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Category: Sports

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.

NA’s Keefe wins NJSIAA state sectional bowling crown

Photo courtesy the Keefe family North Arlington junior bowler Tyler Keefe.

Photo courtesy the Keefe family
North Arlington junior bowler Tyler Keefe.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s safe to say that Tyler Keefe was born to be a successful bowler.

After all, his father, the late James Warger, was a member of the Pro Bowlers Tour before he died in 2006.

And Keefe’s grandparents have a storied history in the sport. In fact, Keefe’s grandmother, Linda Rose Keefe, is a member of the Bowling Hall of Fame. Keefe’s grandfather, David, is also a long-time successful bowler.

“They taught me everything I know,” said Tyler Keefe, a junior at North Arlington High School. “What can I say? Bowling was pretty much in my blood. My grandmother was the first woman in New Jersey to throw a 300 and get an 800 series. I was very blessed to have them in my family.”

Keefe started bowling at a very early age, but he was never one to take the ball twohanded and push it down the lanes.

“I was always one-handed, even with the plastic ball,” Keefe said. “And my grandfather made sure that there were absolutely no bumpers. I was always bowling on a regular basis. When I was 12 or 13, I realized I was getting pretty good and could be a bowler for a very long time.”

Keefe first enrolled as a freshman at Howell High School, where he participated in varsity bowling and put up an average of 190.

But then the family moved to North Arlington, where his grandparents already resided.

“I would always come up here during the summer and practiced bowling with my grandparents,” Keefe said.

He also made friends at the bowling lanes, especially Jordan Lopez, one of the top bowlers at nearby Lyndhurst and the defending Bergen County champion.

“We’re all very friendly and everyone cheers for each other,” Keefe said. “Jordan and I are good friends.”

Keefe had to sit out half of last season after transferring to North Arlington, bowling in only 10 games late in the season.

“I felt like I couldn’t do anything to help my team,” Keefe said. “It was very disappointing.”

So Keefe was determined to have a solid junior campaign. He worked on his game to improve.

“No one is perfect,” Keefe said. “You’re always working to get better. I practiced and practiced until I found a technique that was good for me. I had to work on my release. I have a very high backswing, so I lowered it a little. I was very aggressive with my backswing, so I smoothed it out a little.”

Keefe was certain that this was going to be his year.

“I told Jordan that I was going to have a good high school year,” Keefe said. “I worked hard to get what I could.” A few weeks ago, Keefe thought he had enough to win the Bergen County championship at Bowler City in Hackensack.

“I felt confident going in, but I left a big split in the last game,” Keefe said. “It was a big letdown. I was really upset.”

Keefe lost the county title by just five pins. A spare in that frame would have been enough to carry Keefe to the crown.

“I was so upset that I lost,” Keefe said. “It was just five pins. I wanted to come back and show everyone that I was the best bowler in the county.”

“Coming into the season, I knew that Tyler was one of the better bowlers in the county,” North Arlington coach Dan Farinola said. “I think he took something away from being second in the county tournament. He’s been a consistent bowler.”

A week after the county tournament, Keefe returned to Bowler City for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1A, Group I tournament. He rolled a 776 series with a high game of 279 to capture the gold medal at the state sectional.

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

Farinola believes that Keefe has the perfect demeanor for a champion.

“He’s a great sportsman,” Farinola said. “He’s a happy kid who cheers for everyone. He gets along with everyone. I think that helps him relax as a bowler.”

Keefe is also a baseball player at North Arlington. He was a shortstop on the junior varsity last year and hopes to be a varsity player when the season begins in April.

Keefe maintained a 212 average this season. He keeps a similar average in the New Jersey Junior Bowling Tour, which he is a member and competes all year round.

He still is enjoying his state sectional crown.

“It’s a great feeling,” Keefe said. “There’s been no better feeling. To finish second in the county and then come back to win the sectional makes it all feel better.” Keefe said that he wasn’t competing against his friends. “It’s just me against the pins,” Keefe said. “That’s how I look at it. I love Bowler City. I always seem to find a line that fits me there. I can’t answer why. I guess I have a positive mindset.”

Keefe just recently finished seventh overall in the state last Wednesday.

He admits to having bowled a 299 game last year, but knows that a perfect game will eventually happen. After all, Keefe just turned 17 on Feb. 15.

“I’m actually very confident for next year,” Keefe said. “My confidence is very high right now. I’m very proud of myself.”

Kearny’s Sroczynski signs with University of Tampa

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family Kearny High School senior Aislinn Sroczynski is all smiles after signing her national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a track scholarship.

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family
Kearny High School senior Aislinn Sroczynski is all smiles after signing her national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a track scholarship.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

It’s a success story with an extremely happy ending, one that finishes with a college scholarship.

Aislinn Sroczynski is a Kearny High School senior, someone who began running cross country on a whim two years ago after being a soccer player.

As it turns out, Sroczynski becomes a good runner, much like her father, Steve, her mother Heather and her uncle Frank were at Kearny during their scholastic heyday.

“I had just quit playing soccer and started to run and Coach (Jim) Cifelli told me that my times were pretty good,” Sroczynski said. “And he told me that I could run in college.”

So Srocyznski, who finished 10th at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV cross country championships last fall and earned First Team All-Hudson County honors from the county’s coaches association, decided to send out questionnaires to colleges in Florida.

The reason for Florida? “I wanted to go south,” Sroczynski said. “I just hate the cold weather. All the snow we’ve had recently? I hate it.”

So Sroczynski started to think about going to her first choice, Florida State.

“But I wasn’t sure I could run there,” Sroczynski said.

So then Cifelli put the idea of the University of Tampa in Sroczynski’s mind. As it turned out, Cifelli had a contact at the University of Tampa and he made a call.

“It worked out for her,” Cifelli said.

Last Wednesday, Sroczynski signed a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa on a scholarship.

“I went for a visit and I really liked it,” Sroczynski said. “The coaches paid me a lot of attention and the girls on the team were very nice and they accepted me. As it turns out, Tampa races against schools like Florida State, Miami and the University of Florida. It’s the kind of competition I wanted, just in a smaller pond.”

Sroczynski said that her grandfather lives in the Tampa area.

“So I have someone there if I need him,” Sroczynski said. “It really is perfect.”

Sroczynski said that she had Cifelli to thank for her scholarship package.

“He’s the one who pushed me along,” Sroczynski said. “He told me what schools would be interested in me and made me fill out the questionnaires. I gave him a new list of schools every week and he called every coach for me. He got the best response for me and stayed on me. He convinced me I had the ability to be a runner in college. He took all the negative thoughts out of my head. It’s pretty awesome. I’m so excited.”

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family The entire Kearny girls’ track team with coach Jim Cifelli (center) celebrates Aislinn Sroczynski signing a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa.

Photo courtesy the Sroczynski family
The entire Kearny girls’ track team with coach Jim Cifelli (center) celebrates Aislinn Sroczynski signing a national letter of intent to attend the University of Tampa.

 

Cifelli, who is retiring as a coach this year after a storied 40-plus year career, said that he was glad to help.

“She’s a great kid,” Cifelli said. “Not everyone can become a professional athlete, but you can find a kid a scholarship to college. It’s great that schools give kids the chance to open the world for them. She tugs at my heartstrings a little. My wife taught her in fifth grade. She’s a tough, little kid with a great heart.

Added Cifelli, “She loved the place and she’s very happy, both academically and athletically.”

Cifelli has helped other Kearny track athletes like Cayleigh Solano (LaSalle) and Brian Mendes and Esther Alfaro (NJIT).

“This is a great way for them to end their Kearny career,” Cifelli said. “It’s nice to see kids excel.”

Sroczynski said that she will major in political science at Tampa.

“I like politics,” Sroczynski said. “I hope I can eventually get into law school. My dream is to someday get involved in government.”

Sroczynski is still walking on Cloud Nine.

“I didn’t think I’d ever be running in college,” Sroczynski said. “I never thought I’d be a college athlete. There’s no way I thought this was possible. Thank God I had Cifelli. He guided me the whole way. I can’t believe I’m signing a letter on signing day like other athletes. It’s a little surreal. Now, I’m just counting the days until I can go to Tampa.”

Montclair State women roll along with Aquino & Lucas

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison’s Rayven Lucas (l.) and Kearny’s Janitza Aquino have helped the Montclair State University women’s basketball team to a national ranking among Division III schools.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison’s Rayven Lucas (l.) and Kearny’s Janitza Aquino have helped the Montclair State University women’s basketball team to a national ranking among Division III schools.

 

By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

The Montclair State University women’s basketball team is rolling along, posting a record of 19-2. The Red Hawks are currently ranked 11th among NCAA Division III programs in the entire nation.

The Red Hawks have two local players on their roster, namely Kearny’s Janitza Aquino and Harrison’s Rayven Lucas.

Aquino is a junior guard who has been on fire of late as the team’s starting shooting guard. Lucas is just a freshman, vying for playing time, while learning the ropes watching her friend and neighbor perform.

Together, they give the Red Hawks a strong local flavor, as they continue to move their way toward a possible national championship.

Head coach Karin Harvey is pleased with the performance of both players, especially Aquino, the former Observer Female Athlete of the Year.

Aquino nailed eight 3-point field goals en route to tying a career-high 26 points in the Red Hawks’ 81-60 victory over William Paterson recently. The eight 3-point field goals set a new school record. Aquino was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Player of the Week for her efforts.

Harvey was happy to move Aquino back to the shooting guard slot, after she played primarily as a point guard last season.

“Janitza became the point guard because of an injury to our starter,” Harvey said. “But she moved back to the off-guard and has done a fabulous job. She is able to take the ball to the basket, but she’s also worked on her perimeter game and can now regularly make the 3-pointers.”

Aquino is averaging 16.2 points per game this season, improving from 10.2 points per game last year.

Lucas has seen limited time, scoring 11 points in six games played, but Harvey likes her potential.

“Rayven is a hard worker who wants to learn,” Harvey said. “She has embraced her role and has really come a long way. She definitely has a bright future with us and I’m looking forward to her improvement.”

Lucas has enjoyed herself with the Red Hawks.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lucas, the daughter of Harrison athletic legend Ray, the former New York Jets quarterback who is currently an analyst on the SNY network and does color commentary for Rutgers football radio broadcasts.

“It’s a great experience to be a part of something so big and exciting,” Lucas said. “I’ve been able to overcome bigger challenges as a basketball player. I’m learning to work with new people and it’s changed my entire mindset as a player.”

Lucas said that she has had to deal with one major change from high school to college basketball.

“The speed of everything is so different,” Lucas said. “Everything is so fast. We had a scrimmage game and everything was flying by me. It was going way too fast for me. But I eventually got used to it.”

Lucas said that she also had to adapt from being the main scorer in high school to a bench player in college.

“For me, that has been the biggest transition,” Lucas said. “I’m just trying to get better. It’s weird, going from playing all the time and scoring to now being on the bench. But I realize that I have a lot of work to do.”

Lucas said that she has leaned on Aquino in getting accustomed to college life.

“We have a good relationship,” Lucas said. “Janitza has always been there for me. She helps me when I need it.”

And as for Aquino’s play?

“She is absolutely amazing,” Lucas said. “I always ask her to help me with my shooting, because she is such a good shooter. When she is going like she did the other day, it’s absolutely crazy.”

Harvey likes the relationship between Aquino and Lucas.

“Janitza is really good with the younger players, especially Rayven,” Harvey said. “The two of them get along so well. Janitza takes the time to be with Rayven and shows her what she’s doing right and wrong. I really like the way the two interact. They get along very well.”

Aquino was unavailable for comment for this article.

Lucas can’t believe how much she loves living at Montclair State.

“I love the college life,” Lucas said. “I’m away from home, but I’m close enough to have my mother do my laundry. But it’s so much easier for me to be here.”

And it’s great to see two local standouts doing so well on the next level.