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NA’s McCarthy remains king of New Jersey football scouting

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

He’s now 72. His health in recent years hasn’t been great, battling kidney cancer, diabetes and heart problems.

“I shouldn’t be here,” says Dennis McCarthy, a longtime North Arlington resident.

But McCarthy is still here, feeling better than he has in a long time.

“I feel like I’m hitting my stride,” McCarthy said. “I feel like I can keep going for another 20 years.”

McCarthy has been going full speed for the last 25 years and with the help of his son Dave, has been putting out The McCarthy Report, the top high school football scouting report in the country.

Disregard all these fly-by-night newcomers who claim that they have seen practically every high school football player in the world.

The McCarthys, Dennis and Dave, watch all of the players in New Jersey with a fine tooth comb and offer their evaluations for approximately 75 colleges, ranging from NCAA Division I institutions through the junior college and NAIA ranks.

At one time, the McCarthy Report was offered to the general public.

“That was for one year,” Dennis McCarthy said. “It was a mistake.”

Now, the McCarthy Report goes out only to the colleges and helps the New Jersey high school football player gain millions of dollars in scholarships.

“Every year, we have to keep up,” McCarthy said. “I call all of the schools.”

The entire operation for the McCarthy Report is run from the McCarthy’s tiny home in North Arlington. The living room looks like a library of VHS tapes, which are now outdated thanks to the advances in technology.

There was a time when Dennis McCarthy would run all over the Garden State –video camera in tow– to capture some of the top players on tape to enhance his report.

That’s not the case any longer.

“Because of the Internet, we do no filming at all,” McCarthy said. “Now, I just go to the computer. It saved my life. I couldn’t do it anymore.”

McCarthy said that he first started scouting prospective college players in 1956, when he was a 14-year-old high school student in West New York, helping his uncle, Angelo Amato, help local youngsters to get to the University of Notre Dame, where McCarthy ended up attending.

“I would go to games with my uncle and give him advice on players,” McCarthy said.

Two of those players, Frank Garguilo (currently the superintendent of schools for the Hudson County Schools of Technology) and Tom Liggio (a former Hudson County Freeholder), went on to play at Notre Dame.

Thus, the birth of a career.

“I knew in my mind, I always wanted to do something with football in New Jersey,” McCarthy said. “I remember going to the old Polo Grounds with my father to see the Giants play and he asked if I wanted to meet the players. I got all their autographs. That was when I got hooked.”

McCarthy went to Notre Dame in 1961 and tried to make the Irish roster as a walk-on.

“That’s when I realized everyone was stronger, bigger and faster than me,” McCarthy said. “But the interest was always there.”

The Notre Dame football coaching staff allowed McCarthy to remain as a tour guide for prospective players and go-fer.

“That’s when I was hooked for life,” McCarthy said.

He came home and tried working in the newspaper business as a public relations representative for the old Paterson Evening News. He was in the public relations business for municipalities like Paterson, worked in the Chamber of Commerce offices in Paterson and Newark. He was also a bartender for a long stint in Lyndhurst.

It was behind the stick that fueled McCarthy’s interest in getting back into scouting football full-time.

“I had a lot of college coaches come into the bar,” McCarthy said. “We had NFL guys stay there (the old Holiday Inn in Lyndhurst) as well. I became friendly with the coaches and would recommend players to them. I still went to all the high school games.”

Some of those games involved his son Dave, who was a fine football player at Lyndhurst High School and later Northeastern.

“Once my kids (McCarthy has another son, Ryan) got older, I needed something to do,” McCarthy said. The McCarthy Report, in its purest form, was born.

“This is what I was supposed to do,” McCarthy said. “Boy, oh boy, did it fit like a glove.”

McCarthy hit the ground running 25 years ago.

“In 1990, I sent it to the colleges for free,” McCarthy said. “I ran all over the state, taking notes, watching practices, games. I would go to Cape May, Camden, Atlantic City, all over. I spent a lot of time on the phone, talking with high school coaches and college coaches. I put out reports on more than 200 kids.”

A lot of time is now spent interviewing the players who end up in the report. If a prospective player says the wrong thing during the phone interview, it might be costly in terms of making the McCarthy Report.

“The interview is a big part of the process,” McCarthy said. “A lot of the kids have no idea that it’s why they were put on this earth, to be a football player and get a scholarship. They think it comes easy.”

Over the years, McCarthy has aided with colleges finding out about some of the most obscure players in New Jersey high school football. Several years ago, the McCarthy Report was the first to mention the talents of a defensive tackle from Westwood High School. His name was B.J. Raji, who then went on to play at Boston College and was a hero for the Green Bay Packers in their Super Bowl championship at the end of the 2010 season.

McCarthy was the first to find Leon Johnson out of Bound Brook, who is now a redshirt freshman at Temple University. McCarthy is convinced that the offensive tackle Johnson will eventually become a first round draft pick in the NFL.

Needless to say, it’s a tedious task rounding up the best high school football players in New Jersey.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” McCarthy said. “Make no bones about it, it’s now David’s business. I don’t get paid.”

While there are unfortunately no local products from The Observer circulation area that were fortunate enough to be included in the 2014 version of the McCarthy Report, the founding father of the scouting service thinks it should be a good year for the gridiron in the Garden State.

“I fully expect this to be a banner year,” McCarthy said. “As of right now, we have already 48 NCAA Division I commitments. The most we’ve ever had in New Jersey was 80 two years ago. I think this could go past that. It’s a phenomenal class.”

And McCarthy is already hard at work compiling the players who will grace the McCarthy Report in 2015. There is no sign of the genius slowing down.

“The time and effort that you have to put into it is a lot,” McCarthy said. “But I find now, with the way it is, I put even more time into it. I get up early in the morning, go to the computer and look at more kids.”

With his health fine, there’s no need for Dennis McCarthy to stop being the guru of New Jersey high school football, right from the comforts of his North Arlington living room.

Call him the ‘Golden Boy’ of the ring

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North Arlington teen Cammett aspires to become professional wrestler

 

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Mike Cammett has always been a fan of professional wrestling. Ever since he was a little boy, Cammett would envision himself as becoming the next Shawn Michaels.

“Watching him as I was growing up, he was always a role model to me,” said Cammett, a 17-year-old senior at North Arlington High School who plays football and is a member of the track team. “The whole electric format of wrestling really intrigued me.”

So Cammett would practice moves he learned watching the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment stars like Michaels with his friends.

“I was jumping and diving off my dresser, breaking beds and walls in my house,” Cammett said.

Cammett said that he was looking for a wrestling school, trying to learn the ins and outs of the professional wrestling game.

Enter Kevin Knight. The Nutley native has been involved in professional wrestling for almost two decades.

Knight never expected himself to be a part of pro wrestling. He was a student at William Paterson in the radio and television production department and had a job at WGHT Radio doing sports.

“Someone said that I would make a great ring announcer, so I decided to give it a try,” Knight said.

At the time, Knight became friendly with pro wrestler Rik Ratchet and Ratchet started to give Knight some pointers at becoming a pro wrestler.

“I worked with him prior to some shows and I learned what to do,” Knight said. “I had the right height and I had a good personality.”

Knight was able to keep his own name as he moved his way up the pro wrestling ranks, eventually doing some shows with the WWE.

“I got beat up by some of their big stars,” Knight said. “Brutus Beefcake, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, the ‘A Train,’ they all got me.”

Knight attended a host of local wrestling shows for four years or so; then he got an idea from other fans.

“People would always ask me how could they get into it,” Knight said. “There were really not a lot of places to learn.”

Knight started his Independent Wrestling Federation, which was housed for 12 years in West Paterson (the town was eventually renamed as Woodland Park).

“While I still wrestled, I taught classes,” Knight said. “I brought in some of the superstars of wrestling to help teach the class like Tito Santana and ‘The Honky Tonk Man.’ They were instructors.”

One of Knight’s pupils, Darren Young, has become a regular with the WWE shows for the last four years.

But Knight’s business was devastated by flooding on several occasions and after a while, he decided to walk away from the sport to become a fitness trainer.

“I sold everything,” Knight said. “But every day, I would still get e-mails and correspondence, asking me about teaching the classes.”

In May, Knight decided to get back into the wrestling ring and reinstitute his IWF, but now in a location on Franklin Ave. in his hometown of Nutley.

“I needed some time away,” Knight said. “But there was always the thought of coming back. Being in Nutley really helped. I get a lot of support from the community and the town. It’s a good fit.”

Since he started classes again four days a week, Knight has 25 students in his regular training program. He usually requires the students to be at least 18 and to have had some sort of athletic background.

For anyone younger, Knight requires parental approval.

Cammett found out about Knight and the IWF on the Internet.

Cammett’s father suggested the lessons as a birthday present, so he agreed to send his son.

“I had been looking for a wrestling school for a long time,” Cammett said. “This was the best birthday present ever. I was happy that I got accepted. My father knew that this was something I wanted to do for a long time, but my friends were asking, ‘Are you really going to do this?’ But I was serious about it.”

Cammett knew that there was a big difference between high school athletics and pro wrestling.

“I know that it’s entertainment,” Cammett said. “I always have to keep that in mind. But I’m always going to perform like it’s real and we’re putting on a show. It’s athletic entertainment, but it’s definitely a different transition from football.”

Knight was a high school athlete, so he knows.

“I’d say that it’s 80% showmanship and 20% athleticism,” Knight said. “When they start out, it’s athletics, but then it becomes show business. But in reality, all of sports is like show business. It’s no difference than ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ There’s a routine, the lights, the costumes.”

Cammett has been attending classes with Knight for three months, but he’s already performed in four events.

“He picked things up very quickly,” Knight said. “It usually takes three months to get in the ring for an event, but Mike was a great student. He has a lot of discipline. I think it’s his athletic background in football and track. He is also a high honors student.”

Cammett isn’t the biggest guy in the world, standing about 5-foot-8 and weighing 175 pounds.

“But if you watch wrestling, it’s not a big guys’ sport anymore,” said Knight, who stands 6-foot-4, but is lean. “It’s about dedication and desire. It’s about passion for what you do.”

Knight teaches his students every aspect of pro wrestling. It includes getting in the ring with a microphone and performing like the wrestlers do, complete with taunting and dramatics.

It also meant that Cammett needed a nickname like most wrestlers.

“I thought about ‘The Real Deal,’ but that didn’t really work,” Cammett said.

Because Cammett has long, flowing blond hair, the eventual nickname was extremely fitting.

“One of my good friends, Maribel Bermudez, has been calling me ‘Golden Boy’ since elementary school,” Cammett said. “I actually like it.”

So sure enough, he’s known as “The Golden Boy Mike Cammett.”

Cammett said that he was a little nervous performing in his first show.

“My hands were sweating,” Cammett said. “It was different in front of an audience. But once I got out there, it wasn’t that hard. It was something I knew I could do. I could be entertaining and I have to be entertaining to be out there.”

Cammett doesn’t have visions of grandeur just yet. He knows that the WWE isn’t calling anytime soon. He also knows that football practice begins this week, so he has to juggle his time between being an aspiring pro wrestler and a high school linebacker and running back.

“No matter how exhausted I am from football, I know I’m going to be back here,” Cammett said. “I’ll be here whenever I can. I finally found that this is the place where I want to be and I’ll take it as far as I can go. I can’t believe I was in my first show in a little over a month. I was just so eager and wanted to learn. It’s everything I could have asked for.”

Knight likes what he sees from Cammett.

“He’s a good kid,” Knight said. “He’s very dedicated and wants it. If he sticks with it, who knows how far he can take it?”

The IWF holds small shows in Nutley every other weekend. They also host private parties for youngsters, like birthday parties. Chances are that “The Golden Boy” will be golden in some of those shows in the future.

Knight’s next beginner classes begin Sept. 7 for adults 18 and older. The IWF Wrestling Centre is located at 75 Franklin Ave. in Nutley. For more information, log on to www.CampIWF. com.

McCourt, O’Neill got coaching starts in Kearny

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Thirty years ago this fall, Kearny High School enjoyed a soccer season to remember, perhaps the greatest single year in a litany of soccer excellence in a place called “Soccertown, USA.”

In 1984, the Kardinals posted an undefeated 24-0 record, rolling to another NJSIAA Group IV state championship. But the Kards were also crowned as the No. 1 team in New Jersey and to top that, they were the recipients of the mythical national championship.

It was a team filled with superstars like eventual World Cup standouts John Harkes and Tony Meola (who was a sophomore forward on that team). But the team also featured two best friends, namely Rob McCourt and Mike O’Neill, two guys who grew up together, whose fathers were best of friends since arriving in Kearny from their native Scotland, two buddies who did practically everything together from diapers through corner kicks.

Now, three decades later, those two longtime friends hold another distinction. They are both major college soccer coaches in their home state.

McCourt has been entrenched as the head men’s soccer coach at Monmouth University. McCourt has guided the Hawks to numerous championships over his incredible tenure and will lead the Hawks this season as they begin their second season in a new league, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

In fact, as they prepare to begin practice in earnest this week, the Hawks are the preseason favorites to win the MAAC title and hopefully will return to the NCAA Tournament this fall.

O’Neill gets a golden opportunity this season, as he takes over the head coaching reins with the Rutgers University women’s program, becoming elevated to the top spot after the retirement of former head coach Glenn Crooks last month.

O’Neill had been an assistant coach at Rutgers for the last several years, after first helping the women’s program at Seton Hall become a solid force.

Now, O’Neill gets to run a major college program on his own.

What are the odds of two best friends becoming major college coaches? It doesn’t happen often.

“We’re best friends, as thick as thieves,” McCourt said. “It all goes back to my roots in Kearny. I think that’s the way for the both of us. It’s 100% of what we’re made of. Our character, the base of all our success, comes from being from Kearny.”

O’Neill was the star of the 1984 team, earning the Coggins Award as the top high school player in the country. McCourt was a fine player in his own right, but he believes that coaching was in both of their futures even back then.

“There was no MLS and the NASL ceased to exist,” McCourt said. “There weren’t many chances to play professionally. John (Harkes) eventually went overseas, but at that time, coaching was the way to stay in the sport and something we could do for the rest of our lives. I think that’s what Mike and I thought back then.”

McCourt got his start as a coach as the freshman coach at Kearny High and was a teacher in the district before moving on to become an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Their head coach, current Kearny athletic director John Millar, knew that both of his standout players would become solid coaches.

“Surely they both had the tools to be leaders back then,” Millar said. “They had the respect of their teammates and they always had great leadership skills. They were both very mature at a young age and worked with our staff and other members of the team very well.”

McCourt remembers his buddy as being one of the first coaches, even at an early age.

“Mike was the one who always took charge, organizing the teams at the (Harrison) Courts, making sure who wore what number and what colored T-shirts to wear,” McCourt said. “He was always the guy we looked up to. In a way, I guess it’s fitting that we got into coaching. It’s like a role we always were meant to have.”

McCourt was asked about the idea that both are now coaching NCAA Division I college programs in their home state.

“That is pretty ironic,” Mc- Court said. “When I started coaching, my goal was always to get back to New Jersey. Mike said the same thing when he was coaching in Indiana. So that part is pretty ironic that we’re both here. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I think Mike feels the same way. We’re two guys from Kearny. Some say we’re crazy to do what we do, but I know we both have the same passion. Jersey roots are Jersey roots. Kearny roots are Kearny roots. Mike’s family is like my family and vice versa.”

McCourt said that he always likes to come back to his hometown, make a stop at the Kearny Scots-American Club where he and O’Neill spent many a night and played many a soccer match together.

“It always helps to come back and learn even more about the great soccer history of Kearny,” McCourt said.

McCourt said that he remains close with long-time friends Bill Galka, the current head coach at Kearny High, and Sal Rosamilia, who was a longtime assistant coach to both Millar and Galka.

“I think it’s fitting that we all got into coaching,” McCourt said.

McCourt has another Kearny product in his coaching staff at Monmouth in former Kearny High three-sport standout Hugh MacDonald, the first-ever Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2003 who had a stint with the MetroStars. MacDonald played for McCourt at Monmouth after starting his career at VCU.

McCourt also coached former Kearny High standouts Michael Millar and Christian Nogueira at Monmouth.

For having a hand in all of their growth, the elder Millar has a gigantic sense of pride.

“Absolutely, I still have a great feeling about those guys,” Millar said. “I’m never able to grow old because of it. It’s a lot of fun. Robbie always finds time to talk to people from Kearny. We try to get to as many games as we can. I know a lot of Kearny people like to go to Monmouth games because of Robbie. He’s done a great job there.”

Added Millar, “Mike has always expected to win wherever he’s been. I don’t think he got the credit he should have received for what he did at Seton Hall. I hope he can elevate Rutgers to a higher level.”

O’Neill was instrumental in the recruiting of former Kearny High standout Stefanee Pace to Rutgers.

In a way, it’s all part of that strong soccer circle that comes from “Soccertown, USA.”

Nutley’s Papaccio finds new baseball home with Rockland Boulders

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 18th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft, Giuseppe Papaccio thought he was well on his way to a successful professional baseball career.

The Nutley product and former Seton Hall University standout shortstop handled himself well during two stops in the Cubs’ organization last year with the Cubs’ rookie league affiliate, then with the Midwest League Class A affiliate in Kane County, Illinois.

Papaccio hit .279 with two homers and 13 RBI in 37 games at Kane County, dividing his playing time equally at second base, third base and shortstop.

It appeared as if Papaccio was a rising star, well on his way.

“I thought I had a good year,” Papaccio said in a phone interview.

But then, something happened along the way – and Papaccio doesn’t exactly understand why.

Two weeks ago, Papaccio was released by the Cubs. Three days later, he signed a contract with the Rockland Boulders of the independent Can-Am League in nearby Rockland County in New York.

Papaccio tried to put the pieces together of what happened with the Cubs after he went to spring training in Arizona in March.

“I thought I did pretty well in spring training, but then they sent me to extended spring training,” Papaccio said.

The stint in extended spring training began Papaccio’s sojourn through four different stops in the Cubs’ organization, ranging from Boise, Idaho, to Daytona Beach, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then finally a return trip to Kane County, Illinois. The Knoxville Smokies are the Cubs’ Class AA affiliate, so he was two steps away from the big leagues, but Papaccio only had two at-bats with the Smokies.

“I wasn’t playing every day,” Papaccio said. “I felt like something was a little off. I went from extended spring training to Tennessee and Class AA for a week. I then went to High Class A in Daytona for six weeks. But I wasn’t playing. It was all so weird. I wondered what I did wrong. Looking at it on paper, I should have been playing. But I wondered, ‘Did I play myself out of a position?’”

Papaccio played just six games with the Kane County Cougars when he was called into the office by manager Mark Johnson, the former major leaguer.

“He told me that they had no room for me,” Papaccio said. “With all the rookies coming in and the team packed with talented infielders, there was just no room. There was a logjam of talent. I left on good terms. It just didn’t work out. I have no regrets.”

The 23-year-old Papaccio, who was an All-Big East selection in 2013, earning Third Team All-America and the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, didn’t hang his head after receiving his walking papers from the Cubs.

“I wasn’t too upset,” said Papaccio, Seton Hall’s all-time leader in doubles and fourth on the Pirates’ all-time hit list with 237. “I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I didn’t think my baseball career was over. I’m only 23 and I still feel and believe I could play at any of the levels I was at this year. I just needed to play every day.”

Papaccio’s agent made a phone call to the independent Boulders and he signed a contract with Rockland just three days after receiving his release from the Cubs.

“I feel more confident,” Papaccio said. “All I thought was that I needed a chance to play.”

It has only been six games with the Boulders, but Papaccio feels extremely comfortable. For one, he’s living at home in Nutley, eating his mother’s home cooking, seeing family and friends again.

“It’s only 40 minutes away,” Papaccio said. “Over the weekend, we played at Montclair (against the New Jersey Jackals), so that was easy. It feels great to be home.”

But there’s still an empty feeling, still wondering what went wrong that his dream of playing with the Cubs ended so suddenly.

“I do have mixed feelings,” Papaccio said. “I’m really surprised. I never thought I’d be out of the Cubs’ system by now. I thought I did pretty well.”

Papaccio did enjoy his homecoming last weekend against the Jackals.

“I had about 10 of my friends there,” Papaccio said. “I had my Mom and Dad there, my girlfriend there, my sister there. I’m playing baseball and it’s fun again. I’m with a great group of guys. I don’t feel any pressure.”

Papaccio’s former Seton Hall teammates Will Walsh and Greg Terhune are also on the Boulders’ roster, so that has made Papaccio comfortable in his new surroundings.

“The way I look at it, the competition is good,” Papaccio said. “About 75% of the guys in the league have played affiliated ball before on all levels. It’s a good operation.”

And Papaccio figures his stint with the Boulders for the remainder of the summer will be a good tryout to go back to affiliated baseball next spring.

“I’d like to get the opportunity to get back,” Papaccio said. “I’ve always worked hard in everything I’ve done. Ever since I was younger, I was never the best player, but I worked hard, doing the same thing, working my way up. I’m going to play hard, take each out at a time and see what happens. That’s the biggest thing I see. I have my confidence level back. I feel fine, both mentally and physically.”

In six games with the Boulders, Papaccio is hitting .273 with four RBI and one double. He’s playing ball close to home. The dream still lives.

“Things with the Cubs just didn’t work out,” Papaccio said. “I’m still playing.”

Kearny youngsters learn at annual boys’ PAL basketball camp

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Ten-year-old Jonathan Muller of Kearny loves playing basketball, but there was one aspect to young Jonathan’s game that needed a little refining.

“My dribbling was a little hard to control,” said Muller, a student of Roosevelt School. “I had to work on that.”

Esteban Martinez is a 13-year-old student at Lincoln School in Kearny. Another avid fan of basketball, Martinez said that there was a part of his game that was lacking.

“My defense is something I needed to get better at,” Martinez said. “I had to learn how to stay down on defense and not stand up.”

Muller and Martinez were just two of approximately 50 local youngsters who participated in the recent Kearny boys’ basketball camp, sponsored in part by the Police Athletic League, at Kearny High School.

Under the direction of Kearny High School head coach Bob McDonnell, the youngsters learned a lot about the fundamentals of basketball while having a lot of fun at the same time.

In a town where soccer is first, followed by soccer and then soccer, it was refreshing to see so many kids interested in playing another sport, other than, say soccer.

“I would definitely say numbers are up,” said McDonnell, a long-time youth and underclass coach in Kearny before taking over the varsity program last year. “The interest is definitely there. We had at least three kids stay home from their family vacations in order to come to the camp. It was a really nice week. We have so many kids who are eager to learn, want to know the basics of basketball. I didn’t have any misconceptions about what it would be like, but seeing the joy in their faces when they do something correct is so rewarding.”

Added McDonnell, “We tried to give them something different to learn each day, whether it’s shooting, passing, rebounding. It varied from day to day. You could see that the kids never got bored. They were into it, especially the young kids. I give them credit. They really worked hard.”

The staff featured Kearny assistant Mike Reilly, a former head coach at McNair Academic in Jersey City for three decades, as well as former Kearny High players Mike Trama and Dylan Hoch and Mohammed Farih, who went from Kearny High to walk on to the roster at St. Peter’s University.

“They do a great job of helping with the young kids,” McDonnell said.

Another Kearny High grad Tommy McDermott, who went on to play at New Jersey City University and still plays on a semi-pro level, was another counselor.

Farih brought a lot of the knowledge he’s gained as being part of the St. Peter’s program for the last three years.

“We did a lot of the drills that they do at St. Peter’s, thanks to Mo,” McDonnell said. “It’s a fresh perspective for all of us. You need to keep it fresh for the kids.”

Photo by Jim Hague Camp director Bob McDonnell (center left) and St. Peter’s University player Mohammed Farih (center right) during the recent Kearny PAL boys’ summer league at Kearny High.

Photo by Jim Hague
Camp director Bob McDonnell (center left) and St. Peter’s University player
Mohammed Farih (center right) during the recent Kearny PAL boys’ summer league at Kearny High.

 

McDonnell said the campers could relate to people like Farih and Hoch.

“It has been a great week,” McDonnell said. “It refreshes me, dealing with the younger kids.”

McDonnell said that at least five former campers have moved on to become members of his varsity squad.

“It’s one of the first times I get to see these kids play,” McDonnell said. “It’s like getting a head start.”

Isiah Wheeler is a 14-yearold student from Lincoln School.

“I needed help working on my shooting form,” Wheeler said. “I was shooting with my arm too far to the left, so I had to work on that. Coming to the camp really helped me become a better player. It was a lot of fun and it encourages me to want to play more. It also helped me to get to know others.”

Like 16-year-old Steven Velez, who is a resident of North Arlington. Velez has been attending open gyms that McDonnell ran and felt comfortable with McDonnell so much that he decided to come to the camp again.

“I still have a lot to learn and I like what Coach McDonnell has to offer,” Velez said. Velez played for North Arlington in the summer league (also at Kearny High) all summer. “We all know our roles. I plan on playing a little more now to get ready for the season,” he said.

Velez said that “McDonnell is a great person and he’s willing to help everyone.”

“He knew me since I was like in seventh grade,” Velez said of McDonnell. “I went to his first camp when I was in seventh grade. I plan to keep coming back.”

Jason DaSilva is a 12-yearold student of Lincoln School.

“Coming to the camp has really helped me improve my game,” DaSilva said. “I wanted to play against my friends and I did.”

DaSilva also attended the Kearny Kids Kamp for baseball a few weeks ago.

“I kept busy this summer,” DaSilva said. “I knew this camp would keep me busy and help my game. I want to play more basketball.”

That was the ultimate goal – giving kids a chance to embrace the game of basketball.

Ledo new North Arlington girls’ hoops coach

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After spending several years as a youth and AAU basketball coach, as well as the last few seasons as the junior varsity girls’ basketball coach at Fair Lawn High School, Rob Ledo wanted a new challenge.

“I felt like I was ready for the next step,” Ledo said. “And that was to be a head coach on the high school level. I was told by someone that if I really wanted to get my foot in the door, I had to get a head coaching job at a smaller school.”

So when the head coaching position with the North Arlington High School girls’ squad opened up, Ledo was quick to apply for it.

“It was a great opportunity for me to get in and see what I could do as a head coach,” said the 31-year-old Ledo, who works full-time as a supervisor for the Fair Lawn Parks and Recreation Department.

“I’ve put in a lot of time coaching boys and girls on the travel level, then girls AAU (for the Wayne PAL). I’ve been coaching all year round,” he said.

Ledo, a native of Ridgefield, said that he was knowledgeable about North Arlington sports from his high school days, when he attended Ridgefield Memorial.

“I’m aware of North Arlington’s previous successes in all sports,” said Ledo, who graduated from Ridgefield in 2001. “It wasn’t just girls’ basketball. I did my research before I went for the interview. I was also aware of what they did the last few years.”

The Vikings struggled a year ago to a 3-18 record.

“The Board of Education basically told me what their expectations are,” Ledo said. “They definitely want to see the program succeed. I’m a winner and I come here with that same mindset. We’re all on the same page. I’m completely aware of what has happened. But in my eyes, the past is in the past. I’m not worried about that.”

Since his appointment in June, Ledo has overseen regular workouts as well as monitoring the progress of the Vikings in the recently completed Kearny High School girls’ summer league.

“I expect to succeed right away and I explained that to the girls,” Ledo said. “We need to have that mindset. We have a team with a majority of juniors and sophomores, so we have a young team. They really dedicated their time over the summer and I think they’re beginning to see the potential that they have.”

Ledo said that he has been impressed with the Vikings’ talent level thus far. “I really do like what I see,” Ledo said. “We do have some good pieces to this team. I look at it like it’s a puzzle. We have an inside presence and some good guards. I just have to put the pieces of the puzzle together and have them put their trust in me.” Ledo attended East Stroudsburg University for a year, then eventually graduated from Rutgers in New Brunswick with a sports management degree. He interned at Fair Lawn and returned to work there after a year at Leonia.

Ledo has just one goal as he begins his new challenge at North Arlington.

“I just want to teach them fundamentals of basketball,” Ledo said. “We’re going to work on passing, shooting, the little details that are so important. That’s what we’re focusing on. I’m going to teach them how to play basketball.

They’re catching on. They’re understanding the way I want them to play basketball.” Ledo is pleased with the overall athletic ability of the Vikings. “They’re a very athletic group of girls,” Ledo said. “I can see they have put in the work to get better. They’re working on their fundamentals and I like that.”

Ledo said that he’s eager to begin working with his new team on a regular basis, other than outdoor workouts and summer league play.

“I’m very excited,” Ledo said. “This all came rather quickly for me. I’m still a young guy, but I have put the work in and deserved the chance to coach. I’ve been coaching year-round non-stop. I’m very excited to start implementing things I’ve learned over the years. I wanted to see what I can do as a high school coach. I think it’s going to be an exciting year. I want to see if I can right the ship a little bit and bring success back to North Arlington.”

Ledo said that he hopes to at least be very improved this season.

“We want to aim high,” Ledo said. “That’s the first thing, to be better than last year. Then we want to at least be .500 and be competitive, before we start aiming for titles. But I want them to come in with a good positive mindset more than anything. We will see what happens, but the summer workouts have been going well.”

North Arlington’s Collins Field gets major facelift

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

In 2011, Rip Collins Field on Passaic Ave. in North Arlington, the borough’s main athletic facility, was severely damaged due to a flood, forcing the North Arlington High School athletic teams to look elsewhere to play. The floods ravaged the locker rooms, concession stand and offices that were also at Collins Field.

Then, after repairs were made to the facility, Hurricane Sandy arrived in 2012, which made the Passaic River rise to horrendous flood levels once again.

Sure enough, the North Arlington fall sports teams, especially football, were sent to play at other local fields for two seasons.

In 2013, the town passed a referendum that called for a $3.2 million renovation and restoration project to Collins Field, an improvement that included a new FieldTurf playing surface, a state-of-the-art facility for track and field and a new field for baseball.

The work on Collins Field has been ongoing since the beginning of spring and made some people wonder whether the improvements would be completed by the time the fall seasons commence in September.

Then last week, the turf field was laid down and suddenly, everyone in North Arlington could see that the improvements are becoming a reality.

“The reality is coming now,” said North Arlington High School athletic director Dave Hutchinson said. “Once the turf went down, reality set in. It’s a real positive feeling. I’ve been getting calls from alumni members and parents, coaches, everyone. We’re just not getting a brand new field, but we’re getting an all-weather six-lane track, so we can actually hold track meets. We’re also going to have night soccer games. It’s going to be a beautiful facility and we’re all really excited.

Added Hutchinson, “It’s really nice to finally be back into our home. It’s been hard to do without for the last two years.”

Hutchinson was quick to point out that the new locker rooms, offices and concession stand will all be raised by a few feet to avoid future flood situations. There will also be a weighted tarpaulin that will protect the field from possible flooding as well.

“The tarp is going to save us a lot of money,” Hutchinson said.

Joseph Riccardelli is the North Arlington Board of Education president and the chairman of the Athletics and Facilities Committee.

“It’s amazing and outstanding,” Riccardelli said. “It’s going to be one of the best, if not the very best, facilities in Bergen County. Getting this referendum passed was huge. This is a big thing in the history of North Arlington.”

Riccardelli said that the facility will also be used by the Junior Vikings youth football program as well.

The football team will christen the new Rip Collins Field Sept. 26 in a game against Cresskill.

Head football coach Anthony Marck is overjoyed to be able to go back to Collins Field.

“You can’t imagine how excited we are,” Marck said. “It’s been a long time coming. We have a very close-knit community and everyone felt that this was the best thing for everyone.”

Marck said that he has been driving past Collins Field to monitor the work ever since the construction company started work in March.

“I would drive into work and then take a detour to go past the field,” Marck said. “Then, either at lunch time or going home, I would drive by again to take a second look. I would go by there two or three times a day. I wanted to stop and get the workers coffee. It was one thing to see the work in progress, but once the turf went down, it just added to the excitement.”

Marck is astounded by the work.

“The buildings are beautiful structures,” Marck said. “The Board of Education did an excellent job, taking every step with proper precaution. I have to credit the Board of Education and the people of North Arlington for passing the referendum. I don’t think flooding water will ever be a problem there again.”

Marck is hoping to get approval to begin practices at the new facility as soon as possible. “We don’t have a certain date, but we’re hoping for the end of August,” Marck said. “Whenever it’s ready, we’ll be happy. It’s so exciting to see it coming together. I know it’s really hard to hold the excitement back until we can get on the field.”

Needless to say, the last two years of being a vagabond football program with no true home has been extremely trying.

“It’s been quite the while,” Marck said. “We had our share of distractions last year. I’m not an excuse maker, but it’s relief to know we’ll have our own place again. It’s only going to make us a better football team.”

Boys’ soccer head coach Jesse Dembowski is also excited about the improvements.

“We’re very lucky and fortunate,” Dembowski said. “We’re excited about having a new state-of-the-art home. We don’t have to worry about playing all away games anymore. We also haven’t had a night game in years, so that will be exciting. It’s very uplifting for the players.”

Dembowski thinks that the turf field is a little bigger than the grass field the Vikings played on in Riverside County Park.

“I think the bigger field suits our style more,” Dembowski said. “I know a lot of my players will be ready to play there. It’s the talk of the town, getting to be on that field. I think now all we need to do is get some wins.”

First things first. It’s time to get the Vikings back home where they belong.

Girls get ready for hoop season in Kearny league

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer

The start of the high school basketball season might still be four months away, but it appeared to be in full bloom recently during the Kearny High School Girls’ Basketball Summer League.

For example, Kearny played Harrison last Thursday night in one of the regularly scheduled games in the league that ran from late June and will conclude next week.

The way the game was going, you could swear the game was in the middle of January instead of July. The only reminder that it wasn’t the regular season was the heat coming from outside, the doors to the gym being wide open and fans were blowing to try to keep everyone cool.

Every loose ball was followed with a full-fledged dive on the floor. Bodies were bouncing off each other. Elbows and forearms were flying. It was intense.

Sure, it was Kearny against Harrison and the two schools could face off in Chinese checkers or a forensic debate and it would become heated. But this was particularly passionate for a summer league contest.

“It did get pretty physical,” said Harrison head girls’ basketball coach Al Ruiz said. “The girls all know each other and work out together, so they really want to win here.”

“We wanted to win so much, so it did get a little chippie,” said Harrison sophomore forward Cynthia Ferreira. “You could see the competition. It was good for us.”’

“There’s that competitive side in me that always wants to win,” said Kearny junior forward Nawal Farih. “But then again, you have to be reminded that it’s just a summer league, so you just try to do the best that you can.”

Kearny was missing several of its top players to other commitments, so the final score was lopsided in favor of the Blue Tide, who showed significant ball handling prowess en route to the win.

Ruiz was impressed with the way his team performed in the win.

“We do have a couple of ball handlers,” Ruiz said. “Shanaieda Falcon (a junior this upcoming season) is doing a good job, so that enables us to get Amber O’Donnell away from playing point guard. We have another senior, Kayla Montilla, who also can handle it well. Between Shanaieda and Amber, we have the possibility of having a nice season.”

Ruiz said that he has kept his girls busy during the summer. The Blue Tide also competes in the Paterson Kennedy summer league.

“We get them together three or four times a week,” Ruiz said. “It’s good that we can be together so much.”

“It’s a good opportunity for us to get to know each other better,” Ferreira said. “We talk more and it helps camaraderie. It gives me a chance to become a better player against good competition. It’s good practice and it gives me confidence that I am becoming a better player. And it’s a good feeling anytime you win at any time.”

Especially when it’s against the dreaded neighborly rival.

Photo by Jim Hague Harrison and Kearny locked horns last week in the summer league that has been a godsend for several local teams.

Photo by Jim Hague
Harrison and Kearny locked horns last week in the summer league that has been a godsend for several local teams.

 

The Kearny girls’ summer league featured 12 teams from throughout Hudson and Bergen counties. Some of the other local teams to play in the league included North Arlington and Lyndhurst.

Lyndhurst second-year head coach John Cousins wasn’t pleased with the way his team performed against Marist, but he was just glad that his team was together in full force, working hard and playing hard.

“This is awesome,” Cousins said. “I’m so happy to get in this league. It’s a great opportunity for us to get better and we have to get better. The girls didn’t play in a summer league last year, so win, lose or draw, this is outstanding. These games don’t count. We just want to try to compete and get better.”

Lyndhurst sophomore Kira Adams agreed.

“It’s a chance for us to get more practice to get ready for the season,” Adams said. “It’s a great opportunity to play in the summer. It creates better chemistry between us for the coming season. We have a bunch of new girls coming in, so we’re getting to know each other better.”

“We’re not doing anything strategic here,” Cousins said. “All we want to do here is compete and play hard. I do like the effort we have been getting. A couple of players have really impressed.”

Junior Cameron Halpern and sophomore Caitlyn Blake are two of the Golden Bears who have shown improvement in Cousins’ eyes.

“I’m just so happy to be here,” Cousins said.“We don’t have to worry about winning.”

Kearny head coach and league coordinator Jody Hill has been pleased with the way the league has turned out.

“We have a 12-team league this year,” Hill said. “We doubled in size. I’ve been able to work with (Kearny boys’ head coach) Bob McDonnell and he’s helped us tremendously. Every game has been competitive. We’re really getting what you want in a summer league.”

Hill said that Thursday’s short-handed game gave other girls a chance to show her what they could do.

“We had some incoming freshmen who may have been a little over their heads, but they tried hard and got some good experience,” Hill said.

One of those newcomers was guard Megan McClelland.

“She was thrown out there and handled herself pretty well,” Hill said of McClelland. “She’s going to be a rising star. She’s quick and she’s not afraid to mix it up. It was nice to see her and a few others go out there and just play.” “Since we have such a new team, it was good to get a chance to gel and be together,” Farih said. “It’s helped me a lot that I’ve learned to be more composed and relaxed as I play.”

Ruiz loves the way his team has come together during the summer months.

“We really have put a lot of time and effort all summer,” Ruiz said. “It’s been great for us. We’ve been playing in this league for a couple of years. Jody comes to help us out with the training of the girls. They know her and respect her. It’s all good.”

Hill loves being the host school.

“It’s very convenient for us,” Hill said. “We’re here every day and I get the chance to work with the younger girls. We don’t have to worry about transportation to get here and there. It’s excellent for us. The league is going well.”

Chances are that the Kearny summer league will continue to do well for the years to come as well. The competition is good and the teams are good, so all in all, the league is very good.

Viana new Harrison girls’ soccer coach

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After graduating from Harrison High School in 2004 as one of the best soccer goalkeepers in the high school’s history, Raphael Viana always hoped he could return to his alma mater as a coach.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Viana said.

Well, that chance has occurred, as the 28-year-old Viana has been named as the new girls’ soccer coach at Harrison, replacing Annemarie Sacco, who held the position for two seasons.

Viana – who now owns his own soccer company and training school called Go2Soccer in Livingston with another former Harrison great, Tony Dominguez – heard that the head coaching position for the girls’ team might be available.

“(Harrison athletic director) Kim Huaranga called me and said that the position was open,” said Viana, who was in goal for some of the Blue Tide’s state champions in 2001 and 2002. “(Harrison boys’ soccer head coach) Mike (Rusek) might have whispered something in my ear to tell me that if I had interest, that I should call.”

A few phone calls later and Viana was appointed to the position.

He was asked if there was any problem coaching girls’ soccer after being around the boys’ game for so long.

“I don’t look at it any differently,” Viana said. “The girls are athletes as well, first and foremost. Like any other good athlete, you know that if you’re going to play soccer in Harrison, you know what you need to do. You have to have the kind of program that commands respect. There’s nothing better than getting the chance to work in my hometown. It’s a place I have an affinity for and I’m getting a chance to give something back.”

In recent years, Viana had been coaching travel soccer teams in Millburn while starting his business. But now, it’s all about coming home.

Viana said that he learned most about coaching soccer from the current Harrison coaching staff, namely the Rusek brothers, Mike and John.

“I learned so much from those guys,” Viana said. “It’s where I get my coaching from. They had success right away and I hope to have the same kind of success.”

Viana hopes that his experiences as a Harrison soccer player will go a long way as a coach.

“I think it has to help a little bit,” Viana said. “They can see me and think that he went through the same thing, that he’s from here and that he knows what it takes to do it. I’m a Harrison kid. I know that Harrison kids are a little different than anyone else. I think having that edge can only help me with the girls.”

Viana attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Florham Park after leaving Harrison. He played soccer for two years there. He had a stint as a volunteer assistant with the boys’ soccer team at Harrison after graduating from FDU-Florham.

“It’s a great feeling to be able to come back home,” Viana said. “There’s something about spending the afternoons in September and October with Harrison soccer. It’s a little surreal that it’s all coming together for me being here.”

Viana said that he’s had a few workouts with the girls since taking over.

“It’s all been pretty positive,” Viana said. “We had a week in late June where we got together and we’ve been getting together twice a week recently. The response has been great.”

Viana said that as many as 40 girls have shown interest in playing soccer this fall.

Viana believes that he can turn things around in a hurry.

“I think they just needed to be coached properly,” Viana said. “I have to make them believe they can win. It’s a nice group to work with.”

Viana was asked what kind of team he expects to field this fall.

“It’s tough to be a defensive- minded team coming from Harrison,” Viana said. “I think it all depends on what style the team allows us to play. We’re from Harrison. We’re going to take some risks. But at the end of the day, I was a goalie, so defense is always in my mind.”

Viana said that he is eager to get practices started for real next month.

“I’m really excited to get this going,” Viana said. “We have to get this program where it should be. I’m not here to be here a year. I’m here to build a program. We’re coming in and we want to win every year. We have to believe we can win a state championship. I’m really excited to think we can do that. We have the right tools in the shed. They just need to be a little sharpened.”

Seems like someone wants to instill the Harrison winning ways in the girls’ soccer program right away – the only way Raphael Viana knows how.

Nutley’s Ortiz named to Team USA U-15 national baseball team

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By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer 

Although he had a stellar 6-0 record with a 1.14 earned run average for NJSIAA Non-Public A state finalist St. Joseph of Montvale last spring as just a freshman, Nutley resident Devin Ortiz had no idea what to expect from being invited to the Team USA national 15-andunder trials in Cary, North Carolina last month.

“I didn’t think I had a chance,” Ortiz said. “Three weeks ago, I didn’t even know where I’d be. I just figured I’d be pitching summer baseball somewhere.”

But Ortiz did receive an invite to be among the 40 teenagers to try out for the national squad. He fared well, pitching well in a handful of appearances over the three-week trial.

Last Saturday, Ortiz’s wishes came true, as he was selected among the final 15 players for the United States U-15 national team.

Ortiz is the only representative from New Jersey on the squad, which will play in the World Baseball Classic tournament in Mazatlan, Mexico, beginning next week.

The team is currently en route to play exhibition games at Chase Field, the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, before heading to Mexico for the tourney that begins in 10 days.

Ortiz liked his chances to make the team once he got to the trials in North Carolina.

“I went in there pretty confident,” Ortiz said. “From the first couple of days, I knew it was not like any other tryout I had ever been to. All 40 kids there were very good players, so I just focused on being myself and focused on pitching like I knew I could. I just had to focus on myself and not worry about everyone else.”

While Ortiz both pitched and played the field as a freshman at St. Joseph of Montvale, he was strictly a pitcher for the Team USA trials.

“Everything felt fine,” Ortiz said. “I really felt better than I did pitching my freshman year of varsity. The competition was better, because the players make more contact. After all, these are the best hitters in the country. I didn’t want to put any more pressure on myself. I just had to trust myself and trust my stuff.”

Ortiz said that he relies on a two-seam and four-seam fastball, as well as a change-up and a curve.

But over the summer, Ortiz has also developed a cut-fastball, a la Mariano Rivera, that he has had success with.

“I learned the cutter over the summer,” Ortiz said. “One of the scouts saw me at the trials and said that the pitch had so much of a natural cut, that if I knew how to control it, it would become a good pitch for me. So for the last two weeks, that’s what I’ve been working on. It’s now a pitch that I can go to and use a lot.” Ortiz said that he was a still a little shell-shocked to be selected among the top 15 players his age in the entire country.

“It’s a very big honor,” said Ortiz, who was born in Belleville and played Little League baseball there before moving to Nutley a few years ago. “I’m very excited. I can’t wait to get there. Of course, it’s a big honor to be playing in Chase Field on a big league field. It’s all great for me.”

Ortiz said that he doesn’t think he’ll face undue pressure as a high school sophomore next spring, knowing full well he was a Team USA selection this summer.

“I don’t think it’s any added pressure,” Ortiz said. “I think it’s a good thing. I think it’s a great honor. It just makes me come back and work even harder, to pitch the way I did last season and maybe even better.”

Ortiz likes having the Team USA distinction.

“I’m going there to represent my country, represent New Jersey and of course, St. Joseph’s,” Ortiz said. “I also represent Nutley as well.”

The entire process has caught Ortiz by surprise.

“In June, I actually had no clue about all of this,” Ortiz said. “My dad heard about the tryouts, so I came. I just kept working and one thing led to another. It’s really amazing. I’m just happy to be here, happy to get the chance to make new friends here and have a little fun.”

And take in the sights of Mexico as well. Not a bad way to spend a summer vacation.