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NA’s Nocciolo earns Observer Athlete of the Year

Three-sport standout becomes second straight Viking; fourth in six years to earn honor

Photo by Jim Hague North Arlington graduate A.J. Nocciolo (center, r.) receives the 2012-2013 Observer Male Athlete of the Year award from Observer general manager Robert Pezzolla (center, l.). From l. are North Arlington High School Principal Louis Manuppelli, head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono, head football coach Anthony Marck, Pezzolla, Nocciolo, A.J.’s mother Cesarina Petracca, Vice-Principal Dennis Kenny and athletic director Dave Hutchinson.

Photo by Jim Hague
North Arlington graduate A.J. Nocciolo (center, r.) receives the 2012-2013 Observer Male Athlete of the Year award from Observer general manager Robert Pezzolla (center, l.). From l. are North Arlington High School Principal Louis Manuppelli, head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono, head football coach Anthony Marck, Pezzolla, Nocciolo, A.J.’s mother Cesarina Petracca, Vice-Principal Dennis Kenny and athletic director Dave Hutchinson.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When A.J. Nocciolo moved from Bloomfield to North Arlington, just before Nocciolo was to begin sixth grade, he felt a little out of place.

Luckily, Nocciolo’s family moved right across the street from a school playground, so the best way to make new friends in the new neighborhood would be through the one thing he felt most comfortable doing _ playing sports.

“I loved playing baseball back then and I could see the new kids weren’t really welcoming me, because they thought I was much older,” Nocciolo said. “I was a lot bigger than everyone, but when I told them I was only 12, they let me play. I started to hit a lot of home runs and although I really didn’t fit in, I made friends with everyone.”

Nocciolo’s first sport was baseball.

“I always played baseball,” Nocciolo said. “My father was a good baseball player. He was a good pitcher.”

Nocciolo gained some attention as a basketball player in middle school.

“He was an outstanding basketball player,” North Arlington High School head football coach Anthony Marck said. “He scored 52 points in a grade school game. That’s when I first noticed him. You could see the pure athleticism in him.”

As it turned out, football became Nocciolo’s main sport, but it took a while for Nocciolo to find his true position.

“When he first came to us, he was a lineman, because he was too big to play anywhere else,” Marck said. “But I knew he was a skilled position player.”

So Marck first put Nocciolo at tight end.

During one early practice, a frustrated Marck unleashed a diatribe at his players.

“He turned around and yelled, `Can anyone here throw a football?’” Nocciolo said. “Everyone laughed, but I raised my hand and asked if I could go in at quarterback. He let me go in and I dropped back and let it go.”

The ball traveled 60 yards in the air.

Later that year, North Arlington was scrimmaging against Kearny in a 7-on-7 drill.

“I hit Jimmy Roman with a pass in the corner of the end zone,” Nocciolo said. “I knew with Jimmy’s speed, he could beat his defender, so I put the ball in the back of the end zone and he caught it.”

“I just wanted to see what he could do and he threw a deep pass, some 35 yards, to the back of the end zone, on a corner route,” Marck said. “He said that he looked off the other receivers and threw it there. I told the coaches right then that he was no longer a tight end.”

Nocciolo spent his last three years at North Arlington as the Vikings’ starting quarterback. Even though he stood 6-foot- 3 and weighed 240 pounds, which constitutes a lineman in most NJSIAA Group I schools, Nocciolo was a signal caller, a rare one at that.

“He was definitely a oncein- a-lifetime athlete,” Marck said. “As a former quarterback myself, I wondered if I would ever coach a player like that. But he was everything I wanted and more.”

In his senior year, Nocciolo threw for 2,045 yards and 21 touchdowns. He also rushed for 378 yards and scored five touchdowns. He was also a tenacious defensive player from his linebacker slot, collecting 31 tackles.

Nocciolo also played basketball, averaging 10 points and 13 rebounds per game.

After not playing baseball since his freshman year, Nocciolo returned to the baseball diamond last spring and played third base, batting .450 for the season.

For his efforts, Nocciolo has been selected as the 2012-2013 Observer Male Athlete of the Year. Nocciolo received his award recently from Observer General Manager Robert Pezzolla.

Nocciolo becomes the second straight North Arlington athlete to receive the award. Tyler Krychkowski was the 2011-2012 recipient. Mike Gross (2007-2008) and Peter Santos (2009-2010) were also North Arlington athletes to earn the Athlete of the Year honor, which means that North Arlington has claimed the award for four of the last six years.

Marck had nothing but praise for his passing protégé.

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“He worked at his craft 12 months a year,” Marck said. “I don’t know if there was a day where A.J. didn’t throw a football. But he was an athlete first and did whatever it took to help the team he was on. I think we’re fortunate in North Arlington to get kids who are truly dedicated and in order for our teams to succeed, we have to have kids play more than one sport. It’s a credit to A.J. for being able to play three and do well in three. He just loves to compete and is the ultimate competitor. It was a pleasure to see what the kid could do every single day.”

David Walsh, who recently resigned as the head boys’ basketball coach at North Arlington, also had praise for Nocciolo.

“He knew what it took to be a better athlete and knew that it took a lot of work,” Walsh said. “He might not have been the best basketball player, but he was going to give 100% every single day. He had a nice mid-range jump shot, but his best shot was the 3-pointer. But because of his size, he knew he had to mix it up down low. He was big enough and tough enough to get the job done and that was a big plus for us.”

Walsh believed that Nocciolo’s basketball prowess came easy.

“He just loved to play and liked to play our style,” Walsh said. “He wanted to be a part of our program. He could have easily found something else to do, but he wanted to play basketball. Playing those three sports isn’t easy. I think he realized that being idle is bad. It’s smarter to be active. Free time is a coach’s enemy. I can say that I had some of the best athletes in North Arlington over the last 20 or so years.”

Walsh did coach all four Observer Athlete of the Year recipients.

North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono was happy to have Nocciolo back on the diamond last season.

“He was always mentally ready to compete and he brought that attitude to the baseball team,” Marcantuono said. “He’s a tough kid, a great kid, a superior athlete. He told me that he really missed playing baseball and wanted to come back.”

Nocciolo knew that there were no guarantees for playing time in baseball, especially after sitting out two seasons.

“He told me that I had to earn it,” Nocciolo said.

The first game of the season, Nocciolo took an 0-for-4 collar.

“He went right back into the batting cage after that game,” Marcantuono said.

“I must have been in there for an hour or so, hitting balls,” Nocciolo said. “I promised him that I wouldn’t go 0-for-4 for the rest of the season and I didn’t. If I didn’t get a hit, I worked hard to get it the next at-bat.”

“I think he had 10 multi-hit games,” Marcantuono said. “For someone who didn’t play baseball for two years, that’s phenomenal.”

Nocciolo did receive a lot of attention from major colleges, but because of his grades, he will head to ASA College in Brooklyn, a junior college that has sent several players to major Division I colleges, including Gilbert Pena, who went to the University of Mississippi and recently signed with the Green Bay Packers.

“I want to compete at the Division I level and prove that it doesn’t matter where you come from,” Nocciolo said. “I just want everyone to know that I’m always a Viking and I’ll always bleed blue. I was able to give my all every day and that’s important to me.”

It’s safe to say that Nocciolo is more than welcome in his neighborhood now as one of the finest all-around athletes the school ever produced.

 

Several local athletes under consideration for top Athlete award

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny’s Haley Durning had a sensational senior year in soccer and track and field, heading the list of other candidates worthy of The Observer’s Athletes of the Year awards

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny’s Haley Durning had a sensational senior year in soccer and track and field, heading the list of other candidates worthy of The Observer’s Athletes of the Year awards

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

While Lyndhurst’s Camila Alonso and North Arlington’s A.J. Nocciolo were the recipients of the 2012- 2013 Observer Female and Male Athletes of the Year respectively, there were several other area graduated athletes who were true credits to their respective schools and deserved consideration for the prestigious honor.

Among the girls, there was no finer candidate for top honors than Haley Durning of Kearny.

The multi-talented Durning was a standout goalkeeper in soccer, earning All-Hudson County and All-Group IV honors, and was a sensational competitor in track and field, winning her share of gold medals on the local and state sectional level in both the indoor and outdoor season.

More importantly, Durning graduated from Kearny High School as the No. 2 student academically in the Class of 2013, a high achievement on its own.

Durning was also one of the team’s leaders, earning the nickname of “Mother Duck” from coach Al Perez because the younger members of the team constantly followed Durning around.

Durning certainly left her mark as one of the most diversified female athletes in the school’s history.

Another standout Kearny athlete was soccer standout Katie O’Neill, who is headed to the University of Binghamton in a few weeks to play soccer there. O’Neill was clearly one of the best all-around players in the state and should be able to make her mark on the college level as well.

Fellow Kearny senior Kristen Stankus had a brilliant senior year, as the school’s top female bowler and as a slugging catcher for the softball team.

Speaking of softball, how could you go wrong with the talented battery from Lyndhurst, namely pitcher Casey Zdanek and catcher Julieann Schneidenbach? The two friends led the Golden Bears to their best season in recent memory, going all the way to the NJSIAA North 2, Group II sectional title game. Zdanek will take her talents to Drew University in the fall where she’s bound to be a success. Lyndhurst’s Lexus Lopez was probably the most diverse athlete in the area. A topflight bowler, who earned a full scholarship to FDU to bowl in the fall, Lopez also played basketball during the same season as the bowling season. That was some grind for the talented Golden Bear.

Queen of Peace pole vault expert Michelle Rozalski certainly made her mark during the indoor and outdoor track seasons. Headed to Seton Hall in the fall, Rozalski was among the very best in the pole vault in the state.

Harrison’s Rayven Lucas earned her mark as a basketball standout. The daughter of Harrison’s native son Ray (currently on SNY television as a Jets analyst and on the Rutgers radio network), Rayven led the Blue Tide to a highly successful season and will take her talents to Montclair State to play basketball in the fall.

North Arlington had two top female athletes in Katie Rouski, who competed in volleyball, basketball and softball and Mackenzie Cutruzzula, who was a fine athlete in track and field.

Among the boys’ athletes, Charlie Bingham of Nutley had perhaps the most diverse season, competing in soccer, basketball and tennis. Bingham was one of the best soccer players on a Maroon Raider that won 13 matches last fall and competed for both county and Super Essex Conference honors.

Bobby Trombetta, a fellow Maroon Raider, broke the school record for wrestling victories with 141 in his storied career, a mark that was third all-time in Essex County. He wrestled most of his senior year with an injured shoulder.

During his career, Trombetta won four county titles, three district crowns, two Region gold medals and three medals at the state tourney. He is headed to wrestle at Bloomsburg University.

Dave Fierro keyed Nutley’s best hockey season, scoring 28 goals and adding 11 assists for a team that won 17 games. Fierro was also a fine golfer for the Maroon Raiders.

Kearny’s Dylan Hoch overcame the adversity of playing for a sub-par team to reach the 1,000-point plateau and set a new school single-game scoring mark with his 49-point performance against McNair Academic.

Ryan Michaels of Kearny had a solid year as a wrestler and as the sure-handed catcher on the Kardinals’ varsity baseball team.

Jeff Frytek of North Arlington was a key member of the basketball and baseball teams along with Athlete of the Year Nocciolo.

Bobby Keegan of Queen of Peace, whose older sister Courtney was a former Female Athlete of the Year recipient during her days at QP, overcame injuries to have solid seasons on the gridiron and on the hardwood.

Belleville’s Aaquil Ingram made the most of his senior year on the gridiron by securing a scholarship to play at American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts in the fall.

All in all, it was a great local high school sports season, culminated by the individual performances of The Observer’s two Athletes of the Year.

Lyndhurst welcomes youngest of Little Leaguers in month-long tourney

Photo courtesy Anthony Farinhas Young Anthony Farinhas Jr. has been one of the top pitchers and hitters for Kearny in the Lyndhurst Junior Little League tournament for 7-and-8-yearolds.

Photo courtesy Anthony Farinhas
Young Anthony Farinhas Jr. has been one of the top pitchers and hitters for Kearny in the Lyndhurst Junior Little League tournament for 7-and-8-yearolds.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s not called “The Tournament” for nothing.

For the last quarter century, Lyndhurst has hosted a junior Little League tournament for youngsters aged seven-andeight years old, giving these aspiring diamond dandies their first true taste of competitive baseball.

From June 26 through the end of July, 17 teams from all over northern New Jersey converge on Lyndhurst’s premier Little League facility off the banks of the Passaic River for some thrilling baseball action. It’s perhaps the biggest tournament of its kind found anywhere.

Locally, there is a fine representation from two teams from Lyndhurst, as well as one from North Arlington and one from Kearny.

And it’s more than just a baseball tournament.

Organizers, like tournament director Dave Rehbein, try to make the tourney as much fun as possible for the participants and fans alike.

“This is their true introduction to baseball, so we want to encourage the kids to keep playing,” Rehbein said. “We want to make it fun.”

Aside from the baseball action, there are countless raffles throughout the tournament. There are baseball gloves to be won, but even more impressively, there are raffles for 22 bicycles.

“We take the money we raise from our 50-50s and buy the bikes,” Rehbein said. “We have other things that are donated. For my standpoint, I love watching the young kids, because it’s all new to them. You see the smiles on their faces and all of the work we do is well worth it.”

In the past, there have been as many as 22 teams that participate in the double-elimination tournament. This year, the number has been trimmed to 17.

“We could have had more,” Rehbein said. “I get calls from all over, wanting to bring teams in, but we don’t want to make it too big.”

It’s the 11th time that Rehbein has run the tourney.

“It never gets to be a problem, because everyone loves watching these kids play,” Rehbein said.

There has even been a celebrity watch at the games in Lyndhurst.

One of the teams in contention is Englewood Cliffs, which has a player Dylan Gooden. Yes, Dylan is the son of former Mets and Yankees pitching ace Dwight “Doc” Gooden and the former Cy Young Award winner has been at his son’s games, graciously greeting the fans who recognize him.

“He’s been here two or three times and he’s been signing baseballs, provided they don’t interfere with him watching his son play,” Rehbein said.

Dan Watson is the coordinator for all 7-and-8-year-old baseball in Kearny.

“It’s a great tournament,” Watson said. “Dave is a great guy and everything is for the kids. It’s stressed that it’s for the kid. Imagine that they’re able to raffle off bikes for the kids. There’s something to win every single game. I love the tournament and will never leave as long as it’s played. It’s good competition for the kids and it’s fun for them. As they move on, they will always remember playing in the tournament. As they move up to Little League next year, they already have a little taste of what they’re going to see.”

Watson said that Kearny has participated in the tourney for the last six years.

Anthony Farinhas is the coach of the Kearny entry in the tourney.

“I’ve enjoyed coaching this team tremendously,” Farinhas said. “You want the kids to learn something about the game and this is such a tremendous experience for them. They get to compete against other teams from other towns and see the other competition at such an early age.”

Farinhas said that he wanted to compile a team that featured kids who want to play the game.

“You want to have kids who have the passion to play and that makes me enjoy it more,” Farinhas said. “They are soaking it all up like a sponge. If they have the passion at an early age, it only helps as they progress.”

Farinhas said that his team represents the future of Kearny baseball.

His son, Anthony Jr. has been one of the team’s top pitchers, having struck out 50 batters so far. Anthony Schimenti is another promising pitcher and Adam Juchnik, who also plays shortstop, has the potential to be a great one someday.

A pair of twins occupies catcher and first base for Kearny. Jonathan Muller is the first baseman, while Matthew is the catcher.

“Matthew is an outstanding catcher with a great demeanor behind the plate,” Farinhas said. “He’s always very calm back there. I love his demeanor.”

Tranton Witt, the younger brother of Kearny standout T.J., is the second baseman.

“He’s a very aggressive player,” Farinhas said.

Juchnik spends most of his time at shortstop.

“He’s a very good player and he’s very vocal,” Farinhas said. “He probably has the most experience of anyone on the team.”

Billy McChesney is the third baseman.

“He hits the ball a ton,” said Farinhas of McChesney, who also serves as the backup catcher.

Michael Ciardiello plays left field, but Ciardiello also sees time at third base. Eli Jablonski is the centerfielder and Chris Carson is in right field.

Kyle Antosh, Jonathan Hernandez and Nate Matthews are key reserves.

“These are the best eightyear- olds in Kearny and I guarantee that they will have a bright future in baseball,” said Farinhas, who has received assistance from Bobby Carson, Jim Muller, Chris Juchnik and Watson.

Other towns in the tourney include Garfield, Paramus, Hoboken, Teaneck, Wood- Ridge, Oradell, Rutherford, Little Ferry, North Bergen and Maywood.

Needless to say, it’s been a labor of love for the people in Lyndhurst, like league president Bob Laverty and committee members Mark Naseef, Terry Chiappa, John Berko and Nick Romito. A tip of the cap goes to recently retired Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Rick Pizzuti, who helped make the tournament successful. Pizzuti spent 42 years with the Parks and Recreation department in Lyndhurst.

There are countless others behind the scenes who make “The Tournament” as it is now readily known a success. And will continue to do so in the years to come.

Lyndhurst’s Alonso named Observer Female Athlete of Year

Soccer, basketball and track standout earns honor

 

Photo by Jim Hague Lyndhurst graduate Camila Alonso (seated center r.) receives the 2012-13 Observer Athlete of the Year award from sports writer Jim Hague (seated center l.). Also seated from l. are soccer and track coach Kim Hykey, Hague, Alonso, Camila’s mother Ida Russo holding her brother Nicolas Alonso and Superintendent of Schools Tracey Marinelli. Back from l. are basketball and track assistant coach Anthony Immediate, head basketball coach Perrin Mosca, Principal Nick Coffaro and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo.

Photo by Jim Hague
Lyndhurst graduate Camila Alonso (seated center r.) receives the 2012-13 Observer Athlete of the Year award from sports writer Jim Hague (seated center l.). Also seated from l. are soccer and track coach Kim Hykey, Hague, Alonso, Camila’s mother Ida Russo holding her brother Nicolas Alonso and Superintendent of Schools Tracey Marinelli. Back from l. are basketball and track assistant coach Anthony Immediate, head basketball coach Perrin Mosca, Principal Nick Coffaro and athletic director Frank “Butch” Servideo.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Camila Alonso first arrived at Lyndhurst High School three years ago, transferring to Lyndhurst from Lodi, she almost felt like a fish out of water.

“I really didn’t know anyone,” Alonso said.

But Alonso knew that she wanted to participate in athletics.

“I started to play soccer when I was 10 in Lodi,” Alonso said. “So when we came here to Lyndhurst, it was natural that I played soccer. I played freshman basketball at Lodi, but I was a point guard there, because they didn’t have anyone to bring the ball up the court.”

So Alonso played soccer in the fall and basketball in the winter. Later on, she gave track and field a try.

Three years later, Alonso has developed into one of the best all-around athletes in Lyndhurst High School history.

Last week, Alonso culminated her brilliant high school career by receiving the 2012-13 Observer Female Athlete of the Year, becoming the second Lyndhurst girl to ever receive the award. Cassie Indri received the award in 2009.

“It’s crazy when you think of it,” said Kim Hykey, Alonso’s coach in both soccer and track and field. “I think it’s the type of storybook tale that you don’t think can happen. They make movies about things like this.”

Alonso wasn’t even a member of the varsity basketball team as a sophomore. She was playing on the junior varsity when she scored 37 points in a double overtime game. “I just remember everything I shot went in,” Alonso said of that game.

“From the start, it didn’t look like Camila was going to be a player,” Lyndhurst head girls’ basketball coach Perrin Mosca said. “It didn’t seem like it. But she had that one game and we had to bring her up to the varsity.”

After enjoying success on the varsity level, Alonso said that she worked hard on her basketball skills.

“After my sophomore year, I took the game more seriously and put more time into it,” Alonso said. “I got a lot better. I played on a travel team. I worked a lot on my post moves.”

Once Alonso became an inside player, her game took over. As a senior, Alonso averaged close to 20 points and 13 rebounds per game, including setting a new single-game school scoring record when she scored 46 points in a win over Leonia.

“That was just unbelievable,” Alonso said. “Who would have ever thought I could score 46 points in one game? It was unreal.”

“Once it clicked for her, once she knew what she was capable of doing, it just took off,” Mosca said. “We certainly weren’t looking for her to break a record. That was just a special night. But she worked her tail off to become a better basketball player. She bought into what the coaches were saying and we worked with her.”

Mosca, who has resigned from his coaching position at Lyndhurst to take over the girls’ basketball program at his alma mater Hackensack, said that Alonso’s demeanor was a blessing to his team.

“She never gave up,” Mosca said. “She fought hard and worked hard. She’s just a great kid who never took credit for what she accomplished. She always gave credit to her teammates. She was a great kid to coach and as I look back someday, she’ll be one of the best I’ll ever coach. She definitely leaves a legacy.”

Alonso left Lyndhurst with more than 1,000 points in her career, becoming only the fifth Lyndhurst girls’ player to eclipse the prestigious milestone.

Hykey said that Alonso’s senior year in soccer as a defender was curtailed by a foot injury.

“She tried to play through the injury and it didn’t work,” Hykey said. “I knew what she was capable in basketball, so I had to make sure she was ready to play basketball.”

The track aspect of Alonso’s career may be the most impressive, considering she did not compete in track at all as a junior.

“I think it was Anthony (Immediate) who talked her into coming out,” Hykey said. “Anthony had her in basketball and coached her a little with the javelin when she was a sophomore. We told her that she could become something special in track, but we let her make her own decision.”

“Track and field was very different,” Alonso said. “It was more of an individual sport, but in a team. Coach Immediate told me that he thought I could be pretty good. I thought about it and said, `Why not? Let’s try it.’ It was my senior year and I wanted to try it and see if I could have fun.”

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Alonso won three medals at the NJIC Liberty Division championships, winning the discus by 30 feet, winning the javelin by 22 feet and placing second in the high jump. At the Bergen County Division C championships, she won the javelin with a throw of 131 feet, 11 inches and came in third in the discus.

“When I hit 131 for the first time, that’s when I knew I was getting pretty good,” Alonso said. “I had medals hanging all over the house and I had no idea what they were for.”

Alonso continued to finish second overall in Bergen County Meet of Champions in the javelin, throwing 133-4.

At the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state sectionals, Alonso won the discus gold medal and finished second in the javelin. A week later, at the overall Group I championships, Alonso was second in the javelin and fourth in the discus – qualifying for the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in two events. She finished by placing 19th in the javelin and 27th in the discus in the entire state. In the end, Alonso set two school records in the javelin and the single game scoring mark in basketball.

“She was just a tenacious kid,” Hykey said. “To compete in two events at the Meet of Champions is quite an accomplishment. It really couldn’t happen to a better kid. She was definitely the hardest worker we had. She was there, in the weight room, when everyone else had gone home, lifting and working. I’d say ‘C’mon Camila, finish up, we want to go home.’ And she was still there.”

“I owe it all to my coaches,” Alonso said. “They molded me into the perfect athlete. They showed me how to carry it onto the field and into life.”

And now, Alonso has offers to compete in track and field in college. She’s weighing offers from both East Carolina and the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She was getting interest from Division III schools for basketball, but now she’s headed to Division I in track and field.

“I wasn’t even thinking of Division I schools,” Alonso said. “I never thought of going to college because of track. I always thought it was basketball or nothing. It’s crazy how this all happened.”

Alonso said that it was an honor to receive The Observer Female Athlete of the Year award.

“Now people know who I am and know my name,” Alonso said. “I had someone come up to me at a dinner and say, `Camila, you made Lyndhurst very proud.’ He didn’t know me, but he said that nice thing. It’s nice to know that I’ll be remembered. I want to now do big things in college. I can do it if I have the right mentality.”

Alonso plans on majoring in criminal justice, once she decides what school she will attend.

Kearny’s Adamek set to return to ring

 

 

Photo by Jim Hague Kearny resident and top heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek takes a shot at a cardboard cutout of himself at last week’s press conference promoting his upcoming fight Aug. 3 against Tony Grano at the Mohegan Sun.

Photo by Jim Hague
Kearny resident and top heavyweight contender Tomasz Adamek takes a shot at a cardboard cutout of himself at last week’s press conference promoting his upcoming fight Aug. 3 against Tony Grano at the Mohegan Sun.

GARFIELD –

It’s been seven months since Tomasz Adamek last climbed into the ring.

Since defeating Steve Cunningham in a highly disputed split decision last Dec. 22, the Kearny resident and heavyweight boxing contender has had to endure a driving while intoxicated arrest in Lake Placid, N.Y., in January.

After the arrest, which Adamek deemed as “nothing,” the 36-year-old native of Poland, who has lived in Kearny for the last three years, said that he needed some time away from fighting. There was somewhat of a rift between Main Events president Kathy Duva and the Adamek team, but Adamek’s absence was mainly caused by his need of rest.

“Last year, I did too much and I regressed,” Adamek said at a press conference last week, promoting his next fight Aug. 3 at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn., against up-and-coming fighter Joey Grano. “I needed some time for rest. I’m not 20 anymore. I’m older. I was tired. Now I feel good. I feel like a young boy again. I’m ready to come back.”

The Adamek-Grano fight will be televised live on NBC’s Sports Network as part of its popular Friday Night Fights package. Adamek has been featured on the network four times already. The two fighters are anticipated to take the ring around 10:30 p.m. that night.

Adamek said that his arrest had nothing to do with his time away from the ring.

“It was a long time ago,” Adamek said. “Everything is settled. I’m not worried about it. I’ve forgotten about it already. I’m thinking more about training for this fight.”

Adamek, now 48-2 lifetime, is working his way back toward getting another world championship title fight, ever since he lost to Vitali Klitschko in Sept. 2011 via a 12th round technical knockout. He has won four straight bouts since that loss, including the win over Cunningham, which many experts felt he lost.

With that win, Adamek earned the right to fight top challenger and undefeated Kubrat Pulev, but Adamek has declined the chance to battle the undefeated Bulgarian.

Adamek, ranked as the No. 4 heavyweight in the world, and his promoter, Ziggy Rozalski, also of Kearny, of Ziggy Promotions, tried to secure a bout outside of the Main Events banner, but those attempts fell awry.

“We have had a long and beautiful relationship with Ziggy, Roger (Bloodworth, Adamek’s trainer) and Tomasz,” Duva said. “There was a period there where we were estranged. His contract ran out and he wanted to test the waters. But he made the decision to come back to us. We want to be able to work together throughout his career.”

“We had a couple offers, but Kathy gave us the best deal,” Adamek said. “We want to stay with Kathy.”

It’s the 12th card that Main Events is doing with the NBC Sports Network, but it will mark the first time Adamek has had to move to the opponent’s home turf.

The 32-year-old Grano (20-3-1), who lost his last fight to Eric Molina April 27, is a Hartford, Conn., native. He has fought seven times at Mohegan Sun, posting a 6-1 record in those fights. He was training in Florida and unable to attend the press conference.

Adamek isn’t worried that he’s facing Grano in his familiar surroundings.

“It’s going to be an interesting fight,” Adamek said. “I’ve had fights in Germany, England, California, where I wasn’t the favorite of the crowd. I think the Polish crowd will be bigger than Grano’s crowd. I’m a warrior with a big heart. I’m a top heavyweight. Everyone wants to fight me.”

Bloodworth knows that there’s work to be done with his boxer.

“Tomasz has been off for a while,” Bloodworth said. “But he hasn’t been idle. We’ve been working on his technique. We know that Tony Grano comes to fight. We’ve had a pretty good camp so far.”

“Roger is the one who looks at the opponent,” Adamek said. “We’ve been training for about eight-to-10 weeks now about what the opponent does. I’m 36 now and have been fighting a long time. But I’m still learning and I’m never satisfied. Roger is my teacher and he’s never stopped teaching me. I have to be ready for anything. I want to be quick. That’s why I’m training so hard.”

Duva said that she tried to get the Prudential Center, Adamek’s boxing home, to host the event, but Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus is occupying “The Rock” on Aug. 3.

“We couldn’t line up anything in advance at the Prudential Center,” Diva said. “Tomasz has an established, well-known name who brings fans to his fights. We would have loved to have the Prudential Center, but with NBC’s calendar, it just didn’t work.”

Adamek is confident that he could get another shot at the heavyweight championship.

“I’m looking for a title fight next year,” Adamek said. “But I can’t look ahead. I have to win Aug. 3. I needed the rest and I’ve come back now.”

Adamek doesn’t want to consider what happens if he loses.

“If God lets me win this next fight, I’ll go on,” Adamek said. “If not, then I stop. This is my destiny. I’ll get a signal when my time is over. I feel comfortable right now and feel good. If I have a feeling I can’t do it anymore, then it’s my time to quit. But not now.”

Also on the Aug. 3 card will be Eddie Chambers, a boxer who lost to Adamek last year, but is now trying the cruiserweight division. Chambers will fight Thabiso Mchunu on the undercard. Middleweight Curtis Stevens will also fight Saul Roman in another of the seven bouts that evening.

But all eyes will be on the Kearny resident, making somewhat of a comeback.

“I’m strong mentally now,” Adamek said. “It’s good that I came back.”

Adamek believes he’s ready for another challenge in the ring.

“I feel fresh and ready to come back,” Adamek said. “It’s time for me to come back.”

VFW Post 1302 wins Kearny Little League championship

Photo courtesy of Sui Wa Lau Kearny VFW Post 1302 is the 2013 Kearny Little League Champions. Front row, from l. are Brandan Lau, Antonio Mastropole, Adam Michaels, Andrew Mauricio, Matthew Sammarone and Michael Carey. Second row, from l. are Rodriguez Hendriques, Gabe Mustafa, Jack Michaels and Enrique Dajer. Back row, from l. are Coaches Sui Wa Lau and Donna Mahler and Manager Andy Michaels. Not pictured are Liam Flanagan and Aaron Mantilla.

Photo courtesy of Sui Wa Lau
Kearny VFW Post 1302 is the 2013 Kearny Little League Champions. Front row, from l. are Brandan Lau, Antonio Mastropole, Adam Michaels, Andrew Mauricio, Matthew Sammarone and Michael Carey. Second row, from l. are Rodriguez Hendriques, Gabe Mustafa, Jack Michaels and Enrique Dajer. Back row, from l. are Coaches Sui Wa Lau and Donna Mahler and Manager Andy Michaels. Not pictured are Liam Flanagan and Aaron Mantilla.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When the 2013 Little League season began, veteran Kearny VFW Post 1302 manager Andy Michaels believed he had the makings of a contender.

“I knew we had a good team, but how far we could go depended on the effort the kids put forth,” Michaels said.

It wasn’t going to be an easy road, considering that Rick’s Auto Body was the threetime defending Kearny Little League champion.

“We taught our kids all year long that they could never take anything for granted,” Michaels said. “We were prepared for anything.”

VFW Post 1302 had to endure its share of adversity when the Kearny Little League playoffs began a few weeks ago.

They first had to face another perennial Kearny Little League power in Arlington Pizza in a one-game playoff, but won that game, 8-1, to advance to the divisional championship round.

VFW Post 1302 then faced Lee’s Florist in a best-of-three series, but won both of the games by 4-0 and 7-2 scores to advance to the championship series, the World Series of Kearny Little League.

There was a daunting task in the title round, as VFW Post 1302 had to take on the recent powerhouse, Rick’s Auto Body, in the best-of-three title series.

There’s an old saying that if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. That’s what VFW Post 1302 had in mind heading into the title round.

“We were ready to put everything on the table,” Michaels said.

In the first game, Rick’s Auto Body won, 6-4. The defending champs were just one win away from making it a “four-peat.”

“The kids were really upbeat and didn’t seem nervous,” Michaels said about his team after falling behind, 1-0, in the series. “They always come out prepared to play and they rely on each other very well. One kid might not get it done, but another steps in and does the job. It’s great to watch.”

VFW Post 1302 bounced back and won Game 2 by a final score of 8-3. It set up a winner-take-all Game 3 between the two titans.

The last game was no contest.

Led by catcher Jack Michaels, the manager’s son, who had five hits and scored five times, VFW Post won, 16-6, to capture the Kearny Little League championship, winning its first league crown since 2008. VFW Post 1302 also won the title in 2005.

In the title game, Rodriguez Henriques hit a three-run homer and drove in four runs. Gabe Mustafa, the team’s first baseman, had two hits and three RBI.

“These kids can hit the ball,” Michaels said. “I’m really not surprised at all the way they hit.”

Henriques, Mustafa and Brandon Lau were the team’s pitchers.

“Pitching played a huge part in it,” Michaels said. “We have to watch the pitch count that the league uses (pitchers can only throw 85 pitches), so it’s so important to have pitching depth. It’s also important for the pitchers to throw strikes. It’s absolutely paramount.”

Jack Michaels, the manager’s son, was a fixture behind the plate and he’s only 11 years old, so he gets to return next season.

“He’s taking after his older brother,” Michaels said. Ryan Michaels was a fine catcher and wrestler at Kearny High School, graduating just two weeks ago.

Mustafa and Henriques shared duties at first base. Henriques also played shortstop, so his versatility was a key.

Liam Flanagan was the team’s second baseman, but he played a big role in Game 2 of the championship series.

“He rarely pitched, but he had to come in that game and managed to get out of jams in two innings, striking out four,” Michaels said. “He did a great job.”

Henriques and Lau shared shortstop duties, while 11-yearold Andrew Mauricio was the third baseman.

In left field, the team had Antonio Mastrpole, who is a 10-year-old, and Michael Carey, who is just nine years old.

Matthew Sammarone, another 10-year-old, was in centerfield and right field was shared by a pair of 9-year-olds in Enrique Dajer and Adam Michaels, another of the manager’s sons.

It was a special thrill for Michaels to be able to coach his two sons while winning a championship.

“It means the world to me,” Michaels said. “They all worked so hard toward this one goal. This is something that they’ll never forget for the rest of their lives. To come back this year and defeat the three-time defending champs is a great job. The effort they gave was tremendous. They deserve it.”

Michaels gave credit to his coaches Sui Wah Lau and Donna Wahler.

“They were tremendous in getting these kids prepared,” Michaels said.

The manager also wanted to thank the parents, who allowed their children to go to practices and games at all different times.

“They came out and supported us and that means a lot,” Michaels said.

VFW Post 1302 loses five players to graduation, but the rest return.

“We’re always in the hunt, always around with our kids,” Michaels said. “We’re doing our best. It’s more than just baseball. It’s about life as well and they’re doing their best.”

Kearny enjoying summer baseball success in new league

Play for East squad in 20th Robeson All-Star Classic

 

Photo by Jim Hague Sophomore-to-be Richard Joa unleashes a fastball during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game against Rutherford last Saturday morning at Franklin School Field.

Photo by Jim Hague
Sophomore-to-be Richard Joa unleashes a fastball during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game against Rutherford last Saturday morning at Franklin School Field.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Kearny has a summer boys’ baseball team that is playing in a new league, the Bergen County Baseball League, a 10- team organization that is not part of the American Legion program.

Kearny had to make a move after the Bergen County American Legion league folded after last season.

“Last year, we only had five teams in that league, so I kept it in the back of my head of possibly moving to a new league,” said Frank Bifulco, who is also the Kearny High School head baseball coach. “This new league has 10 teams and guarantees us 18 games with one guaranteed playoff game. It’s a good league. The play is a little condensed, but that gives our kids a chance to play elsewhere later in the summer. I think it’s good for our kids to play with others and see how they match up.”

However, for the time being, they’re playing at home, at Franklin School Field, with their friends and classmates from Kearny High.

“We’re happy to be in the new league,” Bifulco said. “It’s giving us a chance to compete.”

It’s also giving the team a chance to win, because Kearny currently owns a 9-4 record, good for a tie for first place, with five regular season games left to play.

Kearny has basically an extremely young roster, with nine members of the team just recently completing their freshman year at the school. Six will be juniors in the fall and only three will be seniors.

“It’s a very young team, but that’s good, because they’re getting a chance to compete against older kids,” Bifulco said. “They’re all willing to work. We bring them in for practice two hours before a scheduled game and the kids are great. They’re making it happen.”

The young team is doing well, so the signs look promising for the future.

“It’s real encouraging,” Bifulco said. “We have three objectives in the summer. We want to build a winning attitude, we want to get every kid playing baseball and staying involved and we want to give them as much baseball as possible under our supervision to keep them playing and bring that success back to the high school varsity level. We’re on the right track. We’re enjoying winning in the middle of the summer.”

Last weekend, the Kearny team played a doubleheader, losing a tough 2-0 decision to Rutherford, then collecting a 2-1 win over Little Ferry to improve to 9-4.

“We took a step back recently, then came back to win four games in a row,” Bifulco said. “It’s all evening out.”

Leading the way for the Kearny squad is catcher T.J. Witt, who will be a senior in the fall.

“He is now a leader on this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s doing a great job with his leadership and catching.”

Witt has also been hitting the ball solidly all summer.

“He’s doing all aspects of the game for us,” Bifulco said.

Witt is backed up at catcher by two promising players, Cody Evancheck and Aaron Gonzalez.

“They’ve both been pleasant surprises and they’re both playing well,” Bifulco said. “We get them all chances to play.”

The pitching staff is headed by senior-to-be Bryan Rowe, who had an excellent varsity season in the spring for the Kardinals. Rowe has a 2-1 pitching record this summer.

“He’s also one of our leaders and has been taking on that role,” Bifulco said.

Left-hander Richard Joa, who pitched Saturday’s game against Rutherford, has displayed a ton of talent in his starts. Joa will be a sophomore at Kearny in the fall.

“He has a lot of potential and is growing into his role,” Bifulco said. “He’s turning into a dependable guy for us.”

Josue Rodriguez is the team’s No. 1 pitcher, posting a 3-0 record thus far. When he’s not pitching, Rodriguez plays third base, like he did for the Kardinals in the spring.

“He’s starting to take control of this team,” Bifulco said. “He’s hitting very well right now.”

Bifulco has a plethora of solid pitchers to use on this team, with Kyle Girdwood, Steven Dyl, Connor Mc- Clelland, Michael Hyde and Benny Cowan all taking the ball. Joseph Baez has been the closer, collecting three saves.

“They’re all young guys and we’re trying to build something by getting them all innings,” Bifulco said.

Photo by Jim Hague Catcher T.J. Witt unleashes a single during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game Saturday against Rutherford.

Photo by Jim Hague
Catcher T.J. Witt unleashes a single during the Kearny summer baseball team’s game Saturday against Rutherford.

 

Dyl and Girdwood have been sharing first base duties with Joseph Esteves.

Rowe is the second baseman, although Adam French plays second when Rowe is on the mound.

Baez is the shortstop. He started there in the spring for the Kearny varsity as a freshman. Rodriguez is a fixture at third, although McClelland and Jonathan Illa get time at the hot corner when Rodriguez is pitching.

The left field duties are shared by Hyde and Joa.

Bifulco is very high on centerfielder John O’Neill.

“He’s taken the spot and run with it,” Bifulco said of O’Neill. “He’s taken charge out there. He’s an aggressive player who can run. He has a very bright future.”

David Nash sees time in right field, along with Cowan and Rayjay Fernandez.

All things considered, Bifulco has to be pleased with his summer action, considering the Kardinals struggled during the regular high school varsity campaign.

“I’m very happy,” Bifulco said. “Things are going very well. All of the coaches are working at it. It’s been a collective effort and I’m happy with the results. It’s all part of what we need to do.”

Another part is Bifulco’s annual Kards Baseball Camp, which will have two sessions, July 8-12 and July 15-19, at Franklin Field. The camp is open for both boys and girls, ages 7 through 14. For more information about the camp, call (201) 477-8061.

Schoener leaves Kearny for Saddle River Day

Photo by Jim Hague Last December, Bill Schoener (back row, center) seemed poised and ready to begin a long term assignment as the Kearny boys’ basketball coach. Schoener recently suddenly resigned after one season, leaving Kearny to search once again for a new head coach.

Photo by Jim Hague
Last December, Bill Schoener (back row, center) seemed poised and ready to begin a long term assignment as the Kearny boys’ basketball coach. Schoener recently suddenly resigned after one season, leaving Kearny to search once again for a new head coach.

 

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When a college basketball coach leaves one school and goes to the next, there’s always this one predominant complaint: What about the kids?

It’s safe to say the same thing has to happen on the high school level as well.

Recently, Bill Schoener handed in his resignation letter to the powers-that-be in the Kearny Board of Education, stepping down as the head boys’ basketball coach after just one season.

The reason? Schoener has taken a position as the new head coach at a Bergen County private school called Saddle River Day, a school that has gone a long way to trying to become a better athletic institution than it was when it was known as Saddle River Country Day, sounding more like a summer camp than a high school.

Schoener gave no indication to Kearny athletic director John Millar that he was pursuing other coaching opportunities. “

Absolutely not,” Millar said. “I had no indication whatsoever. It wasn’t like Saddle River Day called me and said that they were pursuing my basketball coach. It caught me totally offguard.”

And it’s left Millar with the difficult task of trying to find a suitable replacement in the middle of the summer, when most programs are in the midst of summer camps, summer leagues and summer training.

“It’s not easy,” Millar said. “The timing was not good at all. Even if we knew a little earlier, the timing still wouldn’t have been good.”

Schoener said that he wasn’t actively pursuing other opportunities, although it was learned that he did in fact interview for the opening at Harrison.

“I definitely wasn’t actively looking,” Schoener said. “I liked it in Kearny. I thought we were going in the right direction.”

But Schoener said that Saddle River Day called him in for an interview.

“I was one of 40 who were being interviewed,” Schoener said. “When I got there, I fell in love with the place.”

One of the reasons why Schoener took the job was that the school offered him lower tuition for his daughter, Alyssa, who recently graduated grammar school.

“That was the clincher for me,” Schoener said. “She’s already been accepted there. It’s like no place I’ve ever seen. My other daughter is in the sixth grade and hopefully she’ll go there as well. The school has great kids, great facilities.”

Incredibly, that’s what Schoener said in August of 2012, when he decided to take the Kearny job.

“It’s a school close to where I live (Rutherford),” Schoener said last August. “It’s a larger school that has had success in other sports. They play in a better league, a very good basketball league (the HCIAL). The facilities are great. It’s everything you can want. Plus, there are a lot of pieces in place.”

Schoener came to Kearny after two years at Queen of Peace and four years at Becton Regional.

“But I felt it was time to get a new challenge,” Schoener said last August. “Kearny is a bigger program. We have 35 kids in the program. I like the numbers game. I like having more kids to work with.”

Schoener said that he took the job at Saddle River Day last Monday. A day later, he went to meet with Millar.

“I sat down and he knew right away something was up,” Schoener said. “I was so uncomfortable about talking about the situation, but I knew I had to do it. I felt terrible about it. John was great to me. If I needed gym time, he never said no. Sometimes you have to make tough decisions and this was one.”

Schoener has still yet to meet with his former players.

“I still haven’t been able to do that,” Schoener said. “It’s not going to be easy. I like those kids. I really do. I wasn’t unhappy at Kearny.”

Schoener was asked if he felt he was letting the current Kearny players down by leaving after one year. Schoener guided the Kardinals to a 5-22 record last season.

“I guess that’s the way you can look at it, that I was there for only a year and then leave,” Schoener said. “But this wasn’t a basketball decision. This was a family decision. At the end of the day, family came first.”

Schoener’s assistant, Jimmy Mahre, has been doing the brunt of the summer work with the Kardinals, coaching them in the Bloomfield summer league and taking them to the Garfield team camp.

“I hope Jimmy gets the job,” Schoener said. “He’s a great candidate. He’ll do everything I did. He was a great assistant. He’ll carry on and then some. I thought we were turning things around and in a place to get things going. There was an upside.”

“We’ve already started with Jimmy two nights a week,” Millar said. “Some things are already in place. It’s not like the kids are out there on their own.”

But who’s to say that Mahre, if he gets the job, won’t leave after a year?

“There are never any guarantees,” Millar said. “It’s just the way it is. We have to move forward to find someone who is a good fit for us, someone who will give us some years. That’s what we’re looking for.”

That’s what Millar thought he had a year ago when he hired Schoener. He was wrong.

“I thought the kids responded well to Bill,” Millar said. “I thought they enjoyed playing for him. I think that was evident both in practices and in games. I think they were looking forward to a new season with some new varsity players. We thought we were approaching an improved season.”

Millar said that he has already begun the process to hire a new basketball coach. This comes on the heels of having to hire a new football coach, which the school did with Nick Edwards.

“I think we’ll have our fair share of interested people,” Millar said. “I think we’ll be okay. Hopefully, by the July Board meeting (July 22), we can make an appointment. At least, we’re going to try.”

Here’s the last quote that comes from Schoener’s interview here last August.

“I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t think we can win games,” Schoener said. “I went to Becton and people said I couldn’t win there. I loved my team in Becton and I am sure I’ll love this team as well. It was time to move on. I’m excited about this challenge. I’m going to like playing the Hudson County schools. It’s great to have a bigger program. Let’s see what happens.”

What happened is that Schoener left before he could experience any changes – and left Millar in the lurch, scrambling once again to find a new boys’ basketball coach after less than a full year.

Nutley resident Halchak enjoys great athletic, academic career

Photo by Jim Hague Nutley resident and St. Peter’s Prep three-sport athlete Matt Halchak was selected to deliver the commencement address for the Prep Class of 2013 last weekend.

Photo by Jim Hague
Nutley resident and St. Peter’s Prep three-sport athlete Matt Halchak was selected to deliver the commencement address for the Prep Class of 2013 last weekend.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Matt Halchak certainly knows his limitations as an athlete.

“I’m not the biggest, the fastest, the strongest or the most talented kid,” said Halchak, a Nutley resident and a recent St. Peter’s Prep graduate. “I knew I had to make up for it in other ways. I was going to do pretty much everything I could to succeed. I guess I just liked being successful and I put everything I have into everything I do.”

Halchak was not only a standout three-sport varsity athlete for the Marauders, starting as a defender in soccer, playing a key role in basketball and serving as one of the team’s captains as a steady centerfielder in baseball. He was able to participate in three Hudson County championship games this season – the lone athlete in the county to lay claim to such a distinction.

But Halchak was also one of the top students in his senior class.

St. Peter’s Prep doesn’t rank its students, but Halchak was selected from a group of 20 of the school’s top seniors to deliver the commencement address last Saturday at the graduation for the Class of 2013.

Halchak’s straight A grades for four years, his 4.29 grade point average and Scholastic Aptitude Test scores of 2050 will send him to Georgetown University in the fall.

“My schedule was pretty demanding,” Halchak said. “I knew balancing everything was tough, but I knew one thing. Academics always came first. I take pride in being a true student-athlete. I was kind of realistic with myself and knew I wasn’t the greatest athlete, so I focused on trying to get the most out of high school sports. It just meant I had to work a little harder.”

Halchak’s three coaches certainly appreciate what he meant to the Prep.

“For me, the biggest thing about Matt was that I knew he was going to be successful in anything he does,” Prep head soccer coach Josh Jantas said. “He was a vital cog to our program’s success. Coming into his senior year, he had a chance to do well for us, but he exceeded all expectations we had.”

Halchak helped lead the Marauders to the championship game in the Hudson County Tournament.

“He’s the ideal studentathlete,” Jantas said. “He gave 100% in the classroom and 100% on the field. He’s the ideal that every kid should want to be.”

Todd Decker, the head coach of the Prep basketball team, tried to fathom Halchak’s importance.

“There really are no words for it, what Matt brought to the school, brought to our program,” Decker said. “He’s one of the most incredible young men to ever come through Prep. I don’t know of anyone who has done what he’s done. He maintained such a high character in athletics and academics. He was also the type of teammate that you want to have.”

Decker called Halchak “our unsung hero.”

“He didn’t play much to start and a lot of other kids might have folded up shop and quit,” Decker said. “But Matt kept on fighting and working. He made a believer out of everyone, including me. He really brought a lot to everyone at Prep. You look at him and everything he’s accomplished, someone of his size and stature and he was able to play at such a high level. It’s toughness. You look at him and he’s the definition of tough. He never once backed down.”

Decker marveled at the way Halchak was able to juggle the demands of being a three-sport athlete. In today’s day and age, coaches want their athletes to concentrate on just one sport and play that sport all year round.

“I don’t know how he did it,” Decker said. “To have that kind of commitment through the summer, when coaches are trying to do everything, is remarkable. Every time he would come to us to lift, he was coming straight from soccer and then go off to baseball. It’s amazing. It shows the type of kid he is. I know how hard it is to juggle three sports.”

Decker said that Halchak is definitely a role model.

“We’re already using him as an example,” Decker said. “About what it’s like to create a role and make the most of that role for himself. That’s exactly what Matt did.”

Baseball is definitely Halchak’s best sport.

“I never would have picked one sport over another before this year, but it’s definitely baseball,” Halchak said. “I never thought I’d play a college sport, but I may try to walk on to my team in college now. I didn’t do anything differently. I just had a good year.”

Halchak batted .412 in leading the Marauders to a 26-4 record, the most wins in a single season in school history. While Halchak’s teams might have lost in the county finals in soccer to Kearny and basketball to Hudson Catholic, the Marauders won the county crown in baseball.

“Matt Halchak is aces in my eyes,” Prep head baseball coach Pat Laguerre said. “He’s a coach’s dream. He has one speed – fast. Everything he does is fast. Some others may learn to slow down, but not Matt. I have nothing but great things to say about him. That’s why he was one of our captains. He’s a born leader. He’s as competitive as they come and he just doesn’t stop.”

Laguerre continued to sing his captain’s praises.

“What you have here is something pretty special and doesn’t come along every day,” Laguerre said. “It’s really refreshing to see a kid who is a throwback and doesn’t shy away from competition. He wants to be the best. I literally go after the younger kids and tell them to watch Matt. He should be rubbing off on them, because he does it all the right way.”

Halchak is headed to Georgetown to perhaps have a double major in government and economics. Law school is a goal down the road.

“I had a very blessed senior year,” Halchak said. “I got to play in three county championship games. I played in six over two years. You just can’t believe things like that can happen. It’s pretty cool. I played all three sports all year and I was once at the bottom of the totem pole. It was tough, but it all paid off. It was one hell of a ride.”

Several local grid standouts get one last chance

Play for East squad in 20th Robeson All-Star Classic

Photo by Jim Hague The East squad in the 20th annual Robeson High School Football All-Star Classic was well represented by local talent. Back row from l. are Joe Rivera of Bloomfield, Jaquan Boyd of Bloomfield, Chris Merkle of Nutley, assistant coach Zac Dearwater of Bloomfield, Adam Wooten of Bloomfield, Anthony Mastrimi of Bloomfield, Aaquil Ingram of Belleville and coach Mike Carter of Bloomfield. Front row, from l., are Brian Hicks of Bloomfield, Sal Gabriele of Nutley, Isaiah Dockett of Bloomfield and David Hicks of Bloomfield.

Photo by Jim Hague
The East squad in the 20th annual Robeson High School Football All-Star Classic was well represented by local talent. Back row from l. are Joe Rivera of Bloomfield, Jaquan Boyd of Bloomfield, Chris Merkle of Nutley, assistant coach Zac Dearwater of Bloomfield, Adam Wooten of Bloomfield, Anthony Mastrimi of Bloomfield, Aaquil Ingram of Belleville and coach Mike Carter of Bloomfield. Front row, from l., are Brian Hicks of Bloomfield, Sal Gabriele of Nutley, Isaiah Dockett of Bloomfield and David Hicks of Bloomfield.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

EAST ORANGE –

Before he heads off to Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., Nutley’s Chris Merkle is fortunate enough to get the chance to represent his town and school a few more times as a football player.

When the Nutley regular season ended last November, Merkle, a standout two-way lineman for the Maroon Raiders, was certain that was it.

“I thought my high school career was over,” Merkle said. “I thought I had a pretty good senior season, but that was it. I wasn’t expecting to get picked for anything else, so I was getting ready to go play in college.”

However, Merkle, who will be an offensive tackle in college, was wrong. He was selected to play in two high school All-Star games.

First was the Robeson All- Star High School Football Classic, which was played last Tuesday night, fittingly at Robeson Stadium in East Orange.

The game is named for the legendary Paul Robeson, the New Jersey native who was once named as the greatest defensive football player to ever play high school football in New Jersey.

Merkle was one of 10 local graduating high school seniors selected to play in the game for the East All-Stars.

“It was a great feeling to be out there,” Merkle said. “I hadn’t played in a while, so it was great to get back into the swing of things.”

This weekend, Merkle will head to Kean University to participate in the New Jersey Football Coaches Association’s North-South All-Star Classic. He will get four days of preparation at Kean before the game Monday night at 7 p.m.

Merkle is one of only two New Jersey players selected to play in both games, joining Kamau Dumas of Morristown, who is headed to Monmouth University to play.

“I’m very excited to get the opportunity to play in both games,” Merkle said. “I’m so happy and thankful to get the chance to play. It is kind of tough doing this for two weeks. All the practices take a little toll on the body. But I had a great experience playing in the Robeson game. I got to meet new players as teammates.”

Merkle said that he has been working on keeping in shape, hoping to play right away when he gets to Union College.

“I’ve been getting ready since the end of the football season,” Merkle said. “I played basketball this year and that really helped my foot work. I always loved playing basketball and I’m glad IO was on the team this year.”

Merkle said that participating in both All-Star games will be helpful.

“The priority was getting used to playing at college speed,” Merkle said. “Hopefully I’ll have a nice transition into college and play early.”

There was only one downside for the locals. The East squad lost the game, 13-12, on a late touchdown.

Belleville’s Aaquil Ingram, who was a last minute addition to the East squad, worked his way into becoming one of the most versatile members of the team.

In fact, Bloomfield head coach Mike Carter, one of the assistants for the East team, praised Ingram for his versatility as a receiver and as a blocker.

“I’m glad they gave me the chance,” said Ingram, who is headed to American International College in Springfield, Mass. to play football in the fall. “It’s better to play in the game than not at all. I honestly didn’t think I could be on the field, but my parents said that if I play up to my potential, I can play with anyone.”

Ingram was proud to be the lone Belleville player on the East squad.

“It was an honor to represent Belleville,” Ingram said. “It’s a small town and we don’t get much recognition. It was great to play for Belleville one last time. I hope we proved that Belleville football is on the rise.”

Ingram will also get to play high school football one more time. On June 29, Ingram and Belleville teammate Shaq Richards will play in the National Underclassman Combine Senior All-Star Game at Palisades Park High School, playing for a New Jersey All-Star team that will face New York.

Joe Rivera was one of seven Bloomfield players selected to participate. It was a great 2012 season for the Bengals, capped with a solid appearance in the NJSIAA Group IV playoffs, winning two games.

“It was a good opportunity for me,” said Rivera, who will play football at Monroe College in New Rochelle, N.Y. in the fall. “Not many get the opportunity to play. It was a great experience. There was nothing bad about it. It was a wonderful feeling to get to play with my Bloomfield teammates one last time. There’s no better way to go out than with the guys I grew up with, playing on the big stage.”

Rivera liked the camaraderie that the East players had, including with the Nutley and Belleville players, guys who were once fierce rivals.

“It was great to play with them,” Rivera said. “The other guys were really cool and it was great to be on the same team. We put aside our differences and became friends. We just couldn’t come away with a win.”

Other Bloomfield players on the East squad included Jaquan Boyd, Isaiah Dockett, Anthony Mastrimi, David and Brian Hicks and Adam Wooten. Zac Dearwater, an assistant at Bloomfield, was one of the assistant coaches for the East, so Bloomfield was more than well represented. It was the largest contingency from one school at the Robeson Classic in recent memory.

Sal Gabriele of Nutley was also selected to play in the game.

“I was really surprised that I was picked, but it was a great feeling to be out there,” Gabriele said. “I was truly honored and lucky to be in the game. I actually dreamed of playing one last game and it happened, playing in front of family and friends.”

Gabriele’s football career ended with the game. He’s headed to Richard Stockton College to play lacrosse.

“It was a happy feeling,” Gabriele said. “I just wish we’d won.”

Gabriele was also happy he shared the game with Merkle.

“We have been great friends for a long time,” Gabriele said. “It was great to play one last game with him.”

Merkle now moves on to his next All-Star challenge. The North squad will go through three practice sessions on Friday and Saturday at Kean.

“I’ve never done three-a-day,” Merkle said. “There’s a first for everything. It’s just all going to keep me in great shape.”