Local athletes honored by NJIC for sportsmanship

There aren’t many leagues or organizations that honor athletes for what they do not do, rather than what they do.

Most athletes get rewarded for hitting home runs or scoring the game-winning basket or the clutch touchdown. All of those actions are very important.

But so are the actions of athletes who don’t get to enjoy the bright spot or the limelight, the ones who might offer a nice greeting to an umpire or be the first to shake an opponent’s hand after a tough loss.

Those are the truly special athletes _ and the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference goes far and beyond their duties by holding an annual Sportsmanship Awards Luncheon at the Chart House Restaurant in Weehawken last week.

Each of the league’s participating schools was able to select two athletes_ one male and one female _ to represent their schools at the luncheon. The athletes were selected by the respective coaches and athletic directors of the NJIC.

Four local schools, namely Lyndhurst, North Arlington, Harrison and Queen of Peace, were honored at the luncheon.

Harrison received three awards, two for athletes Faustina Barreto and Joseph Renderos, and one for athletic director Kim McDonough Huaranga, who was named the NJIC-Liberty Division Athletic Director of the Year.

Barreto, who was an outside hitter on the girls’ volleyball team, was thrilled to receive the award.

“It felt great, first being named team captain and now this,” Barreto said. “I was one who never screamed on the court. That just comes to me naturally. I’m not an angry person. I try to keep my cool at all times, because I have younger people on the court who look up to me. I did not want to have any negative energy.”

Barreto said her two biggest thrills were being named Observer Athlete of the Week last year and receiving this award.

“That meant a lot to me, but winning the sportsmanship award is even better,” Barreto said.

Renderos was a baseball player for the Blue Tide.

“I felt really honored getting this award,” Renderos said. “It’s good that people noticed you. They didn’t even have to look up stats or anything. I just like being the guy to help out my teammates. I didn’t expect to receive an award like this. I’m so excited and honored.”

Both athletes are headed to St. Peter’s University, where the third Harrison award winner was a star basketball player.

“It’s a huge honor for me,” McDonough Huaranga said. “Anytime your peers acknowledge you in this way, it means a lot. I’m grateful that they think of me so highly and selected me to receive the award.”

Huaranga was asked if she helps other women aspire to be an athletic director like she is.

“I think more and more women are getting into the field,” Huaranga said. “As years go by, there are more female athletic directors. I am a female member of the Boys’ Club (the lone female AD in the league), but I don’t feel any different. I’m just fortunate to have coaches and athletes who make things better.”

Shauna Voza was an honoree from Lyndhurst.

“I was shocked when they picked me,” said Voza, who ran cross country and was a cheerleader. “There were so many other possible candidates. Why did they pick me? But I really don’t want to ask, because I’m very excited.”

Voza, headed to FDU Florham in the fall, said she knew about the award because her friends Joanne Arvanitakis and Matt DeMarco received the honor last year.

“I’m actually getting the same award that they got,” Voza said. “When I think that people will be comparing me to Joanne and Matt, that’s amazing. I’m so honored that people recognized the little things I did.”

Voza’s classmate Michael Carrino also received the award.

From North Arlington, Kelly Lennon and Daniel Antunes were the recipients.

“Honestly, I was shocked,” said Lennon, who played soccer and ran indoor and outdoor track. “But I was very happy my coaches selected me. It’s so humbling, especially seeing all the other kids I played against and ran against.”

Lennon, who owns a 4.0 grade point average, is headed to The College of New Jersey to study psychology with the hope of going pre-med and psychiatry.

“It’s definitely rewarding to be recognized for how I played, not what I did,” Lennon said. “I definitely did not expect this.”

Antunes, headed to New Jersey City University in the fall, played soccer and ran track.

“When I was on the field, I knew I was doing the right thing all the time,” Antunes said. “I’m glad someone noticed that. It made me feel good inside to get this. One of my best friends is Joanna Seca (now playing soccer at Drexel) and she won last year, so I remember saying, ‘That’s a cool award.’ Now I got it. Getting recognized goes a long way. I got this award not for being an athlete, but just being myself. I was doing it out of the kindness of my heart.”

Ashley Ruivo was proud to be the last recipient from Queen of Peace, which is closing its doors for good next week.

“I felt amazed, winning for not how I played, but for the attitude with which I played,” said Ruivo, a soccer and softball player at QP. “I heard about it from other friends who received the award, but I didn’t think I had a chance to get it, because we already had finished school. It’s a little bittersweet. I’m happy for me and Adrian (Klein, the QP boys’ recipient), but I’m sad to now that no one else will ever get the opportunity as I did. Queen of Peace did so much for me. It’s an honor to know I’m the last to get the award.”
Ruivo, a Kearny resident, will attend Seton Hall University and study biochemistry, with the hope of going into the pharmaceutical industry.

“This was definitely rewarding,” Ruivo said.

It’s a wonderful event that the NJIC holds annually. Harrison resident Gary Schimel, one of the top women’s college basketball officials, was the featured speaker.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer