By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
The calendar year of 2012 brought a wide variety of stories in local sports. Here’s a list of the Observer’s Top Sports Stories for 2012:
1-Kearny native and Giants legend Webster dies at 80
In December 2011, Kearny native Alex Webster was inducted into the New York Giants’ Ring of Honor at MetLife Stadium. He was not only a great player for the Giants for many years, but also became the head coach of the Giants for a few seasons, even earning the Associated Press Coach of the Year in 1970. At the ceremony honoring him, Webster was full of life and was so excited to be approached by someone from his hometown newspaper, a paper he read religiously online every Thursday from the senior citizen complex he lived in during his later years in Florida. Less than three months later, Webster, Kearny’s most famous football player ever, was gone from a heart attack at the age of 80. He is someone who is still revered locally even in passing.
2-Kearny native Meola named to National Soccer Hall of Fame
Joining friends and teammates John Harkes and Tab Ramos, who were inducted a few years ago, Kearny native Tony Meola was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in March. The legendary goalkeeper, a standout during his days at Kearny High, was part of three United States National Teams that participated in World Cup action during his career and was a former Most Valuable Player in Major League Soccer. He also had two stints with the MetroStars/ Red Bulls franchise and ended his playing days with the New Jersey Ironmen in indoor soccer.
3-Harrison boys’ soccer team captures NJSIAA sectional title
It had been four years in the making, but the Harrison High School boys’ soccer team enjoyed another state championship, winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title by defeating Brearley Regional via penalty kicks in November. With almost an entirely different roster than the one they had in 2011, the Blue Tide advanced to the overall Group I championship game before falling to Haddon Heights. But the 2012 season meant a return to glory for the state’s most honored soccer program.
4-Double dip: Kearny boys’ and girls’ capture county titles
It was a year to remember for both the Kearny High School boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, as both squads managed to win their respective Hudson County Tournament championships. The boys endured three epic matches with St. Peter’s Prep to finally break through in the title game, while the girls managed to remain undefeated throughout county play and defeated Bayonne handily to win their fourth straight county crown.
5-Nutley wrestling earns best season in school history
It was a fantastic season for the Nutley High School wrestling program, as the team captured the Essex County Tournament title for the first time ever. The Maroon Raiders also won the District 14 team title, the first district crown since 1980, sending an amazing seven wrestlers to the Region 4 tournament and five to the NJSIAA state championships in Atlantic City. It was a momentous season for head coach Frank DiPiano and the Maroon Raiders.
6-Lyndhurst bowling team completes ‘triple crown’
The Lyndhurst High School bowling team enjoyed its best season ever, winning the Bergen County title, the NJIC-Meadowlands Division crown and capped it off by winning the NJSIAA Section 1-A state title. Led by the brother/sister combination of Jordan and Lexus Lopez, the Golden Bears had a memorable campaign. Lexus Lopez would eventually earn a full scholarship to bowl at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
7-Lyndhurst football coaching scandal
Lyndhurst was rocked in February by the news that head football coach Scott Rubinetti had been arrested and charged with sexual assault of a minor, endangering the welfare of a child and witness tampering, all involving an underage Lyndhurst student. Rubinetti was suspended without pay, only to be replaced by former head coach Joe Castagnetti. He is still awaiting trial for his charges. It was a shocking tale that hurt the entire Lyndhurst athletic program.
8-Kearny forfeits football game to St. Peter’s Prep
In September, the Kearny High School football team became the center of a statewide and nationwide controversy, when head football coach Pete Llaneza and interim school superintendent Ron Bolandi decided that the Kardinal football team would be better off taking a forfeit loss against St. Peter’s Prep than to risk injuries to the undermanned Kardinals. The story was featured in several newspapers and national television shows, especially since the Kards decided a week later to face Union City. The timeliness of the forfeit came under heated debate as well, as Kearny officials waited until the scheduled day of the game to inform St. Peter’s Prep they were not playing the game.
9-Queen of Peace crowns two outdoor hurdles state champions
In June, the Queen of Peace track and field program earned accolades when Natalie Negroni and Kevin Momnohin both won their respective gold medals at the NJSIAA Non- Public B state championships. What made the achievements even more remarkable is that neither athlete participated in hurdles prior to the spring track season.
10-Huaranga named athletic director at Harrison
In June, former Harrison High School basketball standout Kim McDonough Huaranga was named as the new athletic director at her alma mater, replacing the retiring Alan Doffont. Huaranga became the first female athletic director in Harrison history and the lone female administrator in the Northern Jersey Interscholastic League. As Kim McDonough, she set the all-time Hudson County scoring record for both boys and girls.
Just missed list
There were other stories that just missed making the Top 10 list for 2012. Queen of Peace welcomed back longtime athletic director Ed Abromaitis, while giving walking papers to head football coach Steve Romano. Tyler Krychkowski of North Arlington and Stefanie Gomes of Kearny were selected as The Observer Male and Female Athletes of the Year respectively. Kearny cross country runner Erika Alzamora won the Hudson County championship. Kearny native Franco Gamero set NJIT’s all-time scoring record in soccer after spending a month training with the Puerto Rican national team. Kearny athlete Steve Koziel won four medals at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions while competing in his wheelchair. All in all, it was a great year of local sports in the Observer circulation area.