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A WORD WITH THE PUBLISHER: Friends for life

publisher@theobserver.com

 

By Lisa Pezzolla

It’s funny how life repeats itself from one generation to the next. As a kid I would hear my parents and grandparents talk about what they did with their friends while growing up to keep busy. My grandmother and her friend would sit around and share stories with us how they met and walked all over the Bronx to take a train to Manhattan. I can hear them talking about how they played stickball and hopscotch, and how they were never bored. Over this past Mother’s Day weekend I had the pleasure to wish my old friend from first grade a Happy 50th. It’s hard to imagine where the time went! We had so much fun recalling childhood memories, how we played “African Safari” in her back yard (her dog played the role of lion) and how we’d play for hours with our model horses. One day we were blasting her older sister’s records and the cops came because we happened to be singing the Country Joe & The Fish“ Vietnam Song,” (it features the “F” word). We didn’t understand what we were even saying. Those were great days! I am sad for the kids growing up now. They’ve been robbed of the freedom to go out and play and to just be kids.

As I approach my big 50 (next month) I am lucky to have shared many years of laughter and realize how much fun we had growing up, and that special bond we have shared in our life.

We’ve all grown up and have gone in different directions. But what we have is hard to find… because all it takes is one phone call and we’ll be right there to help one another. That is true friendship!

All it takes is a winner

After the New Jersey Devils defeated the Philadelphia Flyers to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals last Tuesday, I couldn’t help but think that winning and heading to the Stanley Cup would be the biggest slap in the face to the now Brooklyn Nets organization.

After not being able to secure a stadium deal in New Jersey, the Nets, starting next season, will move to Brooklyn, leaving New Jersey with one last true pro sports team, the ever-flourishing Devils. Not only have the Devils flourished, but they have flourished all while making New Jersey a household name for something other than spray tans, fist-pumping, and hair gel. Even a billboard off the Turnpike sponsored by the Devils says, “We proudly wear our state on our chest.”

This is something the Nets really never did. Even with a team consisting of Jason Kidd and Vince Carter, the team never really garnered the attention of a Jersey fanbase that longs for a team to support. Even I can’t stand the Nets, and support the Knicks. There was just something about the team, besides its record, that just seemed so bland. Being a Nets fan was kind of like being a Mets fan. Sure, the teams had bits of success, but they just seemed more like little brother to the Knicks and Yankees than actual rivals.

The Devils, on the other hand, have not only played themselves into being rivals with the Rangers, but they’ve created their own identity, something the Nets have never been able to do.

With a good chance that the Devils will actually make the Stanley Cup this year, Jersey can no longer be looked at as another state without an important pro-sports team. Not only is the team showing the NHL that a team can thrive in New Jersey, but it’s showing other sports leagues that New Jersey can be successful without being under New York’s shadow. Honestly, it would not surprise me that within the next 10 years, that a basketball team comes back to New Jersey, and if/when that day happens, one can hope that it will embrace the Jersey name and prove to be a successful team.

Just for the love of God, David Stern, don’t give us the Bobcats…

-Anthony J. Machcinski

WE’VE GOT MAIL

To the Publisher:

I am writing this to you in the hope that it will be printed in your paper before the May 21 Board of Education meeting. All I can say to the BOE members is “WOW”! What were you people thinking at your special meeting? I am a parent/ taxpayer with children in Franklin School and I am honestly dumbfounded by your lack of concern for the education of the 1,000 + students in the school. You were elected to set policy for the district that is in the best interest of the students. You are not elected to hire and fire people because you do not care for them or because you do not like the person that hired them. By choosing not to renew Mr. Hoff as vice principal of Franklin School, you have overstepped your boundaries. I have never seen any of you at a Franklin School function, with the exception of Mr. Castelli and Mrs. Schalago, therefore, how can you say he isn’t doing a good job? He is there every day for the students – my children!!! The students of Franklin School have been through several changes over the last few years with a principal retiring, an interim principal, a vice principal moving to another school, a guidance counselor moving to another school and then finally getting a new principal and vice principal. Now for reasons unknown except to you, you decide to once again cause turmoil in the school. Is this fair? I know you will come up with some excuse/reason, because that is what politicians do.

Elizabeth Young,

Kearny

Watsessing: Day of celebration

Photo by Ron Leir/ Doreen Sarcone (l.) and Naresh Patel stand outside deli.

 

 

By Ron Leir

BLOOMFIELD –

If your business was victimized twice by robbers within two months and then attacked by vandals about a year and a half later, would you be inclined to stay?

Naresh Patel, a Bloomfield deli owner, did and he says he’s here for the duration.

On May 5, his neighbors and local politicians rallied around Patel at his store, the A&D Deli, a block in from Watsessing Park, to honor his commitment to keep his enterprise going.

Doreen Sarcone, an executive committee member of the Watsessing Neighborhood Association (WNA) gave Patel a certificate of appreciation and Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) presented an Assembly resolution recognizing Patel for his “involvement in the community.”

Recounting his experiences, Patel, 40, who came to the U.S. from his native Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India two decades ago, previously had two stores, one a “bigger business” on Broad St. which he sold seven years ago.

It was at the deli, Maolis Ave. and Thomas St., where the crimes occurred.

On an afternoon in May 2010, two armed men entered the store, tied up Patel and a helper and stole all his proceeds. Next month, a man who had his hand in his pocket, possibly concealing a gun, threatened Patel and took money from the register. “Two senior citizens, my friends, were in the store at the time,” Patel recalled.

Then, on Jan. 5, 2012, “two guys smashed my (store) window at night,” the deli owner said.

“The first time it happened, I was shocked,” Patel said, “because never in my life was I robbed since going into business in 1988.”

But Patel said he’s gratified by the many loyal customers who not only patronize his shop but also enjoy his companionship and like to visit just to chat for a while.

“I’m at the point now where I’m not frightened at all,” Patel said. “God is with me – that’s why nothing happened to me. And the police go by often. The Bloomfield Police Department get the job done. All three guys (charged with the holdups) got caught. So if you come here and rob me, you are going down.”

During the presentation ceremony, Caputo also paid tribute to the WNA and Watsessing Park Conservancy for volunteering their time in helping to rebuild a neighborhood with an estimated 4,500 to 5,000 residents, whether it’s pressing for more police patrols or removing debris and old furniture dumped in the park.

Third Ward Councilman Carlos Bernard was also on hand to congratulate Patel and to participate – with members of the Bloomfield High School football team – in the WNA’s annual Watsessing Park Cleanup and Celebration.

Bernard said that the Essex County Sheriff’s Office sends patrols through the park “day and night” and that he has accompanied Police Chief Chris Goul on walk-throughs of the sprawling park where “we’ve focused on safety in certain areas, made sure all the lights are functioning.”

Periodically, the councilman added, “I’m also walking here with my mastiffs, looking for things to make it safer. Because if you’re not involved, things crumble.

” The Watsessing neighborhood’s boundaries, roughly tracing the park’s perimeter, are Glenwood Ave. to the north, the East Orange border to the south, Mytrle Ave. at the train station to the east and the Glen Ridge border to the west.

That neighborhood has struggled with criminal activities, such as mugging, robberies, break-ins, car thefts but Sarcone, who serves as deputy director of Bloomfield Center Alliance, said conditions are improving with the advent of more frequent police patrols both in the park and on the perimeter.

“We’ve also had block captains assigned,” Sarcone said, to be the neighborhood’s safety-conscious eyes and ears.

WNA treasurer Tim Johnson, a member since 1999 – the year after its founding – said the group is celebrating many achievements.

“Fifteen years ago, all the kids’ playgrounds in the park were a wreck but we got the county to restore them,” Johnson said. “The (Essex) Lawn Bowling grounds were overgrown but we got that fixed; we got the park gazebo restored; the entrance to the park at Prospect (St.) and Glenwood (Ave.) was basically a weed pile: now it looks like it’s part of the park.”

Additionally, outside the park, the WNA pushed for a block grant to restore the façade at the then dilapidated shopping center at Carteret St. and Morse Ave. and another block grant to pave Glenwood, from the train trestle to Llewellyn Ave., Johnson said.

On May 5, WNA and neighborhood volunteers pitched in to plant new seedlings along Glenwood and the riverbank to further beautify the park.

And, just for good measure, visitors enjoyed free refreshments and got to watch a sports club from the neighborhood playing a demonstration game of cricket on the park lawn.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Saturday in the park.

Fighting in the Dark

Photo courtesy Joseph Gehrmann

 

By Anthony J. Machcinski 

What a difference a year makes. A little over a year after I Am Fighting took the stage at Bamboozle Festival at the New Meadowlands Sports Complex, the band will return to the Bamboozle Festival debuting a new EP, “Not Afraid.”

“This time, we went for the complete opposite (of last year’s upbeat CD),” said I Am Fighting lead vocalist Joe Gehrmann. Those words can never ring truer.

In their first album, “All The Ways We Can,” Gehrmann and bandmates Dan Tretola, Dom Gaglio, and Joe Hughes created an album that was very upbeat and powerful, from the first track “Ghost” all the way through the last song “Noah.” With “Not Afraid,” the band turned in a different direction for the songs on this album.

“They’re very dark,” said Gehrmann. “The songs are so different in this CD.”

I Am Fighting achieved this “darker” sound by using lower notes. In the song, “John Francis,” the band starts out with the piano playing of Gehrmann and continues the darker theme with a slow bass drum beat in the background. While the band strayed from the upbeat feeling of its first album, I Am Fighting still manages to keep its power through Gehrmann’s voice, which jumps off the track and grabs your ear.

In a 2011 interview with The Observer, Gehrmann described his music as: “emotional, powerful, beautiful and dark pop.”

Following this trend, the song “Falling in Circles” has a different feel than the other songs on the record. While still retaining its power and emotion, “Falling in Circles” is the one song on the record that is a ray of sunshine through a much darker album.

With these new songs in tow, I Am Fighting will play the Bamboozle Festival in Asbury Park after winning a contest at the Stone Pony in April.

“It’s more exciting this year because we get to play at it and we don’t have to deal with all the stress of competing against other bands,” Gehrmann explained. Last year, I Am Fighting was placed in a multi-round competition for a spot in last year’s Bamboozle lineup, losing in the final round of the contest.This year, the contest was downsized to one day, giving the band more time to focus on its act for the actual show instead of the contest.

Asked to measure the impact of the Bamboozle Festival on the band, Gehrmann said:

“It allows you to get a taste of the dream that you’re going for. … When you play these giant festivals, it allows you to just play. When you play smaller shows, we do very well, but you’re scraping the surface to try and fill a venue. When you play the festivals, you get to play on an incredible stage with the best sound system that the state can offer and it allows us to play for the largest crowd we can possibly play for.”

Still, Gehrmann allowed that, “smaller venues (make it) easier to connect to the crowd.”

With the new EP under its belt, I Am Fighting will play at Bamboozle on May 20 in Asbury Park before coming to Maxwell’s in Hoboken on June 23.

To learn more about the band, check out its website at iamfighting.com and to buy its new EP, “Not Afraid” or its previous album, “All The Ways We Can,” search I Am Fighting on iTunes.

Belleville gets Nutley assist in nabbing bandits

On May 8 at 12:20 a.m., Belleville Police were dispatched to 74 Holmes St. on a robbery call. The victim stated that he parked his car in his driveway and began to walk towards his house. As he did, two males approached him. One of the men was carrying what he described as a “rifle or shotgun.” Panicked, the victim bolted from the area, hopping fences between houses while shouting for the police. The suspects then fled in a “white sports type vehicle with a spoiler on the back,” according to witnesses. The victim recalled that he had noticed a white Mitsubishi with a blackened headlight that appeared to be following him as he drove home.

Twenty-five minutes later, Belleville Police received a call from Nutley Police who informed informed Belleville that they had just ended a highspeed vehicle pursuit at the intersection of Franklin Ave. and Liberty Ave. in Belleville after the fleeing car – a white Mitsubishi Gallant – lost control and crashed. They were now in foot pursuit of its three male occupants. Belleville Police joined the chase and apprehended one suspect in the rear yard of a home. Another man was seized a few blocks away. Police recovered a .45 cal. handgun, a shotgun, and shells.

20-year-old Davon Bailey of Bloomfield and Yusef Shark, 19, of E. Orange were arrested by Belleville officers and charged with a battery of offenses including burglary, unlawful possession of a weapon, resisting arrest by flight, and other charges. Bail for each was set at $50,000. The two men were transported to the county jail. The third suspect remains at large.

It was learned that the getaway vehicle had been carjacked from East Orange on May 5, and that its plates had been stolen off a Bloomfield vehicle the following day. A search of Shark’s home yielded proceeds from a recent home burglary in Cranford and five additional firearms. The two firearms found at the scene were confirmed as missing from the Cranford burglary. In subsequent statements to police, Bailey akkegedly implicated himself as the individual who attempted to rob the man at 74 Holmes St. He also stated that he “burglarized the home in Cranford,” Police said.

In other Belleville Police happenings:

May 8

Store security personnel at the Belleville Pathmark apprehended a shoplifter at 4:01 p.m. They told Belleville Police that the man, Cedric Brown, 29, of Montclair, had attempted to leave the store while concealing $136 worth of merchandise. Brown was found to carry a no-bail warrant from the Essex County Sheriff ’s Dept. He was arrested for shoplifting and held on that warrant plus $200 bail.

May 9

An aggravated assault was reported at Belleville High School at 1:05 p.m. When officers arrived at the scene, they spoke with the vice principal who said that as he attempted to separate two students engaged in an argument, one of them “grabbed him by the throat pushing him away.” He then notified the school resource officer who in turn called police. Student Nohely Alvarez, 18, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault. She was later released on her own recognizance.

May 10

Officers stopped a man at 70 Heckle St. after he was observed peering into car windows at 10:59 p.m. When asked what he was doing, 38-year-old Agustin Commacho of Newark replied, “going to get cigarettes.” A background check found that Commacho had warrants out of E. Brunswick ($750), Newark ($250) and Elizabeth ($150). He was arrested and turned over to Newark authorities.

-Jeff Bahr

Around Town

Belleville

Join the Belleville-based CBP troupe (formerly the Cherry Blossom Players) on June 3 for an early-dinner banquet to benefit the Pajama Program, a not-for-profit organization that provides new pairs of pajamas and new books to children in need, many of who are waiting and hoping to be adopted. In addition to the banquet, CBP requests that all guests bring new pairs of pajamas or new books.

The dinner banquet will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. at the Bella Gente Ristorante on Bloomfield Avenue in Verona, featuring performances from “Into the Woods,” which interweaves fairy tales, including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood and Jack and the Beanstalk. Tickets cost $40 per guest, which includes meal, entertainment, soft beverages, vouchers to be used toward “Into the Woods,” and socializing. All reservations must be made no later than May 28! Please send advanced payment (certified checks preferred) to the brand-new “CBP” Mailing Address: 87 Prospect Terrace – 2nd Floor, East Rutherford. No refunds will be granted after May 28.

Bloomfield

The Bloomfield DPW and Recycling Committee, in conjunction with Bloomfield Shop-Rite and Brookdale Christian Church, will be collecting electronics for recycling in the parking lot across the street from the church on Saturday, May 19, from 9 a.m. to noon. A Bloomfield DPW Recycling truck will be stationed there.

Items include Computers, printers, monitors, wire & cables, keyboards, mice, telephones, TVs under 32”, VCRs, DVD players, stereos and small appliances.

Harrison

American Legion Auxiliary, Harrison, will have a yard sale at 8 Patterson St., on Saturday, May 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tables are available for $10 each. Call Evelyn at 973-483-4573 to reserve or for more information.

Kearny

Kearny Recreation Department and the West Hudson/ South Bergen Optimist Club will co-sponsor its annual fishing derby on Sunday, May 20 (rain or shine) at West Hudson Park pond, located between Davis and Schuyler Avenues.

Boys and girls up to age 12 are invited to try their fishing skills and compete for trophies and fishing gear prizes. Registration will take place at the pond, beginning at noon the day of the event.

All participants are asked to bring their own fishing gear, including tackle and bait. Fishing poles (bamboo canes) and tackle will be provided to the first 100+ youths who do not bring their own gear.

A parent or guardian is encouraged to attend with the participants. All adults 16 years of age and older are required to be in possession of a valid New Jersey State fishing license if they intend to fish. All children 15 years of age and younger are not required to possess any fishing licenses.

Grace United Methodist Church, 380 Kearny Ave., will serve a pork dinner in the church’s Fellowship Hall on Friday, May 18, from 5 to 7 p.m. Take-out orders will be available. Dinners for adults are $10 and $5 for children age 12 and under. For more information, call the church office at 201-991-1132.

American Legion Unit 99 Ladies Auxiliary of Kearny is hosting a Memorial Day benefit softball game and concert in memory of Army Staff Sergeant Edward Karolasz, of Kearny. All proceeds will be donated to the Edward Karolasz Scholarship Fund for Kearny High School students. The event is scheduled for Sunday, May 27, with softball from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (all softball players must register before Friday, May 18), barbecue from 1 to 2 p.m. and music from 2 to 4 p.m. at American legion Unit 99, 314 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For tickets, call 732-687- 9314. Active duty veterans and their spouses will be admitted free and all other veterans for half-price. Ticket price includes softball game, barbecue lunch and a concert by a local band. The event will be held rain or shine and will be alcohol-free. A 50/50 raffle will also be held.

Kearny library patrons can now set-up a one-on-one, half-hour session with professional librarians for help with putting together and typing a resume and applying for a job online. The sessions will be held at the main library. To sign up, call (201) 998-2666.

The West Hudson Detachment of the Marine Corps League invites all former and active duty Marines and FMF Corpsmen to attend an open house, which will be held every Friday from 7 to 10 p.m. at 286 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. Guests are welcome.

W.H.A.T. is also hosting a special Nunsense Flapjack Fundraiser on Sunday, June 10, 8 to 10 a.m. at Applebee’s, 175 Passaic Avenue, Kearny.

The pancakes get a whole new twist when cast members from Nunsense ‘take the stage’ during the breakfast to perform and interact with the diners. “It should certainly prove to be a ‘spirited’ morning!” said W.H.A.T. president Jerry Ficeto.

Breakfast tickets are $10 and are available online at www.whatco.org or 570 Kearny Ave.

Lyndhurst

A Flea Market, Collectible Show & Big Swap Bonanza will be held on Sunday, May 20, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (outdoors) at the New Jersey Transit Lot, New York Avenue (off Ridge Rd), Lyndhurst. Admission is free and the event is sponsored by the Lyndhurst High School Band.

The library is collecting nonperishable food items for the Lyndhurst Health Department’s Food Pantry. The drop-off box is located inside the library’s back entrance. It will remain there year-round. For questions regarding the Food Pantry, call the Lyndhurst Health Department at 201-804-2500.

Lyndhurst VFW Post 3549, 527 Valley Brooke Ave., will host a Karaoke Night on May 18, starting at 7:30 p.m. The VFW hall is also available for all occasions. For more information, call the Post at 201-939-3080.

The Lyndhurst Health Department will host a stroke, aneurysm, osteoporosis and vascular disease screening provided by Life Line Screening on Monday, June 4. The price varies with each screening. Pre-registration is required. Appointments can be made with Life Line at 877-792-8480 or on-line at www.lifelinescreening.com/ community-partners.

Lyndhurst Library children’s room announces the following events: Walk-In Story for Pre-K to grade 2 is held on Monday Wednesday and Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. Storytime for children 3 and up is held on Thursdays at 10:30 a.m. and for ages 3 to 4 (only) at 1:30 p.m. Themes for each week are: May 10 – Mother’s treat, May 17 – Finger puppets, May 24 – Zoo animals and May 31 – Final Blast Off! S

pace is limited. Registration is required for all programs.

A veterans ward party will be held at Chestnut Hill Extended Care facility, Passaic on Tuesday, May 22, starting at 2:30 p.m. The party is sponsored by Rebecca Brugalleta in memory of her uncle Drew, who died in an accident in 1982.

American Legion Post 139, Lyndhurst, Rehabilitation committee will play games and distribute treats to the veterans at the game and to those bedridden. For more information to sponsor a part please call 201-438-2255.

North Arlington

The Borough of North Arlington will have its Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 28, at 2 p.m. in honor of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca. Complimentary food, drinks and a live band will follow behind Borough Hall after the parade and ceremony.

Join Clara Maass Medical Center medical experts at North Arlington Health Department, 10 Beaver Ave, North Arlington, on Thursday, May 24, at 12 p.m., to learn how to prevent stroke and recognize symptoms. Free blood pressure screenings will be provided. Lunch will be served.

To register, please call 1-888-724-7123, prompt 4 or visit www.barnabashealthcalendar.org. Walk-ins are welcome.

Nutley

Nutley Public Library will host a Teen Video Game Tourney on Friday, May 18, at 3 p.m. Wii, Xbox or bring your DS to play each other.

The Allegro Singers with Inna Leytush will perform selections from your favorite operas at the library on Saturday, May 19, at 2 p.m.

Pen to Prose Writer’s Group will meet at the library on Monday, May 21, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The group was formed to read worksin- progress, share accomplishments, critique works, give writing instruction, and provide encouragement and inspiration to aspiring authors. The group is free and open to the public.

The library will host a program on The Artist’s Enclosure Colony on Monday, May 21, at 7 p.m. Barry Lenson, director of the Nutley Museum Board and Board Member of the Nutley Historical Society, will present a slideshow and discussion explaining the history of the artists’ colony that flourished on The Enclosure during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Teen Open/Anime Mic Night will be held at the library on Thursday, May 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. Check the teen website for further details at http://nutleypubliclibraryforteens.wordpress.com.

Maroon Raiders shock top-ranked Seton Hall in GNT semifinals, 9-1

Face Montclair in tourney title game Sunday at Bears & Eagles Riverfront

 

Photo by Jim Hague/ Nutley pitcher Joe Feraco (above) pitched a shutout against Cedar Grove to get his Maroon Raiders teammates to the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals; then Kevin Garcia pitched a five-hitter to defeat the state’s top team, Seton Hall Prep, in the semis. Nutley faces Montclair for the GNT championship game Sunday at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium.

By Jim Hague

After the Nutley High School baseball team shut out Cedar Grove last week to advance to the Greater Newark Tournament semifinals, Maroon Raiders head coach Bob Harbison didn’t want to focus too much on taking on the state’s No. 1 team, Seton Hall Prep, in the semifinals.

“We lost to them, 5-4, at their place earlier in the year,” Harbison said. “They scored two in the bottom of the sixth to beat us. We were right there with them. We knew we could play with them.”

So Harbison had a little talk with his team before facing the 18-1 Pirates at Doc Goeltz Field in Verona on Saturday morning.

“We had to get past that Seton Hall mystique,” Harbison said. “We couldn’t get caught up in that No. 1 ranking. We couldn’t worry about that. We just had to go out and play. I told them to be aggressive at the plate, to hit the ball and hit it hard. If we did that, we could take the game over. I absolutely thought we could win the game.”

Sure enough, Harbison’s words hit home, because the Maroon Raiders jumped out to three runs in the first inning and rode the incredible pitching of junior Kevin Garcia en route to an impressive 9-1 win over the former top team in all of New Jersey.

The win was the seventh straight for the Maroon Raiders, who improved to 13-7 overall. The win enabled the Maroon Raiders to advance to the GNT title game against Montclair Sunday at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium in Newark, with first pitch slated for 5:30 p.m.

It marks the first time the Maroon Raiders will play for the GNT title since 2009, when they lost to Livingston in the title game. Nutley last won the tourney in 2004, when they defeated Seton Hall Prep.

Garcia was masterful, pitching a five-hitter into the seventh inning, striking out five and walking two. It was the second straight solid pitching outing the Maroon Raiders received in the GNT. Joe Feraco pitched a shutout against Cedar Grove in the quarterfinals last Wednesday.

The Maroon Raiders gave Garcia all the runs he would need in the first inning, when sophomore catcher Austin Kunz lined a two-run single and Phil Condito scored a run on alert base running.

The rest was all Garcia.

“We got our three runs and the rest was up to Garcia,” Harbison said. “Garcia wasn’t great that day the first time we played Seton Hall. But this time, he threw blanks. He couldn’t be any better than he was. He was lights out. He’s our guy. That’s how we’re going to go. But we’re getting very good pitching lately. Feraco is a groundball pitcher and the kids make plays behind him. It’s working out well.”

It’s a remarkable turnaround for a program that struggled mightily a year ago, winning just 11 games.

“We were a mess last year,” Harbison admitted.

Now, the returning Maroon Raiders are a year older and more experienced and the younger ones, four sophomores who play in the starting lineup, are no longer wet behind the ears.

“I tell you what,” Harbison said. “I thought we had a good team. The players were good. The scrimmages we had were good. I liked the way the kids handled themselves through adversity. We have four sophomore starters who are playing well and our seniors are starting to play well now.”

One of the key seniors is shortstop Nick Gariano, who continues to make solid plays in the field.

“The sophomores are good players, but they’re just sophomores,” Harbison said. “We needed players like Gariano to step up and be a leader. He’s made some plays that have been just amazing.”

The Maroon Raiders will face Montclair, which hasn’t reached the GNT finals since 1969 and hasn’t won since 1963. Montclair defeated Millburn, 4-2, in the other semifi – nal Saturday.

It would have been nice for Harbison if Millburn had won, considering that Millburn is coached by Harbison’s college roommate and close friend Brian Chapman.

“I was hoping for that,” said Harbison, who will face Millburn in a regular season game this week.

The Maroon Raiders have games against Bloomfield, Millburn and Belleville scheduled for this week prior to playing for the GNT championship on Sunday.

“The kids were pretty excited about the win,” Harbison said. “But now that we have the win, we have to roll back a little with the excitement, because we have other games to contend with this week.”

Harbison had confidence that his team could beat Seton Hall, but never expected the lopsided final score.

“The game went as a surprise, but not the fact that we won,” Harbison said. “We have been playing well. We’ve won a bunch of games in a row.”

However, to go from an 11-win team to one that has a chance to win the state’s eldest and most prestigious tourney in a span of a year is truly astounding.

“We had no reason to believe we’d be where we’re at,” Harbison said. “Not after last year. To get to the county championship game and get here by beating the No. 1 team in the state, it’s very impressive.

”The Maroon Raiders are one win away from the top spot in Essex County for the first time in eight years. That alone says it all. Beating the top team in the state to get there is truly astounding.

Breakthrough season for Vikings track team

Photo by Jim Hague./ The North Arlington boys’ track and field team has opened eyes this spring, especially after a solid second place finish at the NJIC Meadowlands A Division championships last week. Posing, from l., are: assistant coach John Zukatus, Travis Orovio, Michael Clifford, Tyler Krychkowski, Jon Gonzalez and head coach Joe Cioffi.

 

By Jim Hague

When Joe Cioffi took over as the head boys’ track and field coach at North Arlington High School last year, he knew he wasn’t exactly inheriting a dominant program.

“I had been told that by a bunch of people,” Cioffi said. “Any time you get hired into a new program, it’s a challenge. When I met the kids, they all decided that they wanted to step it up, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a rebuilding process. After speaking with them for the first time, I knew what they wanted to do and I was encouraged.”

The Vikings experienced some growing pains last year, but when the 2012 spring season was set to begin, Cioffi knew that he had a lot of promise

“We have some seniors who were determined to put the program back on the map,” Cioffi said.

“At the beginning of the season, I felt pretty good about our chances.”

The team competed at the Kearny Relays to start the season.

“We corrected some mistakes after that and showed a lot of improvement,” Cioffi said.

Cioffi felt even more encouraged when the Vikings headed to the Richie Pezzolla Memorial Lyndhurst Relays and finished among the top 10 teams in a highly competitive field.

“We won a bunch of medals and we broke some school records,” Cioffi said. “We did very well.”

The Vikings then finished first at the Twin Boro Relays at Ramsey and took second place at the County Seat Invitational, showing more depth and versatility.

The Vikings won four out of six dual meets, then finished second to Lyndhurst last week at the New Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Meadowlands Division championships.

It’s definitely the best finish that the Vikings have had in track and field in quite some time.

“I’m really proud of them,” said Cioffi, who has received great assistance from assistant coach John Zukatus. “I’m amazed by their work ethic and the kids should be proud of their accomplishments.”

Cioffi has a host of athletes who compete in multiple events, a must when fielding a track team from a smaller Group I school like North Arlington. But the diversity of the athletes has been astounding.

“We need to have them compete in more than one event,” Cioffi said. “A lot of them compete in four. It’s what we have to do.”

Senior Travis Orovio, one of the team’s captains, is a staple in the 100- and 200-meter dashes. Danny Vasquez and sophomore Ty Scott have also competed in the dashes, but Orovio has enjoyed the most success.

“Orovio has been the most consistent runner we’ve had in every league meet,” Cioffi said. “He’s our top guy.”

Orovio finished fifth in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes at the NJIC-Meadowlands meet last Tuesday.

Senior captain Jon Gonzalez has been handling the 400-meter dash. Jonathan Bueno has been chipping in there as well.

The 800-meter run is being contested by sophomore Danny Cordero and freshman Colin Clifford.

In the 1,600-meter run, Cordero and freshman Ryan Duffy have been steady. Cordero finished third in the 1,600-meter run at the NJIC-Meadowlands meet last Tuesday in 4:53.3.

Duffy has been running the 3,200-meter races as well.

“Since he’s a freshman, it’s been a little tough on him, but he’s holding his own,” Cioffi said.

The 110-meter high hurdles have been run by Nick Awad, Matt Smitkowski and Nick Quiroz.

Senior Tyler Krychkowski, the versatile athlete who starred on both the soccer fields and basketball courts for the Vikings, is the team’s best 400-meter intermediate hurdler. Krychkowski finished third and Gonzalez fourth in the 400 hurdles last Tuesday.

Krychkowski also set a new school record for the triple jump with a leap of 42-9 – good for first place at the meet.

“He’s a great kid, but I’m amazed at the level of competition he consistently competes at,” Cioffi said. “He’s very intense and has become very good at the sport. He’s really been unbelievable.”

The high jump duties are being shared by Orovio, senior Jordan Henriques and senior Robert Marrero, the standout soccer goalkeeper who came out for track for the first time this spring. Orovio was second, Henriques fourth and Marrero sixth at the NJIC-Meadowlands meet.

Krychkowski (second), Marrero (third) and Henriques (fifth) all medaled in the long jump. Orovio (fourth), senior Michael Clifford (fi fth) and freshman Travis Fisher (sixth) all received medals in the pole vault.

Orovio’s versatility is outstanding, medaling in four different and diverse events.

Marrero, Gonzalez and James Awad compete in the javelin, with Gonzalez and Marrero finishing 1-2 in the event.

Henriques won the gold medal in the discus, where Awad and football standout Jesse Groome, another firstyear track performer, also compete.

Awad, Groome and senior Tre Cain are all shot putters. Groome fi nished fi fth at the league championships.

Needless to say, it’s been a ground-breaking season for the Vikings, one that Cioffi saw coming. Now, it’s up to the younger members of the program to keep the winning ways going.

Veteran pitcher Zdanek also threat at plate

 

Lyndhurst junior pitcher Casey Zdanek.

By Jim Hague

Now that she’s a junior and a three-year member of the Lyndhurst High School softball team, Casey Zdanek just knew that she would be vastly improved this season.

Not like there was anything wrong with what Zdanek posted over her first two years as the Golden Bears’ top pitcher and slugger. She was making her mark just fine.

But a little bit of a growth spurt and an added dose of confidence could do wonders for someone who was already established as a big-time softball player.

“I definitely feel like I’m a better player, because I have so much more confidence in myself,” Zdanek said. “I’ve been working a lot on my pitches. My changeup has become a lot better. I have a lot more movement on my fastball. I feel like I’ve grown a little and that definitely helps in terms of being bigger and stronger and taller on the mound.”

Lyndhurst head coach Elaine Catanese can see the difference in Zdanek.

“She’s grown a few inches from last year, so that gives her more of a presence on the mound,” Catanese said. “She’s definitely developed that changeup significantly, to the point where she now throws it often. She has good velocity and movement on her pitches.”

Catanese also sees the development in Zdanek as a hitter as well.

“To be honest with you, she’s our main hitter,” Catanese said. “If we want someone to come through in a tight situation, it’s Casey. I don’t mind see her coming to the plate when we need a big hit. She’s developed that experience both as a hitter and as a pitcher. She started every game for us as a freshman and started every game as a sophomore, so it’s bound to have a positive effect on her as a junior.”

Last Friday, Zdanek showed why she’s one of the top all-around players in Bergen County with an overall complete game in a big win over neighboring rival North Arlington.

Zdanek fired a one-hitter, striking out nine, but she also delivered at the plate with a double, home run and four RBI, leading the Golden Bears (16-6) to a 10-0 win over the Vikings.

For her efforts, Zdanek has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

It was a tough week for the Golden Bears, facing tougher competition like New Milford and Pascack Hills in independent games, then finally facing a Group IV school like Bergen Tech in the opening round of the Bergen County Tournament, falling 3-0.

That’s why the performance against North Arlington was important.

“I think it was huge, because we did have a bit of a tough week,” Catanese said. “But Casey pitched well all week.

She had a one-hitter into the sixth against Pascack Hills and pitched a four-hitter against New Milford. She allowed only five hits to Bergen Tech. I think the North Arlington game really boosted her confidence and proved to her that she could do it. It’s huge for her to have a good all-around game like that.”

Zdanek does not participate in any other sport at Lyndhurst. She’s softball, through and through. And she’s softball all year round, playing with the Lyndhurst Pride travel team in the summer months and another team in the fall.

She also receives regular lessons from respected Immaculate Conception coach Jeff Hrononcich, who was once the head coach at St. Peter’s College.

“I think my hitting is still the same,” said Zdanek, who is batting better than .400 with five homers and 25 RBI this season. “I’m pretty happy with that. But I think I’m definitely a pitcher who hits. I know how important my pitching is. I do take more pride in my pitching. I know what my role is.”

Catanese said that she has a good relationship with Zdanek.

“I don’t have to critique her often,” Catanese said. “She can do it herself. At times, she’s her best and worst critic. We’re always talking about what’s effective and we chart all of her pitches, so she knows what to throw against certain batters. She’s looking all the time to get better and I think the experience has helped her significantly. She has a lot of poise and composure on the mound. She knows what to do and handles herself very well. She is our success. We depend a lot on her.”

Zdanek said that the Golden Bears can now focus on nailing down the NJIC Meadowlands A Division title. They have two games remaining against Becton Regional and Secaucus. Two wins will seal the deal.

“We want to win the league title,” Zdanek said. “Then, we can move on to the states. We’re always going to do well in the states. We just want to go as far as we can.”

While Zdanek is only a junior, it’s never too early to consider colleges.

“I have thought about it a little,” Zdanek said. “Actually, it scares me a little. I do want to play softball in college, because it’s the only sport I play.”

Catanese thinks that Zdanek is college material.

“Without a doubt,” Catanese said. “It might not come now, but it will come.”

Zdanek is pleased with the way she’s performed this season.

“It honestly makes me feel really awesome,” Zdanek said. “I try not to get too down on myself, but having a game like this one really helps. It helps me get ready for the next game. After the game, we all went out to dinner and went to play mini-golf together. That really has helped our momentum. We have a really close team and that helps.”

As long as the girl in the circle keeps throwing and hitting the way she has, the Golden Bears can ride that camaraderie all the way to a league and possible state title.