By Jim Hague
Before the 2012 outdoor track season began, there were a lot of people who questioned whether the Lyndhurst High School boys’ track and field team would be as competitive as in years past.
After all, the Golden Bears did lose standout Patrick Rono, the 2010-2011 Observer Male Athlete of the Year, to graduation and the University of Arkansas. There were those that truly believed that the track and field program would suffer immensely with his departure.
But none of those doubters wore blue and gold uniforms. To a man, the Golden Bears all thought they could be just as good – if not better – without Rono.
“We knew from the start that it would be a little tougher without Patrick,” said senior pole vault standout Mike Morreale. “We knew that we still had a great team and we shouldn’t let what people say about us change what we do. If we could perform at our best, we could have another great team. We could be just like last year.” “
We wanted to build from what Pat helped to build,” said senior distance runner Thiago Fernandes. “That was the goal.”
Fellow senior distance runner Danny Gaspar agreed.
“We really pushed ourselves,” Gaspar said. “We knew it was going to be tough without Patrick, but we never thought we wouldn’t be good. We had a lot of talented people still here.”
Veteran head coach Tom Shoebridge tried to get the entire team to believe.
“The first thing we talked about as a coaching staff was getting the kids to believe in themselves,” Shoebridge said. “It was in our first team meeting with the staff. We knew we could get another triple crown (league, county and state). We knew we had a chance. We just had to make sure the kids believed it.”
Shoebridge credited his close-knit senior class for helping the rest of the 70 kids to buy in.
“The senior class wanted to achieve some great things,” Shoebridge said. “It was more like the seniors wanted to achieve the same things that last year’s team did. It’s a great group of kids.”
Kids like Gaspar and Fernandes handling the distance races and making sure that the Golden Bears scored as many points as possible in their events. Cap Ki Kim took care of the hurdles events. Ali Kone was a versatile performer. Eric Angus went on to set a new school record in the javelin that stood for 10 years. Morreale emerged as the best in the pole vault in the history of the school – and there has been plenty of excellence in the pole vault at Lyndhurst.
“They already had that dimension that they wanted to be remembered as one of the best teams in the school’s history,” Shoebridge said. “They were all part of things that never happened before.”
Sure enough, this team went out and excelled without the standout Rono. They were a bunch of hardworking kids, not one stealing any headlines or limelight. They were just a group who stuck together and did what was expected of them – and more.
“We had a motto from the beginning of the season,” Shoebridge said. “If it’s one of us, it’s all of us. They stuck to that motto and I’m very proud of them.”
The Golden Bears won their league championship for a third straight year, adding a second straight NJIC Meadowlands Division A title to the BCSL National crown the Bears won before that league disbanded.
They also captured the Bergen County Division C championship for a third straight year after never having won it before. They also just missed winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title for a second straight year, losing by a single point to Weequahic of Newark.
It’s definitely a great legacy left by the seniors and one that needs to continue in the future.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” said Gaspar, who is headed to Rutgers University where he will continue his career. “We wanted to go out with the whole thing. I think everyone improved as a whole, which is important. It’s a shame we couldn’t win them all. I’ll never forget this. I remember coming in three years ago and saying that, ‘OK, we have Patrick and just a group of other guys who want to help out.’ But we really pushed ourselves to become champions.”
Fernandes can’t comprehend how far the program has come.
“I always dreamed that we could do it, but I never knew for sure,” said Fernandes, who is off to NYU and study computer science. “We were always discounted. Coming in, I never thought we had a chance to accomplish all we have. It’s great to leave a legacy like this for everyone else.”
Shoebridge now knows he has a program to be reckoned with, certainly not a fly-by-night organization fueled by the efforts of one superstar. This was a team effort through and through.
“The program has definitely flourished,” Shoebridge said. “Our kids are proud of their accomplishments and they deserve the respect they receive. They understand what it means to get respect the right way.”
Shoebridge was asked if he could have envisioned such immense success with his program.
“Absolutely not,” Shoebridge said. “I could envision some success, but I couldn’t see this happening. It’s a credit to the kids. I appreciate their efforts. They worked very hard. No way could we ever get this program to be where it is without a great coaching staff. Without them, there wouldn’t be a successful program.”
Ed Tessalone, Kim Hykey, Darius Hughes and an assortment of volunteers aided Shoebridge in assembling what has now developed into a perennial power.
The torch has now been passed to a standout like sophomore Anthony Giaquinto, who will be the top performer next season.
“All the underclassmen have a responsibility to keep the tradition going,” Giaquinto said. “The older guys set a good example for me to follow.”
And it will be up to the other underclassmen to keep that winning championship feeling going in Lyndhurst, proving to everyone that there’s more to Lyndhurst track and fi eld than one kid.
“As soon as Patrick left, everyone shot our chances out the window,” Gaspar said. “That was added motivation for is. We were determined to prove that we were a different team. OK, so Rono used to win everything, so we had to all chip in and fi ll in. We did a wonderful job, the whole team together. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
“They are always going to be remembered as one of the greatest athletic teams in the school,” Shoebridge said. “That says a lot.”