By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
She lettered in four different sports during her brilliant four-year career at Lyndhurst High School, participating in soccer, basketball, swimming and softball.
But Grace Tomko’s lasting legacy will go far beyond the fields of play, the court or the pool.
Last Thursday, Tomko delivered the valedictory speech at the Lyndhurst commencement exercises.
It’s not every day that a student-athlete earns the right to be a class valedictorian. But Tomko’s impressive athletic resume, combined with her 4.14 grade point average and 1750 Scholastic Aptitude Test scores, catapulted her to the top of her class.
“I always put school ahead of sports,” said Tomko, who helped the Lyndhurst softball team capture the NJSIAA North 2, Group II state sectional championship last month. “I was just able to balance it all.”
Last month, Tomko represented Lyndhurst at the NJSIAA’s 21st Annual Scholar-Athlete awards luncheon at the Pines Manor in Edison.
The state association honored one student from each participating school. In all, the NJSIAA has honored 6,350 scholar-athletes over the last two decades and has presented nearly $1.25 million in scholarships to those recipients.
Tomko was more than overjoyed receiving the award.
“It meant the world to me,” said Tomko, who is headed to the University of Delaware in the fall. “When you’re a high school student-athlete, you don’t get recognized for the student part. This recognized both.”
Another local athlete honored at the NJSIAA Scholar-Athlete awards luncheon was Babatunde Ojo from Queen of Peace.
Ojo, who played football, wrestled, power lifted and participated in track and field at QP, was also honored to be selected to represent his school at the luncheon.
“I was extremely happy to be a part of it,” Ojo said. “Ever since I entered Queen of Peace, I felt like I had more pride than anyone else. I knew deep down that I had a lot of pride representing the school.”
Ojo said that he was pleased that there were other familiar faces at the luncheon.
“There were others who I created friendships with over the years through sports,” Ojo said. “That made the day very enjoyable.”
Ojo said that he prided himself as both a student and an athlete.
“I really can’t describe the pride I had in my schoolwork,” Ojo said. “I knew that my class work would really help the school, as did sports.”
Ojo will major in business and computer science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in the fall. He carried a 3.7 grade point average and scored 1830 on his SATs.
“I always felt that sports and academics kind of both went hand in hand,” Ojo said. “I was able to deal with all kind of sports and different kinds of technical things in the classroom.”
Other local students honored by the NJSIAA include Rebecca Goncalves of Kearny, Bridget Ismaelito of Bloomfield, Pavel Aparcana of Harrison and Nicholas Perrone of Nutley.
Tomko got the chance to reflect on her incredible high school career.
“I’m actually speechless,” Tomko said. “I can’t believe it’s all over. I can look back with no regrets. I did everything to my best.”
Tomko was asked about if she was more nervous delivering her key speech or delivering a clutch play on the soccer pitch or the softball diamond.
“That’s tough,” Tomko said. “When I was walking out to make the speech, (softball) Coach (Emily) Ringen was standing there. I said to her that I felt like I was going out to play a big game, but there was more excitement to give the speech than it was to play a game. I was more excited than nervous.”
But Tomko delivered the speech, much like she delivered a state sectional championship.
“It doesn’t end any better than that,” Tomko said.