“The whole team went to Hillside,” she said. They’d win $100 per teammate if they landed there.
Claire Choi, an eighth-grader, was also on the winning team in 2013.
“Last year we didn’t even have a plan. We just went for it and won anyway,” she said. This year, they had a few exciting skits up their sleeves, hoping to retain their edge.
It wasn’t just last year’s winners, though. The burgundy team had become a family affair, adding Choi’s sixth-grade brother, Tommy, and his friends. Her mom, Joyce Serbalik Choi, sponsored and chaperoned.
“The best part is watching them come up with their skit,” Serbalik Choi said. “I love that the eighth-grade girls didn’t mind combining with the sixth-grade boys to make a team.”
In addition to so many special memories, the Niska-Game also made about $5,000 for community programs like the Pre-Prom forum, Presidents Volunteer Service Award, scholarships, and sending local delegates to the Youth to Youth conference.