A group of 82 teachers and staff members at School 10 in Paterson, New Jersey came within one number of winning the $130 million jackpot in last week's Mega Millions game.
Instead, they will take home about $2,134 each before taxes, having won the second prize of $175,000. Although disappointed that they can't retire early, the winners who gathered Tuesday to pose for New Jersey Lottery photographs were happy they won anything at all.
"This is the biggest win I've ever had," gym teacher William Best said.
The group, which optimistically dubbed themselves the Mercer Street Millionaires for the school's location, matched five of the Mega Millions numbers, but did not have the Mega Ball number needed for the top prize. Joking and giggling, they donned New Jersey Lottery T-shirts on Tuesday to celebrate the win.
Third-grade bilingual teacher Kathy Esquiche inadvertently started the lottery pool several weeks ago when she made an off-hand remark to a colleague about the mounting prize. Someone overheard her conversation in the teachers lounge before school and within days, Esquiche had collected $10 each from 81 fellow teachers, secretaries, lunch monitors and custodians.
She walked to a bodega across the street from the school and bought 820 of the $1 Mega Millions tickets for the Jan. 14 drawing. The group won $385. Esquiche took that money and bought 385 tickets for the Jan. 18 drawing. The winning numbers were 10, 23, 28, 39 and 51 and the Mega Ball was 5. A couple from Georgia were the lone first-prize winners.
Lacking that Mega Ball number, the School 10 players became one of three New Jersey players to win second prize.
"Everyone was on a honeymoon that day," Esquiche said. "We came pretty close, but we were blessed."
Secretary Lakeysha Cooper was the last person to join the pool. She had begged Esquiche not to forget her. She said she wasn't disappointed that they missed out on the multimillion dollar prize.
"I'm grateful for what we got," Cooper said. "We started with $10."
Esquiche said she's certain that the next time the lottery jackpot exceeds $100 million, she'll get all of the 126 faculty and staff members at the K-8 school to join the pool.
Eighth-grade teacher Arthur Newfeld nearly missed out on the pool because he had been out on sick leave recovering from lung surgery. A chance visit to the school on doctor's orders brought him face to face with Esquiche while she was collecting money. Newfeld's doctor suggested he try to walk the school's stairs to gauge his stamina before returning to work.
Years ago, teachers at School 10 played the lottery together nearly every week, but never won more than $100, Newfeld said.
"As they say, you've got to be in it to win it," Newfeld said. "We all play, but you never expect to win. None of us are millionaires from it, but we're a couple dollars happier."