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Kearny Christian’s Bianoski enjoys breakout senior season

Picture courtesy of David J. Friere Kearny Christian Academy senior John Bianoski (c.) owned the highest scoring average in local boys’ high school basketball, scoring 25 points per game this season. Flanking Bianoski are coaching brothers Ariel Friere (l.), the head coach, and assistant coach David J. Friere.

Picture courtesy of David J. Friere
Kearny Christian Academy senior John Bianoski (c.) owned the highest scoring average in local boys’ high school basketball, scoring 25 points per game this season. Flanking Bianoski are coaching brothers Ariel Friere (l.), the head coach, and assistant coach David J. Friere.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The highest scoring average by any local boys’ high school basketball player this season belongs to John Bianoski, who tossed in more than 25 points per game this season.

Say who?

Plain and simple, Bianoski may be the best kept secret in the area. He’s a senior at tiny Kearny Christian Academy, which is now housed in the former Sacred Heart School in Kearny. There are only 40 high school students in the school, 15 of which are boys.

“If I don’t play basketball, then who will?” said the 6-foot-6 Bianoski.

Bianoski, a resident of Belleville, was a reluctant basketball player who didn’t join the team at KCA as a freshman.

“I did play a little in fifth, sixth and seventh grade,” said Bianoski, who has attended Kearny Christian since kindergarten. “But I just lost interest. I had the former coaches telling me I should join the basketball team, but I didn’t want to.”

Enter Ariel Friere, who became the head coach at KCA after the untimely death of former coach Joe O’Neill.

“John was six feet at the time,” Friere said. “I met John’s father and he’s like 6-7, so I figured the kid would shoot up. John really didn’t take basketball seriously, but I figured that he might change his mind.”

If you ask Bianoski, he doesn’t know what inspired him to play.

“I honestly don’t know why I did it,” Bianoski said. “I knew that a lot of the seniors on the team had graduated, so I guess that made me do it. I knew we had a new coach coming in.”

But Bianoski didn’t make his decision to play until the last minute.

“I didn’t practice or anything,” Bianoski said. “I came to practice a week before the season started. I hadn’t played at all since seventh grade.”

The rust showed. Bianoski was a mild contributor as a sophomore.

“I don’t think I scored anything,” Bianoski said. “I honestly wasn’t that good. I was so nervous because I hadn’t played in three years. I didn’t like it, but I wasn’t going to quit. I started it and I was going to finish it.”

Bianoski improved dramatically as a junior, averaging 10 points and 10 rebounds per game.

“That’s when you could see that he got better,” Friere said. “I wasn’t as serious when I wasn’t that good,” Bianoski said. “But something clicked for me and I took it more seriously.”

So last summer, Bianoski worked many hours with Friere on his own to get ready for his senior year.

“If I wasn’t going to do good this season, then no one would,” Bianoski said. “I was the only senior and we had another junior. I had to step up my game this year. So in the offseason, I practiced a lot. I worked hard on my post moves and my shooting in general.”

Bianoski spent a lot of time shooting at the basketball hoop in his yard, working on his jump shot.

“I sat him down and told him that I needed him for this year,” Friere said. “I made sure that he was going to work hard this season.”

But no one could have predicted the extent of Bianoski’s improvement, going from scoring 10 a game to 25 per contest.

“That was a huge jump,” Bianoski said. “I wasn’t expecting that. The first game of the season was against Parsippany Christian, the best team in our league. I scored 16 in that game. It gave me a lot of confidence.”

Soon after, Bianoski had 31 points against Hackensack Christian and 33 against Abundant Life Christian.

“Back-to-back games, I had 30 points,” Bianoski said. “We were also on a four-game winning streak. It was tremendous.”

“He has a good work ethic under the rim and has a nice soft touch with his shot,” Friere said.

Bianoski cannot believe how far he’s come in just three years.

“I would have never imagined I would have improved this much,” Bianoski said. “To go from where I was in 10th grade to where I am now, I have to give credit to my coaches for that. If someone would have told me when I was in 10th grade that I would become the best player, averaging what I have scored, I would have said, ‘Well, that’s not me.’ I would have never believed it.”

“It’s very remarkable,” Friere said. “There are not many who have done that, going from 10 points a game as a junior to 25 a game this year. He became a great player.”

Bianoski is also a great student. He owns a 4.0 grade point average and earned a score of 1860 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. He stands to be the valedictorian of Kearny Christian’s Class of 2014.

Bianoski was asked if he was a little disappointed that he and the entire team play under almost complete anonymity. The team uses the old Boys Town gym on Belgrove Drive as its home court.

“We can barely get people to come to the games,” Bianoski said. “We only have 40 kids in the high school, so the people who come to watch us are parents and teachers. I’m always trying to get friends to come. It’s really tough.”

Kearny Christian Academy ended the 2013-14 season with a 5-7 record. Friere said that he tried to schedule independent games against other local schools to no avail.

Bianoski does not plan to play basketball in college. He has already been accepted to Rutgers in New Brunswick, but may attend Essex County Community College to save money.

“My goal is to get through college as debt free as possible,” Bianoski said. “I keep going back and forth about what I want to study. I would like to be an architect, but I’m also interested in meteorology and finance. So I’m not sure what I want to do.”

One thing is for sure: Bianoski is glad he put his mind and effort into basketball.

“It was a lot of fun,” Bianoski said. “I just had to keep working hard and keep going with it.”

And the best kept secret in local basketball, the one with the highest scoring average, isn’t so much of a secret anymore.

Nutley’s Ferinde takes home 8th place medal in AC

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley junior 120-pound wrestler Joe Ferinde.

Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley junior 120-pound wrestler Joe Ferinde.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When he was growing up, Joe Ferinde always looked up to his older brother Michael. “I always said that I wanted to be like him,” the younger Ferinde said. “When he was a senior (at Nutley High School) and I was in eighth grade, I saw him wrestle in the state tournament and I would dream about getting a chance like that.”

Last year, as a sophomore, Joe Ferinde reached that goal of qualifying for the NJSIAA state wrestling championships in Atlantic City.

But this year, Ferinde wanted to make his journey to Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall more memorable.

“That was the goal all season,” said the 120-pound Maroon Raider wrestler. “The whole season was geared toward getting a medal in Atlantic City.”

It wasn’t going to be easy. After all, Ferinde lost in the finals of the Region 4 tournament last week, meaning that Ferinde was going to have to battle back in the consolation preliminary round.

“I knew it was going to be a tough time,” Ferinde said. “I knew that the weight class was stacked. I basically went there to try to stay calm and focused throughout. I took each match at a time and just stayed focused on what was ahead of me.”

On Friday night, Ferinde wrestled twice and won both matches to stay alive.

Winning those matches put Ferinde in a better piece of mind.

“I definitely had to get the nerves out of the way,” Ferinde said. “I won the first match and moved on to the next.”

Ferinde defeated Kyle Brown of Old Bridge, 10-3, to advance to Saturday.

“It definitely cleared away any nerves I might have had and put me in a nice mindset to place in the tournament,” Ferinde said.

It also helped that Ferinde had a volunteer assistant coach on hand to lead the way, namely older brother Michael, who currently wrestles at Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I., and will compete in the NCAA Division III national championships next weekend in Iowa.

Michael Ferinde, four years older than Joe, competes at 141 pounds at Johnson and Wales.

“He worked with me right up before my matches,” Joe Ferinde said of his brother. “He helped me stay focused and gave me a few pointers to use. He’s definitely a perfect drilling partner. Having him there gave me most of my motivation to do well. Not many other wrestlers get to warm up with their older brother. It was a big thrill.”

Ferinde had to come back and wrestle Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. He won that match.

The next one came at 12:30 p.m. and once again, Ferinde emerged victorious.

“It was pretty tough, because my body was sore,” Ferinde said. “But I worked on staying focused.”

Ferinde remained at Boardwalk Hall for his next match, which came at 5 p.m.

“Once we were there, we stayed there,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “We tried to do whatever we could to make him the most comfortable. Having his brother there really helped, because he didn’t have his teammates there. He just had the mindset that he had to stay focused.”

Sure enough, Ferinde won all three of his Saturday matches, guaranteeing the chance to wrestle on the final day of the season and locking down a medal.

Although his season ended with a loss, Ferinde did manage to finish eighth in the state at 120 pounds and for his efforts, Ferinde has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Ferinde finished the season with a stellar 38-4 record and became another in a legacy of Nutley wrestlers who have earned medals at the state tournament.

Bobby Trombetta, who graduated last year, earned three medals in his career. Brandon Keena also won a medal last year. Vinnie Maurillo, Anthony D’Amico and Nick Gaeta are also former Maroon Raider standouts who won medals at the state tournament under the guidance of DiPiano.

“It says something about a little program like Nutley,” DiPiano said. “I’ve been here seven years and we’ve had medal winners five of the seven years and four in a row. The kids understand the vision of what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

DiPiano loves Ferinde’s approach.

“He just loves the mat and loves wrestling,” DiPiano said. “He goes to school, does his school work and then wrestles. That’s all he does. He’s come such a long way. He wasn’t even in our regular lineup as a freshman. If you saw him then to now, you’d see a complete transformation. He knows wrestling is a grind. He embraces that idea and loves it.

Added DiPiano, “I really don’t think we’ve seen the best of Joe yet. He’s going to get better. He’s a student of the game and loves being on the mat. The focus he has is tremendous. He understands what has to be done. I think he opened a lot of eyes this weekend.”

Ferinde is proud of his accomplishment, especially the rough road he had to travel.

“It’s one of the best feelings of my life so far,” Ferinde said. “I can definitely use this as motivation for the future.”

And for now, Joe Ferinde has one up on his brother. Michael Ferinde got to the round of 12 his senior year, just missing the opportunity to earn a medal.

“He’s definitely one of the biggest reasons why I placed,” Joe Ferinde said. “From now on, I’m the boss.”

Ferinde laughed while uttering those words. He knows full well that Michael draws top honors in the Ferinde household.

Joe Ferinde has more wrestling to do this season. Later this month, he will head to Virginia Beach to compete in the Junior Nationals.

Now, he goes as a state medal winner.

“It really is a great feeling,” Ferinde said. “I know we haven’t had too many medal winners from Nutley. I just want to have the chance to do better than they did. That pushes me to keep going and do as much as I can.”

The future certainly looks bright, as long as Joe Ferinde has his older brother along.

Lyndhurst turns to Tuero for football, Radigan as AD

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero
Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Lyndhurst High School made major strides last week toward what is apparently the future of the athletic department.

The school announced that Rich Tuero had been appointed as the new head football coach and Jeff Radigan was hired as the school’s new athletic director.

Both Tuero and Radigan are Lyndhurst High School graduates.

Tuero, 29, was the head coach of the junior varsity team last year and served as an assistant under former head coach Joe Castagnetti.

Radigan, 35, is the former boys’ basketball coach and current assistant baseball coach. He will replace the retiring Frank “Butch” Servideo in September.

For Tuero, it’s a position he always longed for.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Tuero, who becomes the youngest head football coach in the school’s history. “From the day that I met Coach (Jim) Vuono (the long-time grid coach), I knew that this is what I wanted to do some day. I just didn’t think it would happen this soon.”

Tuero played along the offensive and defensive line for Vuono, graduating in 2002. He then moved on to play at Montclair State University, playing for the legendary Rick Giancola.

“Honestly, they have two totally different coaching styles,” Tuero said. “Coach Vuono was more of a motivator and intense. Coach Giancola is much calmer and has a business as usual approach. They both helped me learn how I wanted to be as a coach.”

Upon graduation from Montclair State, Tuero immediately returned to his Lyndhurst roots and became an assistant coach as well as a teacher’s aide. He was hired full-time as a health and physical education teacher in 2012.

Tuero said that working under Castagnetti helped him prepare to take over for the veteran coach, who resigned at the end of last season for family reasons.

“He gave me a lot of responsibility,” Tuero said. “I learned about every aspect of coaching. I learned a lot about the off-the-field responsibility. When Joe told me he was stepping down, I said, ‘Here we go.’ I didn’t think I had a shot to get the job. If it wasn’t for Coach Vuono and my wife (Koriann), I never would have even applied. Coach Vuono encouraged me and my wife was all over me, telling me that I better put in for the job.”

Tuero was given the head coaching position.

“This is like making the NFL for me,” Tuero said. “This is all I ever wanted. I can’t put it into words.”

Tuero said that he already has met with the prospective players last week.

“We had the first meeting and I was amazed with the turnout,” Tuero said. “We had 52 kids at the meeting. I was so pumped. A lot of the kids said that they never played football before. I want to get kids who are athletic. I looked around at the meeting and there was practically my entire JV team. So I’ve worked with the kids already. The kids all know me. They’re in the weight room and we are working on the offseason workout program.” Tuero and wife Koriann are the parents of a 19-month-old daughter Sophia Rose. The couple are Lyndhurst natives.

Radigan will serve as one of Servideo’s assistants in the legendary coach’s final season this spring before taking over as athletic director in the fall. “I have some really good ideas about what I would like to do,” Radigan said. “I’m really excited to be able to work with the kids. I want to continue to build the Lyndhurst tradition.” Radigan, who graduated from Lyndhurst High in 1996, knows that he will have a tough job, replacing a man like Servideo, who has given almost his entire life to Lyndhurst athletics.

“I definitely have some big shoes to fill,” Radigan said. “Butch did some great things as athletic director for years. I hope to bring some ideas, but I definitely will be calling Butch a lot for advice and he knows it. I have other great people in the coaching staff that I can lean on. I’m really surrounded by great coaches and people.”

Radigan is currently a history teacher at the school.

“It will definitely be different, dealing with the kids on a different level,” Radigan said.

Radigan said that he has his late father James to thank for becoming the new AD.

“My father passed away three years ago,” Radigan said. “Before he died, he urged me to go back and get my athletic administration certificate. He thought I could bring the Lyndhurst programs to another level with my knowledge and personality. He was right. This is a great opportunity for me.

Added Radigan, “I’m excited to be able to do this in the community that I love. The people in Lyndhurst are so close knit and try to help each other out. I’m only the fifth athletic director in the school’s history, so it’s a job that I plan to keep for a long time.”

Tuero already has his first game circled on the schedule.

“It’s Waldwick, Friday, Sept. 12 at home at 7 p.m.,” Tuero said. “I’m already pumped. Our goal is to get better every day. We’re going to have a young team. I know that. But I already told the kids that no one thought I had a shot to get this job. No one thinks this team can win losing 22 seniors. Who cares what they say? If we focus on getting better every day, the wins will come.”

At the very least, the Lyndhurst Board of Education has two young and energetic home grown products to lead the athletic program into the years to come.

NA’s reasons to be very proud

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.

Photo courtesy Rich Tuero
Lyndhurst new athletic director Jeff Radigan (l.)and new football coach Rich Tuero represent the influx of new blood into the school’s athletic program. Both Lyndhurst High graduates were appointed to their positions last week.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Ever since 2003, The Observer has presented an award for the top male and female athletes of the year in the newspaper’s circulation area.

The presentation is made after the scholastic school year is completed, generally in July.

The Observer Male Athlete of the Year award has been dominated in recent years by graduates of North Arlington High School.

In 2008, Michael Gross was given the award, before the former three-sport Viking standout went off to the University of Rhode Island to play football. Gross was an inspiration to many, especially after he recovered from suffering a stroke while at Rhode Island.

In 2010, Peter Santos, another multiple sport standout, playing soccer and basketball, earned the honor. Two years later, it was Tyler Krychkowski, another soccer, basketball and track standout, who earned the distinction.

Last year, it was former Viking standout quarterback/basketball forward A.J. Nocciolo who secured the award, making it four Athletes of the Year among the last six honored, all from the same Group I school.

Well, the 2013-14 scholastic sports season is two-thirds complete and the chances are that this year’s honoree just might be from North Arlington once again.

It’s safe to say that the two leading contenders for this year’s award are classmates at North Arlington.

First candidate is Nick Martin, who had a sensational football season and is in the midst of a great basketball campaign for the Vikings.

Need proof? How about Martin’s fourgame explosion recently, all leading to Viking victories?

Martin had an astounding 31 points and 15 rebounds in a 72-64 victory over Wood-Ridge, had 21 points and 11 rebounds in a win over Christ the King of Newark, tossed in 29 points and had 11 bounds in a win over St. Mary’s of Rutherford and had 19 points and 10 rebounds in a win over Visions Academy.

If Martin wasn’t already named Athlete of the Week during the football season, he would have been a candidate for the honor this week.

Martin is an absolute credit to the school, a true gentleman who is a pure scholar athlete. He will graduate among the top students in his class. Martin hinted during the football season that he would rather seek a top education than become a collegiate athlete.

“I’m not too sure I want to play in college,” Martin said. “I’m leaning toward not playing. I think it might get in the way of my studies. I need sufficient time to keep my grades up and my academics always come first.”

Martin is an excellent student, with a 4.2 grade point average and a Scholastic Aptitude Test score of 1710. He is being sought after by the Ivy and Patriot League schools.

Need we say more?

Then the next candidate is Danny Cordeiro, who has received his fair share of recognition recently for his contributions to the school’s first-year indoor track and field program.

Cordeiro had a phenomenal soccer season, scoring 30 goals and adding 19 assists. It was good enough for Cordeiro to earn a soccer scholarship to NCAA Division I New Jersey Institute of Technology.

But for good measure, Cordeiro won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship in the 800-meter and 1,600-meter run, added the overall Group I championship in the 800 and last weekend, Cordeiro finished seventh overall at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

Here’s a kid who already had the academic standards to get into NJIT, earned a soccer scholarship and is now lighting up the track as a runner.

Cordeiro has created a legacy already, being the first state medalist in the history of the North Arlington indoor track and field program.

It’s almost too unbelievable for words that two great athletes could come from the same town, never mind the same school.

But Martin and Cordeiro have certainly blazed the trail for the rest of the area’s athletes to follow.

And once again, they are from North Arlington, the little school that simply seems to churn out multi-talented athletes year after year.

Is it a coincidence that Martin and Cordeiro come from the same school that produced Gross, Santos, Krychkowski and Nocciolo before them?

Having one or two might be considered a fluke. Having four or more? That’s definitely a trend and certainly a reason for the entire school to be very proud.

Kearny’s Vivas proves better late than never

Left photo by Jim Hague Right photo courtesy Bob McDonnell Kearny’s senior forward Joel Vivas became an all-around force for the Kardinals down the stretch of the season.

Left photo by Jim Hague
Right photo courtesy Bob McDonnell Kearny’s senior forward Joel Vivas became an all-around force for the Kardinals down the stretch of the season.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

For his first two years at Kearny High School, Joel Vivas was strictly a volleyball player.

But last year, as a junior, Vivas decided to give basketball a try.

“My friends made me want to play,” Vivas said. “I played with my friends at Gunnell Oval. I also played in gym class a little. Since I started playing basketball, my volleyball coach Mr. (Bill) Mullins told me I should try out for basketball.”

So the 6-foot-4 basketball novice Vivas gave the sport a whirl. He didn’t have instant success. In fact, Vivas spent most of the season on the junior varsity.

“I really wasn’t sure where I was supposed to go on the floor and what I was going to do,” Vivas said. “I didn’t know where to position myself.”

Bob McDonnell took over as the head coach at Kearny this fall and he saw Vivas’ potential.

“I thought he could be pretty good,” McDonnell said. “He just was a little bit too laid back. He wasn’t aggressive. He was almost timid at times.”

Vivas said that McDonnell was important to his development as a basketball player.

“He helped me a lot with my game,” Vivas said. “He told me to play defense first and then the offense will follow. He told me that all I needed was heart to play defense.”

“I knew he had only been playing for two years,” McDonnell said. “He was still feeling his way around the game. We talked at the beginning of the year and I told him that I needed him to hit the boards for us.”

For most of the season, Vivas was just an ordinary player for the Kardinals, contributing rebounds and defense, but was limited in his scoring.

That was, until the final few weeks of the season.

“With all honesty, Joel turned it on during the last 10 games,” McDonnell said. “I think he realized his ability and stepped up his game. He finally played to his level of talent and learned what he could do. He got a lot more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor.”

Vivas, a native of Ecuador who came to the United States and Kearny when he was age 7, believes that it was just a case of gaining self confidence.

“I practiced a lot,” Vivas said. “But once I gained some confidence, I felt better about myself. About half the year, I didn’t have any confidence shooting the ball. But Coach McDonnell told me that I had to be more aggressive.”

“Without a doubt, he became a lot more confident,” McDonnell said. “He got more comfortable with his teammates and realized what was expected of him.”

Vivas showed his total potential in the final four games of the season, three of which were victories for the Kardinals.

Vivas had 10 points, 15 rebounds, six steals, three assists and three blocked shots in a win over neighboring rival Harrison; had seven points, 16 rebounds, five steals, three assists and two blocks in a win over Belleville; had 11 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in a loss to Vision Academy; and had 19 points, nine rebounds, five steals, five assists and four blocked shots in the season-ending win over Roselle Park.

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

McDonnell believes that Vivas’ talents as a volleyball player helps him on the hardwood.

“Without a doubt, Joel has great jumping ability and uses that ability to get rebounds and block shots,” McDonnell said. It definitely helped him. One of the things I joke with Joel about is that I told him you’re supposed to throw the basketball through the net, not try to hit it over the net. He became so much better at blocking shots. He was trying to get so much better.”

Vivas said that he was pushed to play better at the end of the season, knowing that his short basketball career was coming to a close.

“I was really motivated, because since I became a better player, I really wanted to play basketball,” Vivas said. “Once I knew I could play, I worked harder at my game. I was really determined, because I definitely didn’t want to go out on a bad note. I wanted to do better. I just had an aggressive mindset.”

Vivas now heads to volleyball practice, where he will play for the Kardinals in the spring.

“I always felt like I was a better volleyball player, but now, since I became better in basketball, I really like both,” Vivas said. “I wasn’t good at it. But Coach McDonnell made me better. I think doing well in basketball is going to help my confidence for volleyball.”

“He was never really interested in basketball, but now it’s fun for him,” McDonnell said. “You can see it. He started enjoying it.”

Now, McDonnell, a former assistant coach at Berkeley College, can see Vivas actually playing college basketball.

“Without a doubt, he can definitely play (NCAA) Division III,” McDonnell said. “He has the athletic ability to do that. I think he opened up a lot of eyes with the way he played the second half of the season. I spoke to some of our opposing coaches, who said they didn’t worry much about him the first time around, but they had to deal with him the second time. I’m happy with his overall effort.”

“I think I can do the same thing again,” Vivas said. “I don’t know what I want to do yet, but it’s good to know I can do it.”

For now, Vivas will be an outside hitter on the volleyball team. But one never knows what the future holds. At least, Vivas now knows he can play basketball as well.

NA track: Not bad for a first-year program

Sending three athletes to the NJSIAA Meet of Champs

 

Photo by Jim Hague The North Arlington indoor track and field program is in its first year of existence and already, the program is sending three athletes to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend. From l. are head coach John Zukatus, P.J. Sirotiak, Danny Cordeiro, Travis Fisher and assistant coach Joe Cioffi.

Photo by Jim Hague
The North Arlington indoor track and field program is in its first year of existence and already, the program is sending three athletes to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend. From l. are head coach John Zukatus, P.J. Sirotiak, Danny Cordeiro, Travis Fisher and assistant coach Joe Cioffi.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

For several years, there had always been talk about the possibility of initiating an indoor track and field program at North Arlington High School, but nothing ever seemed to come to fruition.

That was, until last year.

“There was a push to have a team from the Board of Education last year,” said John Zukatus, who has been a teacher and a track coach at North Arlington for a few years. “We had looked at the possibility last year, but it wasn’t approved until the last week of November.”

Once it was made official that the Vikings would indeed have an indoor track program this winter, the interest began to peak.

“We had 22 kids come out for the first workout,” Zukatus said. “Most of them were not playing another winter sport.”

For an NJSIAA Group I enrollment school, getting 22 kids to do anything at the same time is truly remarkable.

“We just wanted to have the kids more prepared for the outdoor season in the spring,” Zukatus said. “Having an indoor program definitely helped us. We tried to train the kids in the off-season, but it was hard without a team. This gave them a chance to train and compete.”

Travis Fisher is a North Arlington student/athlete who was in a bit of a dilemma without having a track program in the winter months.

You see, Fisher, the younger brother of 2010 Observer Female Athlete of the Year Tara Fisher, competes in the pole vault. Without a legit track program, Fisher would have been relegated to simply training with his club, Apex Vaulting Club in Fairfield, and not much else.

“It was pretty rough going into the spring without it,” Fisher said. “I was one of the people who were pushing for it. I wanted it to happen.” Sure enough, the fledgling track and field program gave Fisher an outlet.

The same goes for multisport athlete P.J. Sirotiak, who played soccer in the fall and once played baseball in the spring.

During the winter months, it was strictly training for Sirotiak with nothing to shoot for.

“I basically trained for soccer,” Sirotiak said. “That was basically it.”

And Danny Cordeiro, the soccer standout who recently signed a national letter of intent to accept a scholarship to play soccer at NJIT, used track and field as an outlet, a weapon of preparation for the soccer season.

Last spring, Cordeiro showed a major glimpse of his talents in track and field, winning the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I gold medal in the 1,600-meter run.

Without an indoor track team, Cordeiro would have perhaps become stale in the winter months, training on his own to prepare for the spring.

However, the brand new indoor track team at North Arlington has already paid its dividends, as all three aforementioned athletes are headed to the NJSIAA Meet of Champions this weekend at the Bennett Center in Toms River.

In just their first year of existence, the Vikings will get the chance to compete with all the best track athletes in New Jersey.

Cordeiro punched his ticket to the M of C the easy way by winning the gold medal in the 1,600-meter run. In fact, Cordeiro’s winning time of 1:58.29 set a new Group I meet record.

“I’m happy I won,” Cordeiro said. “I was also happy that I had a PR (personal record). I’m going to the Meet of Champions now and I’m going to do my best.”

Has the idea that Cordeiro is an overall Group I state champion sunk in?

“Maybe a little bit, but not really,” Cordeiro said. “I guess only time will tell. I thought I had a chance going in. I had the fastest time going in, but you can never be sure. I had to run my best. I try to relax before the big races and not pay attention to much else. I breathe easily and that helps me relieve stress. I just try to pay attention to the race.”

Sirotiak, who stands only 5-foot-8, was able to jump his height in finishing fifth in the Group I high jump, earning his place at the Meet of Champs.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Sirotiak said. “I’m going to jump with all the best in the state. I’m just going to try to stay in it for as long as possible.”

Fisher earned his place by clearing 11-6 in the pole vault, good for sixth place and a berth in the M of C.

“I’m really excited about it,” Fisher said. “This is giving me the opportunity to compete with the best.”

Needless to say, the coaching staff is ecstatic that the Vikings will get the chance to compete on the grand stage, in the very first year of the program.

“What they did far exceeded what we could have imagined,” Zukatus said. “We can’t ask for anything more.”

As for Cordeiro being an overall Group I state champion?

“That just makes me speechless,” Zukatus said. “We knew he was talented. He has improved a lot since last outdoor season. But to win a state championship? It’s truly amazing.”

Assistant coach Joe Cioffi, who heads the program in the spring, agreed.

“We are speechless,” Cioffi said. “That’s the best way to describe it. To have two guys take over this program and have this happen, have three kids go to the Meet of Champs? It’s unbelievable. It says our program is on the way up. We have talented kids here.”

“We have a lot to work for,” Zukatus said. “We now have to keep it going.”

Meadowlands Museum remembers fallen Marshall football players

Photo courtesy the Meadowlands Museum It was a fine night of remembrance at the Meadowlands Museum in Rutherford, as the museum honored the 1970 Marshall University football team that was killed in a plane crash, featuring four locals. From l. are Mo Lajterman, the brother of Marcel; guest speaker Tom Longo of Lyndhurst, Sharon Gilmore Catrambone, Tom Shoebridge and Terry Shoebridge.

Photo courtesy the Meadowlands Museum
It was a fine night of remembrance at the Meadowlands Museum in Rutherford, as the museum honored the 1970 Marshall University football team that was killed in a plane crash, featuring four locals. From l. are Mo Lajterman, the brother of Marcel; guest speaker Tom Longo of Lyndhurst, Sharon Gilmore Catrambone, Tom Shoebridge and Terry Shoebridge.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

November 14, 1970, is a day that will be forever remembered in the minds and hearts of local football fans.

Because on that fateful day, Southwest Airways Flight 932 crashed, killing 37 members of the Marshall University football team, including coaches, fans, family members and the flight crew.

It remains the biggest single tragedy in the history of collegiate athletics in this country.

It’s a memorable date, especially in these parts, because three local standouts, namely Marcel Lajterman, Ted Shoebridge and Kevin Gilmore, all perished on that flight, along with another New Jersey resident, Art Harris of Passaic.

Lajterman and Shoebridge were natives of Lyndhurst, with Gilmore the proud son of Harrison.

That fateful crash, brought back into the limelight with the release of the popular motion picture, “We Are Marshall,” starring Matthew McConaghey, in 2006, is an event that will never go away, because of the massive impact it had locally.

Throughout this year, the Meadowlands Museum, located on Crane Ave. in Rutherford, has been focusing on the sport of football and its deep roots locally.

Last Monday night, the Meadowlands Museum remembered the Thundering Herd of Marshall, especially the four local natives who lost their lives on that flight.

In a special presentation and exhibit, the Meadowlands Museum honored the memories of Lajterman, Shoebridge, Harris and Gilmore. Special plaques, featuring their faces and achievements, were on display, while several people spoke of the athletes that were lost.

Tom Longo, perhaps the greatest football player to ever come from Lyndhurst, was invited to be the guest speaker. Longo, the former Notre Dame standout who played in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Giants, personally knew the players from Lyndhurst who perished.

“The whole exhibit was a great success,” said Longo, who played defensive back in the NFL from 1969 through 1971. “Everyone brought their memories and it was my honor and thrill to talk about those boys. I knew them and their families. It seems like it happened yesterday. I thought that Ted Shoebridge and Art Harris were NFL prospects, Sunday players as we called them.”

Harris was a standout running back for the Thundering Herd, with Shoebridge as the starting quarterback. Lajterman was the team’s placekicker and Gilmore was a reserve running back.

“It was a big honor for me, because I remember Ted being called the next Tommy Longo,” Longo said. “I felt honored to be mentioned in the same breath.”

For some of the family members, the evening brought back good memories of their loved ones.

“I think something like this helps to keep all the boys alive,” said Tom Shoebridge, Ted’s brother and the current Lyndhurst High School track and field coach. “It’s good to have something local representing them. What happens at Marshall is one thing. No one ever forgets them there. But events like this helps to keep my brother alive here.”

Shoebridge said that he didn’t know of the exhibit until he heard from the board at the Meadowlands Museum.

“It kind of caught me by surprise,” Shoebridge said. “But it was an absolute honor to have something here in our own backyard. I just wish my Mom and Dad were here to see it.”

It was a good night for the Shoebridge family, as another brother, Terry, attended the event.

“Plus, Tommy Longo is always there for anyone in Lyndhurst,” Tom Shoebridge said. “He’s a credit to our community and our school system.”

Sharon Gilmore Catrambone, who still resides in Harrison and is a municipal employee, was also happy to represent her family and her late brother.

“It makes me feel like we’re trying to keep Kevin alive, for my children and grandchildren,” Catrambone said. “I hope this makes them realize just how great he was. They did a good job focusing on Kevin. It was very touching that they took the time to share our memories. It was a very special night. I feel honored to have been asked to be a part of it. My family feels that way as well.”

Rod Leith, Meadowlands Museum board president, was also pleased to have honored the fallen players and their families.

“We wanted to have a program of remembrance for the local fellows,” Leith said. “It worked out very well. Tom Longo as the key speaker was a big help. He spoke of his personal relationships with the players. I really felt it was a strong way to help bring back the memories.”

Leith said having Longo was a huge plus.

“He’s a class act and was very important to this exhibit,” Leith said. “He brings a lot to the table. We’re fortunate to always have Tom’s participation.”

“I wanted to be involved,” Longo said. “Some of these guys were from my hometown of Lyndhurst. It was very good for the families to talk. It’s good to give them recognition.”

Mo Lajterman, who also went on to become a standout placekicker like his brother, spoke on behalf of the Lajterman family. Both Lajterman and Shoebridge’s football uniform numbers have been retired by Lyndhurst High School.

Leith said that the Meadowlands Museum has been scheduling events that appeal to local residents.

“We’re trying to put the museum back on the map again,” said Leith, who watched the rebirth of the Meadowlands Museum last August after being closed for a spell. “We’ve been getting a lot of visitors.” To coincide with the Super Bowl coming to MetLife Stadium, the museum held a Historic Schoolboy Football Exhibit, with several pieces of pertinent memorabilia, rare photos and other artifacts featuring local high school football standouts from the 1920s through the 1960s, like Vince Lombardi, Augie Lio, Bob DeMarco, Jack Tatum and Stan Walters, the latter three all having played in the Super Bowl.

The exhibit was on display throughout Super Bowl week as well as the month of February.

So the Meadowlands Museum did a fine thing honoring the local members of that horrific plane crash and remembering them with their families.

For more on the Meadowlands Museum, log on to www. meadowlandsmuseum.com

Nutley takes home 3rd straight NJSIAA District 14 crown

Belleville crowns three district champs

 

Photos by Jim Hague Belleville’s Jordan Greene (l.) won the 160-pound gold medal at District 14. Greene has been a steady influence on a young Belleville team that finished third at the district championships. Nutley’s Robert Duxbury (r.) won the 106-pound championship at District 14. Duxbury wasn’t even a regular on the varsity last year and now has 29 wins and a district gold medal this season.

Photos by Jim Hague
Belleville’s Jordan Greene (l.) won the 160-pound gold medal at District 14. Greene has been a steady influence on a young Belleville team that finished third at the district championships. Nutley’s Robert Duxbury (r.) won the 106-pound championship at District 14. Duxbury wasn’t even a regular on the varsity last year and now has 29 wins and a district gold medal this season.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Nutley had captured the last two NJSIAA District 14 wrestling championships, but Maroon Raiders head coach Frank DiPiano didn’t know whether his team could make it a “three-peat.”

“We knew we could be rebuilding a little,” DiPiano said. “I thought if we wrestled well, we had a chance. The last couple of years, we knew we had a really good shot. But this year, we had so much inexperience. That’s why I wasn’t so sure we could win again.”

The inexperienced Maroon Raiders made their coach very proud, winning their third straight District 14 championship Saturday, holding off challenges from runner-up Bloomfield and third place Belleville.

“It’s definitely the most gratifying of the three,” DiPiano said. “The kids all stepped up and did well.”

The Maroon Raiders crowned two champions and will send eight wrestlers to the Region 4 championships this week at West Orange.

Sophomore Robert Duxbury won the 106-pound District 14 gold medal. The Maroon Raider sophomore, who was not even part of the varsity lineup last year, pinned Pablo Estevez of Bloomfield in the title bout.

“He’s focused and wrestled to his style,” DiPiano said of Duxbury, who improved his record to 29-4 with the title win. “His work ethic carried him. He’s a hard-nosed kid who just loves to wrestle.”

Junior Joe Ferinde won the 120-pound class with a pin of Tyreek Staton of Montclair, improving his record to an astounding 32-0 entering Region 4.

“He has a lot of quality wins this season,” DiPiano said. “He’s beaten some kids who have already won at the state championships (in Atlantic City). He’s zoned in and loves to wrestle. I’ve watched him get so much better during the course of the season. He controls the things he can. He does his work in the classroom, then goes to wrestle. He’s in control and he’s battle tested.”

Kenny Pena finished second at 126 pounds and his cousin, Darwin Pena, was the runner

Steve Scuttaro was second at 138 pounds and heavyweight Adam Touah was the silver medal winner in the heavyweight division.

“We wrestled a tougher schedule this year and I think that paid off,” DiPiano said. “That’s the reason why we won this district tournament. We faced teams like High Point, DePaul, Watchung Hills and that only helped us get better. The young kids got better, stepped up and helped this team win.”

DiPiano said that the senior Scuttaro took a step up in weight class at 138 pounds and still managed to finish second.

“It was his choice,” DiPiano said. “He had a better route to get to the state tournament in that class. He’s been in our program for four years and we’re trying to reward him with a trip to Atlantic City.”

Kenny Pena battled back from a shoulder injury that forced him to miss most of the regular season.

The Maroon Raiders will also send third-place consolation winners Gerard D’Alessio (170 pounds) and Sabino Coppola (195) to the Region 4 championships.

Belleville, under first-year head coach Emilio “Junior” Nardone, will send six wrestlers on to Region 4, including three Buccaneer wrestlers who earned District 14 gold.

Nardone, the two-time state champion during his schoolboy days, was selected as the District 14 Coach of the Year in his first season.

Jordan Greene won the 160-pound championship with a 9-4 win over Joey Zarro of Livingston.

Nick Nardachone won the 195-pound gold medal with a 10-3 win over Benjamin Panza of Montclair.

And Edwin Gaines won the 225-pound title with a pin of Marquise Roberts of Montclair in 2:32.

Jose Vergara was the runnerup in the 152-pound class and Luis Ovando (113 pounds) and Tien Le (heavyweight) finished third to earn a berth at the regions.

Josh Guerrero of Kearny was the lone Kardinal wrestler to move on out of District 16. He finished third in the 126-pound class at the tourney held at North Bergen High School.

The Lyndhurst/North Arlington program sent three wrestlers on to the Region 2 tournament, which will be held at Bergen County Community College for the first time.

Joey Morreale was second in the 145-pound class at District 15 in Clifton. Matt DeMarco was second in the 182-pound class for Lyndhurst/North Arlington, while Corey LeClerc finished third in the 113-pound class.

Longtime Kearny track coach Cifelli retires

Photo courtesy the Cifelli family Kearny veteran cross country and track and field coach Jim Cifelli retired recently after four decades of coaching, athletic administration and academic administration.

Photo courtesy the Cifelli family
Kearny veteran cross country and track and field coach Jim Cifelli retired
recently after four decades of coaching, athletic administration and academic
administration.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It was the spring of 1961, when a young man from Kearny was bitten by the bug called track and field.

At that impressionable time in his life, the teenage Cifelli was in seventh grade.

“All my friends were athletes and all of them were runners,” Cifelli said. “So like all the other kids, I started running.”

Little did Cifelli know that it would begin a five-decade love affair with the sport.

“I don’t know what got me,” Cifelli said. “I just did it.”

Cifelli ran track throughout high school and helped Kearny win its first-ever NJSIAA state sectional championship in 1965.

“Once I got on the team, I loved the camaraderie with everyone,” Cifelli said. “I guess you could say I was a decent runner. I got a medal at the Penn Relays and I broke two minutes in the 800 (yard run).”

Upon graduation from Kearny High, Cifelli headed to Seton Hall and was part of the track team there.

“I learned a lot in college by watching others,” Cifelli said. “I majored in history and education.”

Cifelli was fortunate enough to do his student teaching in Kearny at Lincoln School.

“Tommy Krulik was the varsity coach,” Cifelli said. “I asked Krulik if I could be a volunteer coach.”

The next year, Cifelli was added an assistant coach. A year later, Krulik suddenly passed away.

“The kids, everyone, we were all devastated,” Cifelli said. “I was asked to take over as the interim coach.”

That was 1972. Cifelli was involved in Kearny cross country and track and field ever since, until recently, when Cifelli announced his retirement after more than 40 years.

“It’s a good time to say goodbye,” Cifelli said. “I won’t say that there’s sadness, but there never will be another Kearny. It’s tough to cut the umbilical cord after all this time. There’s always going to be a fire there. I keep in contact with everyone.”

Cifelli is moving on to become an assistant coach with the New York/New Jersey Track Club, based out of Rutgers University, under the legendary Frank Gagliano.

It ends a remarkable run that Cifelli enjoyed as a coach, athletic administrator and school administrator.

In Cifelli’s second year as head coach, the Kearny boys won the old Big 10 Conference championship, a league that included Belleville, Nutley and Bloomfield.

The team also qualified for the NJSIAA Group IV championships, a major step as to what would later occur.

In 1978, Joe Weber won the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions in cross country. The team competed in the meet, with Dean Olawski as another top runner. In track, the Kearny sprint medley team won the state championship and posted the fastest time in the country. The distance medley had the third fastest time in the nation.

In 1983, the Kearny boys won the NJSIAA Group IV championship, a team that was headed by Frank Sroczynski and featured Tom Greene, Keith Donnelly, Tony Rego, Wayne Dunn, Mike Richardson and John Gouveia.

The year of 1987 was perhaps the best overall year in Kearny cross country history. The boys’ team, led by Art Almeida, won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV and overall Group IV championships. Almeida finished fifth in the state overall.

The Kearny girls did one better. They won the NJSIAA Meet of Champions title, led by Liz Duarte, who finished fifth overall. Other members of the overall state championship team included Uloopi Desai, Tara McDermott, Jackie Salmon, Annabella Mateus and Kristen Rutzler.

“I would have to say that it was the best year,” Cifelli said. “It was a great year. The best part of it all was that I had Billy Clifton as an assistant coach. We did everything together. We were very close. Before that season, we sat down and talked about our chances. I thought the girls were still a year away. Did I know they were going to be that good? No, I really didn’t.”

That was when Kearny became respected for being a cross country and track and field power, both statewide and nationwide.

“I remember one quote I read in the paper,” Cifelli said. “It said ‘we [a rival team] about Kearny and we were afraid of them.’ ”

In 1988 and 1989, the Kearny girls won the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state sectional cross country title. They won again three years straight, from 1990 through 1992, becoming one of the most dominant programs in the state.

Soon after, Cifelli stepped down to become the Kearny athletic director, a position he held for five years. He then became the vice-principal at Washington School and retired as the school’s principal in 2002.

In 2003, Bob Cressman stepped down as the cross country coach.

“I said, `What the hell, I’ll go back,’” Cifelli said.

He also served as a volunteer assistant with the indoor and outdoor track teams since returning to coaching in 2003.

Now, it’s the end of an era. “I’d have to say that the best thing, above winning championships, is that the kids I coached all became successful and good people in their own right,” Cifelli said. “You can talk about the team and the successes, but you can measure the great achievement by the multitude of kids who became good people, successful people. That’s what means the most to me.”

Cifelli is leaving with his head held high.

“We did what we wanted to do,” Cifelli said. “I’ll keep in contact with everyone.”

Cifelli thanked his parents, Leticia and Fred.

“I was a kid running in high school and my mother and father were at every meet,” Cifelli said. “They also volunteered to help. They had a huge influence on me.”

Cifelli also gave credit to his wife, Linda, a Kearny school teacher.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do what I’ve done without her support,” Cifelli said.

Cifelli was able to accomplish a lot during his 50-plus years of involvement in Kearny athletics. He definitely has left a huge mark and the shoes will be difficult to fill.

Lyndhurst’s Donovan earns NJ Lacrosse Hall of Fame berth

Photo courtesy of the Donovan family Lyndhurst resident Jim Donovan is proud to be among the newest members of the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Donovan is seen here with his wife Maria and sons Campbell and Aiden. Donovan was one of eight people inducted into the Hall of Fame last week.

Photo courtesy of the Donovan family
Lyndhurst resident Jim Donovan is proud to be among the newest members of the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Donovan is seen here with his wife Maria and sons Campbell and Aiden. Donovan was one of eight people inducted into the Hall of Fame last week.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Jim Donovan entered Columbia High School in Maplewood in the early 1980s, he knew he wanted to be involved in sports, but he didn’t know which one.

Incredibly, Donovan, now a long-time resident of Lyndhurst, chose lacrosse.

“The high school had a long tradition of lacrosse and I already had a lacrosse stick,” Donovan said.

That’s how a Hall of Fame career began.

As it turned out, Donovan became a member of the Columbia team that won the state championship in 1982. He then went on to play two years of lacrosse at Ashland College in Ohio, then returned to his native New Jersey to play lacrosse at Kean.

“I was an okay player,” Donovan said. “I played club lacrosse until I was 30.”

But Donovan’s biggest contribution to the sport came as a coach and administrator. He got involved as a coach in the youth lacrosse program in Maplewood in 1989.

“It was like a feeder program for the high school,” Donovan said.

Donovan remained involved in youth lacrosse in Maplewood until 2003, when his older son, Campbell, was born.

Donovan was also involved heavily in lacrosse, as the president of the North Jersey Junior Lacrosse League.

“Lacrosse programs were popping up all over the state,” Donovan said. “I was always being asked by a group of fathers here and there how to start a lacrosse league.”

When Donovan started his reign as president, there were 16 youth lacrosse teams in New Jersey.

“Now, we have 20,000 kids from third through eighth grade playing,” Donovan said. “It’s the largest boys’ youth lacrosse league in the country.”

Donovan also helped to get grants from the United States Lacrosse Association to run clinics in areas like Jersey City that are looking to introduce the sport to interested youngsters.

And last year, Donovan brought the sport of lacrosse to Lyndhurst for the first time.

“We have both boys and girls playing, learning lacrosse,” Donovan said. “We have about 40 boys and 30 girls. It’s primarily instructional for now.”

The Lyndhurst lacrosse program had one game against Florham Park and next year, there are plans for as many as five games.

Last week, Donovan’s tireless efforts were rewarded as he was one of eight inductees into the 17th annual New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Donovan received his award at the Mercer Oaks Country Club in Princeton Junction.

“It’s very humbling,” Donovan said. “It was pretty cool to get up in front of all these people that I looked up to admitted, like Mike Cleary, my assistant coach at Kean, Bob Kirko, who has been around the sport forever and Hawley Lawterman, who has been at Kean forever. He was the one who originally gave me the coaching bug.”

Mike Springer, who was a fine player at Don Bosco Prep and later played at Syracuse and professionally in Major League Lacrosse, and Craig Buckley of Fair Lawn were inducted along with Donovan.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” Donovan said. “I was in awe. I saw the people in front of me and there were a lot of guys I played with, played against and watched play.”

Donovan received the phone call about his induction a few months ago.

“I have to admit that I was pretty shocked,” Donovan said. “The guy who called me is a good friend of mine and I didn’t believe what he told me. I thought it was a joke, because my friend is a good practical joker.”

But it was true. When the kids in Lyndhurst convene for lacrosse practice in a few months, they can say that they have a Hall of Fame coach.

Donovan has resided in Lyndhurst with his wife, Maria, and sons Campbell and Aidan since 2000. Aidan is an aspiring lacrosse player.

Donovan was asked about the growing popularity of lacrosse.

“I think it’s something new and different,” Donovan said. “We’re giving kids in Lyndhurst the opportunity to try something different. The beautiful thing about lacrosse is once you pick up the stick, you always want to have it with you. Then, you learn to catch and cradle the ball and you want to do it more. The sport keeps growing and growing. It’s very exciting.”

And it’s great for Lyndhurst to have such a decorated coach to teach the youngsters of the township the ins and outs of the sport of lacrosse.