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Category: Sports

NA’s Cordeiro named Observer Male Athlete of Year

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By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer

Danny Cordeiro never thinks like he’s doing anything special when it comes to playing sports. The recent North Arlington High School graduate simply went about his business and kept himself busy as an athlete.

“I try not to think too much about it,” Cordeiro said. “It never crossed my mind what I was doing.”

However, what Cordeiro was doing was carving his place permanently in the history of North Arlington High School athletics. If he’s not the best all-around athlete in the school’s history, Cordeiro is very close. For sure, he had a historic career of firsts that will never be duplicated.

Cordeiro was a superstar soccer player for the Vikings for four seasons, culminating in an All-State performance as a senior. He scored 30 goals and added 19 assists during his senior campaign, earning a scholarship to New Jersey Institute of Technology in the process.

But Cordeiro was also a phenomenal performer in track and field. Read more »

Baseball reigns supreme at Kearny Kards Kamp

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By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer

Sure, Kearny is known as “Soccertown, USA.” And, of course, the World Cup soccer tournament was coming to a close last week.

But for 75 local youngsters, baseball was the primary sport, as they took part of the week-long Kearny Kards Kamp at Franklin School Field.

Headed by Kearny High School head coach Frank Bifulco and assisted by a host of talented baseball instructors, the Kards Kamp gave youngsters a lot of instruction while having a lot of fun at the same time. Read more »

Nutley East Little League repeats as District 8 champions

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By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer 

It’s one thing to win a District 8 12-year-old All-Star Little League championship.

It’s another thing altogether to win that same district crown, one of the most competitive in New Jersey, for a second straight year.

Considering that you have to totally turn over the roster from one year to the next, it’s almost next to impossible.

But that’s what the Nutley East Little League All-Stars did last week, successfully defending the New Jersey District 8 championship the league captured a year ago.

“I’ve never seen it,” said Nutley East Little League 12-year-old manager “Tiny” Latino, a veteran of coaching Little League for almost 40 years. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen it. It’s a big accomplishment.” Read more »

Kearny’s Kelly named Observer Co-Female Athlete of the Year

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By Jim Hague

 Observer Sports Writer 

Nicole Kelly’s incredible athletic career began at a very young age.

“I think I was four years old,” said Kelly, the recent Kearny High School graduate. “My mom put me on a softball team that she was coaching, but I was too young to play. But I was on the team.”

Kelly didn’t take long to become acclimated to softball.

“From what I remember, I hit the ball so far,” Kelly said. “The rules were that I could only run one base, so I had to stop running at first.”

Three years later, Kelly was introduced to her second sport.

“I was about seven years old when soccer took over my life,” Kelly said. “Soccer was new and exciting. I loved it. I wanted to be more active. Soccer became my sport.”

When the time came for Kelly to become involved in high school sports at Kearny, she was ready to make her mark.

Kelly became a dominant two-sport athlete, excelling in soccer in the fall and softball in the spring. As a slick kicking and passing midfielder, Kelly led the Kardinals to their fourth straight Hudson County Tournament championship, scoring 13 goals and dishing off for 19 assists for the Kardinals enroute to a surprising 21-5 record.

As a slick fielding centerfielder and lead-off hitter in the lineup, Kelly batted .300 with two doubles, a triple, 24 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and 11 runs batted in.

More importantly, Kelly was a main cog on two teams that both won Hudson County championships during her senior year, a first for the history of the school.

For her efforts, Kelly has been selected as The Observer Co-Female Athlete of the Year, the first time in the history of the award dating back to 2002 that either a male or a female shared the honor.

Last week, Grace Montgomery of Nutley was named as the other recipient of the year-end award presented by The Observer.

Kelly recently received her award from Observer general manager Robert Pezzolla.

While Kelly said that she had instant success in softball, it was not the same in soccer. “I was terrible,” Kelly said. “When I was trying out for Thistle as a kid, there was a dribbling drill and I knocked all the cones over. But somehow, I still made the team. It took me some time to get to the level that everyone else was at.”

However, by the time Kelly got to Kearny High, she was ready to make a positive impact.

“I was pulled up to the varsity at the end of my freshman year in time for the states (NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs),” Kelly said. “By the middle of my sophomore year, I was a starting midfielder.”

Kearny head girls’ soccer coach Vin Almeida knew that Kelly had the makings of a standout player.

“She was always quick to listen and then quick to apply what she learned,” Almeida said. “She took our advice and every year, you could see how much she improved. She was always motivated and had the ability to take the instruction we gave and applied it.”

Kelly said that Almeida’s faith in her as a sophomore went a long way.

“It definitely boosted my confidence,” Kelly said. “I was starting over some of the seniors. I definitely started to play well.”

There was some thought of moving Kelly to the front line this season, but Almeida liked the leadership she provided from the midfield slot, more importantly the wing.

“She took on a greater role this year in terms of leadership,” Almeida said. “We always knew that she had her in her. She played aggressively. She was always fun to be around.”

“We lost so many people to graduation and injury, so I thought I might have to change my position,” Kelly said. “At the start of the year, everyone was a little down, so I put the team on my back a little bit to build everyone’s confidence up. Once that started happening, we started playing better. Moods changed and I think I helped the younger kids get used to playing with the varsity. I knew that I was a younger kid once and knew what they were going through.”

Kelly also realized that she had to become more of an offensive force as a senior.

“I knew I needed to be more offensive minded,” Kelly said. “It felt good to be part of three county championships in a row.”

During the off-season, Kelly worked out on her own and to get ready once again for softball. She declined to play softball as a junior in order to get ready for her final soccer season.

“I lifted and ran on my own,” Kelly said. “I went to the batting cages a lot. It was so hard to get back into softball after taking the year off. It was a big obstacle to overcome. Coach (Jim) Pickel was patient with me as I was coming back into it. I didn’t want to be one of the weaker people on the team, so that gave me more motivation.”

Pickel saw a huge change in Kelly.

“When she was a sophomore, she was quiet and did whatever you wanted,” Pickel said. “But she came back this year, she was much more of a leader. She was kind of behind after missing a year. Her timing was a little off at the plate, but defensively, she cut balls off and made plays to keep people from scoring. That was her main objective.”

Pickel said that that Kelly became a better offensive player as the season progressed. If there’s one thing he will remember, it’s her fleet feet.

“Definitely, her speed,” Pickel said. “The first game of the season, she got thrown out trying to steal home, but the last game, she tries it again and she makes it. If she doesn’t do it again, we probably don’t win the (Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League) title. There were two different extremes.”

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Pickel also will remember Kelly’s smile.

“Personality wise, when things were going well, her smile was as wide as possible,” Pickel said.

“I definitely did better than I thought,” Kelly said. “My first thought was that I had to be a leader. I always thought of myself as a leader. Winning the county championship felt awesome, because I knew no Kearny team ever won it before. The first thing I thought was that we won two county championships this year and both against the same school (Bayonne).”

Kelly will now head off to the University of Tampa, where she will major in sports management. Friend and former classmate Aislinn Sroczynski will also attend the same school. Sroczynski will compete in cross country and track and field there. Kelly is unsure about her athletic future.

“I might try to play soccer there, but at first, I want to focus on my academics,” Kelly said. “I’m so excited about going there.”

Kelly, who is the fourth Kearny female to earn The Observer Female Athlete of the Year, joining Allyson Dyl (2008), Janitza Aquino (2011) and Stefanie Gomes (2012), was proud to be put in the same classification of the other honorees.

“It’s definitely honorable,” Kelly said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I guess I feel like I made an impact at Kearny High School.”

That’s for sure.

Lyndhurst’s Servideo gets grand send-off

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Frank “Butch” Servideo has spent most of his life involved in Lyndhurst High School athletics.

Servideo was first a standout athlete at Lyndhurst, then returned to become a coach of several sports. He was an assistant football and basketball coach, then became the head softball coach and finally spent the final three decades as the head baseball coach, winning more than 500 games, including the overall NJSIAA Group I state championship in 2008.

Servideo also served as the school’s athletic director for the last two decades.

“This is my home,” Servideo said. “I bleed blue and gold.”

Servideo figures that he spent 13 years as a student in the Lyndhurst school system, then another 42 as a coach, educator and administrator. That’s some career.

“It’s a great town,” said Servideo, who made his home in Lyndhurst with his wife Luann and children.

Servideo announced earlier last year that he was going to retire as both the baseball coach and athletic director.

Last Wednesday, Servideo’s former assistant coaches threw him a retirement party at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge.

“It was fabulous,” Servideo said. “It was like a wedding. All the guys put it together. It was tremendous.”

Coaches Michael Rizzo, Patrick Auteri, Rich Tuero and new athletic director Jeff Radigan joined forces to organize the affair, which was attended by more than 225 of Servideo’s well wishers.

“What a great night,” Servideo said. “I couldn’t believe how many people were there. The guys who put it together all played for me, coached with me and became great family men. I was really taken aback with how many people were there. People came out of the woodwork to be there. I kept seeing people and saying, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ It was unbelievable.”

Incredibly, four of Servideo’s former coaches were in attendance, guys like Arnie Perrone, Don Cavalli, Joe Ferruzza and Phil Ciarco.

“It was great to see those guys again,” Servideo said.

During the course of the evening, the Lyndhurst Board of Education decided to honor Servideo by retiring his baseball jersey No. 10. Superintendent of Schools Tracey Marinelli presented Servideo with a jersey and another will hang permanently in the school gymnasium.

“That was very flattering,” Servideo said. “I wore No. 22 and No. 10 as a player, but always No. 10 as a coach.”

Servideo went to Northland College in northern Wisconsin after his athletic playing days at Lyndhurst. He returned home to Lyndhurst after graduation from Northland and became a coach right away.

“I was 21 years old and still had hopes of becoming a professional baseball player,” Servideo said. “Jim Corino was the athletic director at the time at Lyndhurst and he said he wanted me to be an assistant basketball and football coach. I didn’t know anything about basketball. He told me to just watch him, so that’s what I did.”

In 1980, Servideo took over a fledgling softball program that had won three games the previous year. They won 16 his first season. Incredibly, 12 of the players of that 1980 team were at the retirement celebration.

“We had some 20-win seasons and some league championships,” Servideo said of his six-year stint as softball coach.

In 1986, Servideo moved over to become baseball coach and carved out a career as one of the best baseball mentors in the state.

“I had a lot of former players come back,” Servideo said. “It was really humbling. It was great to see all the people who grew into great young men and women.”

Photo courtesy Michael Rizzo Servideo with the organizers of his retirement party last week at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge. From l., are football coach Rich Tuero, Servideo, athletic director Jeff Radigan, new head baseball coach Patrick Auteri and vice-principal Michael Rizzo.

Photo courtesy Michael Rizzo Servideo with the organizers of his retirement party last week at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge. From l., are football coach Rich Tuero, Servideo, athletic director Jeff Radigan, new head baseball coach Patrick Auteri and vice-principal Michael Rizzo.

 

Rizzo, who recently became a vice-principal in the district, was glad to be able to honor Servideo.

“When we heard Butchie was retiring, we really wanted to do something nice for him,” Rizzo said. “To be able to do it is another thing. It was so much fun. We thought we might get 180 or so, but that’s why we went to the Fiesta, just in case we got more people. The final count was like 230. It was amazing.”

There were a handful of speakers who got up to roast Servideo.

“They really gave it to him,” Rizzo said. “It was a lot of fun. It was priceless. I really can’t put it to words. It was really rewarding.”

The group presented Servideo with a host of retirement gifts, like a new driver for his golf game, two free rounds at the famed Bethpage Black golf course and two box seats for Derek Jeter’s final home game at Yankee Stadium before his retirement in September.

“I also got free dinners from a lot of different local places,” Servideo said. “My wife and I are going to eat well for a while.”

Servideo couldn’t believe the outpouring of love.

“All the players who came back,” Servideo said. “All the girls from years ago. All the former coaches, that was really surprising. All the teachers and supervisors who have been retired for a while and came back. It was incredible.”

Servideo was asked if it will hit him that 50-plus years of his life involved with Lyndhurst athletics had come to an end.

“It probably won’t hit me until school starts again in September,” Servideo said. “It’s funny, but the other day, I went to school to give Jeff (Radigan) a set of keys and I went to use my swipe card to get in the building and it didn’t work. I couldn’t get in the building. That was a sign to me that it was over.”

Servideo said that he’s not going anywhere soon. Luann Servideo will remain an active member of the Lyndhurst school system as a teacher’s aide. He will go to Florida to work at the Florida Coast Spring Training Baseball Facility in Fort Pierce, owned by former Lyndhurst resident Vin Carlesi.

He also plans to become an active high school umpire, but will stay far away from Lyndhurst games.

“I’ll come to watch some games,” Servideo said. “I’ll be around.”’

That’s good for the people of Lyndhurst, because dedicated people like Butch Servideo don’t come around often.

They come every half century or so.

Putting pride back into Belleville football

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Joe Fischer decided to take over the Belleville High School football program once again for a second stint, he wanted to change the perception more than anything.

“We were starting from scratch,” said Fischer, who was the head coach for four seasons from 2004 through 2007. “I had to put together a plan.” And what did that plan include?

“We had the players pick up garbage,” Fischer said.

Simple enough, no? A day after the Belleville Class of 2014 went through their commencement exercises at Belleville Stadium, Fischer had the 40 or so returning football players go to clean the stadium top to bottom.

“It shows the kids that no one is above picking up garbage,” Fischer said. “It instills pride in their surroundings, where they practice and play. They have a nice field, a nice facility that they should be proud of. And it stops them from throwing stuff on the ground.”

Fischer said that the plan showed its first signs of working when a player went up to a teacher and told the teacher that they can’t throw empty bottles on the ground.

“One of the players ran over, picked up the empty bottle and said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Fischer said. “They know that if they’re going to pick up garbage to play, then they’re going to pick up garbage. It’s that simple. I knew I had to start from scratch. I knew that these kids had no pride in their program.”

The clean-up program was a sign to the players that times had indeed changed.

“They knew that things were changing,” Fischer said.

In May, the Belleville football players picked up 25 bags of garbage from the area around Belleville Stadium. After graduation, there was more of the same.

“Discipline doesn’t work if the kids don’t care,” Fischer said. “The kids simply had no pride in their program. It is a form of discipline when they have to take care of where they spend most of their time. We have a nice field. They should take care of it.”

Fischer said that the cleanup routine has already filtered down to the players.

“I told one of the seniors, Nick Nardicchone, that if I found any bottles around, we were going to run gassers for every bottle,” Fischer said. “He made sure that there were no bottles. That’s just the way it is. I’m not a yeller or a screamer, but they are following through with what I say.”

Fischer said that he instituted a similar plan when he became the head coach in 2004.

“We had a bad locker room with old rusty lockers and animals lived there and that ran in and out,” Fischer said. “So we re-did the entire locker room and built new wood lockers. They’re still there. It’s a team building concept.”

Photos courtesy Joe Fischer Belleville football players climb the stairs at Belleville Stadium to clean the facility after graduation ceremonies recently.

Photos courtesy Joe Fischer
Belleville football players climb the stairs at Belleville Stadium to clean the facility after graduation ceremonies recently.

 

The Buccaneers were in the midst of a 33-game losing streak, the longest in the state, when Fischer took over the first time. They snapped the slide and eventually made the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state playoffs in 2007, the last time the program reached the postseason.

Fischer said that the players received a treat in May, when 25 of the Buccaneers were treated to partake in the National Football League draft at Radio City Music Hall.

“I have a friend, Gerhardt Sanchez, who used to be the recreation director in Montclair,” Fischer said. “He ran a 7-on-7 for the NFL in Montclair. We’ve become friends. He now works for the NFL. He called me and asked if I wanted to take some kids to the draft. So we brought 25 kids.”

The Belleville gridders got to meet Giants punter Steve Weatherford and Jets running back Chris Ivory while watching the draft.

“There were coaches and general managers walking around,” Fischer said. “It was really a nice day, another day toward team building. Half of the players had never even been to New York City before. It might be only 12 miles away, but it’s totally different to them. It was such a great day. The kids are still talking about it.”

The Buccaneers might not set the world on fire this season, but there’s one thing for sure. There’s a new sheriff in town. Actually, it’s the old sheriff, but he’s making sure that things are being done the right away and being done with a sense of pride.

“We’re starting from the bottom, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Fischer said.

Nutley’s Montgomery named Observer Female Co-Athlete of the Year

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Grace Montgomery never thought she was doing anything special. The recent Nutley High School graduate just gravitated from soccer in the fall to basketball in the winter and outdoor track, particularly the javelin, in the spring. Just one after another. No big thing.

“During that season, whatever the sport was, I put my whole heart and soul into that sport,” Montgomery said. “In the summer, we would have captains’ practice for soccer, then I’d go play basketball in the summer league and then do running and workouts for track. Sure, it was difficult, but I had fun. I loved all three sports I played. It wasn’t that big of a deal because I had been doing them all my whole life. I couldn’t imagine just doing one of them.”

Soccer was the first sport in Montgomery’s life. Along with twin sister Meghan, the two formed a terrific twosome playing defense from a very young age, like from kindergarten on.

“They called them the ‘Twin Towers,’” said their father, William. “They were so tall and strong back there.”

“I think I was pretty good in soccer right away,” Grace Montgomery said.

Basketball then followed a year later.

“I guess I was pretty good in basketball as well,” Grace Montgomery said. “My parents were both good athletes, so that helped.”

William Montgomery played baseball and track and field at Bayonne High School, while mom Ellen played basketball at Secaucus High School and later was part of the swim team at St. Peter’s College.

“It helped that they were both into sports and got us into sports,” Montgomery said.

The javelin was the last of the Montgomery trifecta.

“I didn’t start throwing the javelin until the end of my sophomore year,” Montgomery said. “My uncle sort of mentioned that if I became good in the javelin, it would help me get into college.”

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The results were staggering. Montgomery was a standout defender on the Nutley girls’ soccer team that went undefeated in league play and won the Super Essex Conference- -Liberty Division title. She also averaged 13 points per game for the Nutley girls’ basketball team that posted a 10-2 SEC Liberty Division mark, good for second in the league.

But the cherry on the sundae was the latest. Montgomery came from way back in the pack to unleash a monstrous throw of 136 feet, two inches to become the overall state champion at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions last month. Montgomery entered the last day of competition as the 10th  seed in the entire state, saving her career best throw for last, capturing the gold. A week later, Montgomery went to the United States Track and Field High School Nationals in Charlotte, N.C., and Montgomery finished 14th out of 60 competitors nationwide.

For her efforts, Montgomery has been selected as the 2013-2014 Observer Female Co- Athlete of the Year, becoming only the second Nutley girl to receive the honor.

Former softball standout Kelly Rauco was the only other former Maroon Raider great to receive the award, getting the nod in 2006.

Montgomery is one of two recipients for the award given to the top local female high school athlete. The other Female Co-Athlete of the Year will be revealed in next week’s editions of The Observer.

“It’s incredible,” Montgomery said. “I’m pretty impressed. It’s a pretty huge deal. It’s all still pretty crazy to me. I worked so hard to get there.”

Her coaches all knew that Montgomery was someone special.

“She was a lock down defender for a team that won 18 games and won a league title,” said Nutley girls’ soccer coach Mike DiPiano. “We also reached the top 20 in the state for the first time. She never shied away from a tackle and always played a physical game. She was the stopper her sophomore year and we moved her to outside back and she never once complained about the move.”

DiPiano was asked what he would always remember about Montgomery.

“I think it’s her toughness,” DiPiano said. “She was banged up most of the time and yet, she was a three-sport athlete. I don’t know how many true three-sport athletes there are anymore. It’s a dying breed. She’s one of the last true three-sport athletes.”

Nutley girls’ basketball coach Larry Mitschow agreed.

“Grace was an unbelievable leader for us, both on and off the court,” Mitschow said. “She did a whole bunch of things for us.

She brought the ball up the floor. She was our second leading scorer. She was our top defender and she played injured for most of the season. She managed to work her way through it. She would defensively play the top player on the other team. She really was an important player for us.” Mitschow was asked what he would remember about Montgomery.

“Her personality,” Mitschow said. “She was just a joy to coach. I loved talking to her, being able to speak to her as an adult, speaking freely about anything and everything. There were no barriers between us. We jelled well right away. She was easy to talk to.”

Track coach Robert O’Dell raved about Montgomery’s accomplishments.

“She had an outstanding career,” O’Dell said. “She’s the first Meet of Champions winner we’ve had in 39 years and just the second in school history. It was a perfect ending to a great career, with the drama of the last throw. She had an outstanding season that won’t be replicated for a long while.”

O’Dell was also asked what he would remember.

“Her ability to compete,” O’Dell said. “She competed and competed and was able to pull out that clutch throw.”

Montgomery will now take her immense talents to Rowan University, where she will solely compete in the javelin. Her soccer and basketball careers seem to be over.

“It’s going to be pretty different, competing in just one sport,” Montgomery said. “But I know that if I concentrated the whole year on one sport, I could be really good. It was always about three sports, but now, I’m excited to focus on just the javelin the whole time.”

Montgomery is still undecided about a major at Rowan, but one thing is for sure: She left Nutley High School with a legacy of greatness, of determination, of playing through pain and never giving up. That’s the reason she has been selected as the area’s top female athlete – or at the very least, a share of the top billing.

We’ll learn about the other Female Athlete of the Year next week.

Local MMA fighter wins her first bout in debut as a pro

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Kearny resident Katlyn Chookagian spends most of her time working as a bartender at Lulu’s, the nightclub inside the W Hotel in Hoboken.

Four days a week, you’ll find Chookagian mixing cocktails at the popular bar in the Mile Square City.

During the rest of her time, she’s busy training at the All-Star BJJ in Kenilworth, working with five other mixed martial arts fighters who are part of Team Renzo Gracie.

“He comes and runs the classes sometimes,” Chookagian said of the legendary mixed martial arts master. “I’m generally training six days a week. It’s hard, because I go to bed at 4:30 a.m. after bartending and I’m up at 6 a.m. to train. Sometimes, I get yelled at, because I’m overtraining, but that’s what I do. If I’m not training, what else am I going to do? I like it. It keeps me prepared.”

The hard work paid off last weekend, as Chookagian, who stands 5-foot-9 and weighs 115 pounds, won her professional debut, taking a three-round unanimous decision over Rebecca Heintzman at the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia in the Cage Fury Fighting Championship series.

Chookagian’s bout was the lone female bout in the 11-bout card Saturday night.

Chookagian, a native of Quakertown, Pa., attended Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, graduating in 2011 with a degree in business management.

But getting in the cage was always something that Chookagian dreamed of doing.

“I always did martial arts,” Chookagian said. “I started doing karate when I was four years old. I then did a lot of kick boxing as part of staying in shape, so I always had it in me.”

She also had the boxing down pat, winning the Pennsylvania Golden Gloves when she was 16 years old.

“I’m a very competitive person,” Chookagian said. “About a year and a half ago, I put it all together and got involved in mixed martial arts. There weren’t that many girls involved at that time, but the numbers of women in the sport are growing. My goal was always to do MMA.”

In 2012, Chookagian was spotted by manager Jamal Patterson, who took Chookagian under his wing.

“He helped me get to where I’m at,” Chookagian said. “I was having trouble finding fights and it was hard for me to develop in the sport. Jamal planned out my career and gave me a strong path to build it up.”

There were seven amateur MMA fights, all of which the 25-year-old Chookagian won.

“He saw me right away and took the extra time to help me,” Chookagian said. “I improved a lot in a short period.”

So Chookagian was ready for her pro debut last weekend.

“I was really excited to get my first pro fight,” Chookagian said. “This is what I wanted. When I started, it seemed so far away. I remember seeing a girl fighting MMA and saying, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I never thought I would actually do it. It’s crazy.”

Chookagian, who used to live in Jersey City before moving to Kearny a few months ago, doesn’t know how long she will continue in the mixed martial arts world. She’s only 25, so she has a very bright future.

“I have done everything to prepare for this first fight,” Chookagian said. “There’s no better time than now to get this career going. I do think the maturity is going to help me a little bit, because I’ve been through a lot.”

Chookagian is not going to let one win get to her head.

“I’m always trying to get better,” Chookagian said. “That’s all I think about when I get into the cage. I’m looking to get better. But I definitely like this.”

As long as she keeps winning, then Katlyn Chookagian will like MMA fighting almost as much as she likes bartending.

Katlyn Chookagian can be followed on Twitter @ blondefighter.

Farinola takes over as girls’ soccer coach at North Arlington

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Dan Farinola already had been one of the busiest coaches around, coaching bowling, golf and soccer all year long, so when the opportunity to take over the girls’ soccer program at North Arlington High School, where Farinola is a teacher, he had to jump at it.

Former coach Sharon O’Brien Romer stepped down at the end of last season to attend to her growing family, leaving the vacancy at the helm of the girls’ soccer squad.

Farinola, who coaches bowling and golf at North Arlington, had been the head boys’ soccer coach at Secaucus for the past six seasons. Farinola is a graduate of Secaucus and spent 10 years with the boys’ soccer program there.

“For a while, I always wanted to coach soccer where I was teaching,” said Farinola, who guided the Secaucus boys to a 10-10-2 record last season. “If ever the opportunity came around, I wanted to be considered. I spent 10 years at Secaucus and I left them in a good situation. It was tough to leave. I felt bad for the seniors that I coached for three years. I had mixed emotions about leaving. But I’m looking forward to the new challenge.”

Farinola said that the transition becoming the new girls’ soccer coach has been smooth.

“The girls really listened to me right away,” said Farinola, who has already entered his team in the Kearny summer league. “Sharon was very gracious and helpful in the transition. She reserved the spot in the Kearny league for us. We are good friends. She’s the one who got this started. I owe a lot to her.”

The 30-year-old Farinola said that the returning players have been receptive to the new coach.

“They’ve been very responsive to me,” Farinola said. “There is a certain way I’m going to coach the team. In terms of fitness, in terms of conditioning, they are going through walls so far. They’ve done everything I’ve asked of them.”

Farinola knows that he lost a number of players from last year’s team that won eight matches.

“I know we’ve lost a lot of girls numbers-wise,” Farinola said. “But we have a good group that has a lot of good varsity experience.”

High-scoring midfielder Joanna Seca, forward Taylor Barth and standout defender Sarah Palma all return this season for the Vikings.

“They are the captains and they give us good leadership,” Farinola said. “We do have a lot of pieces to fill, but I’m optimistic from what I’ve seen. I think we can be competitive right away. The biggest thing for me right now is trying to find a goalie. I have some girls in mind for the defense. But we can be competitive this year. I definitely believe that.” Farinola said that it will be a big help to him that he will be in the building every day as a teacher.

“I think it’s going to make a big difference for me,” said Farinola, who guided the NA golf team to a berth in the NJSIAA state sectionals for the first time two months ago. “I can see the kids during the day. I will see them excited in the building. I’m really excited to be able to coach the girls.”

Farinola said that it also helps that he knows most of the girls already from being a teacher at the school for the past few years.

“I think that is a big asset,” Farinola said. “It took me so long at Secaucus to get to know the kids. That’s half the battle. If I can get along with the players and they trust me and have trust in the system, that’s a big step. I feel I’m already there with these girls. They trust me and want to learn.”

Farinola already has reached out to the North Arlington Recreation soccer program and had a clinic for seventh and eighth graders.

“We had a good turnout for that,” Farinola said. “I’m looking forward to doing more, so the kids could make a commitment to come to North Arlington High School and play soccer for us. We’re also looking forward to getting kids who never played soccer before and turning them into soccer players. It’s a big challenge to get girls to commit to playing soccer. One thing I’ve been talking to the girls about was having three-sport athletes.

Added Farinola, “I know we have a lot of girls who played soccer in town and maybe lost interest. It’s up to me to get them back.”

Farinola said that he already has received a commitment from veteran coach Gino De- Pinto to serve as his assistant. DePinto was the long-time girls’ soccer coach at Secaucus who retired two years ago.

“He’s going to be a big asset,” Farinola said. “His background in coaching is big and he knows the league well.”

So Farinola will continue to coach bowling in the winter and golf in the spring, but he now adds a third sport, like many of the athletes do, at North Arlington High School.

World Cup soccer fever comes to Kearny once again

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By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Portugal scored the equalizing goal with just 15 seconds remaining in added time Sunday, grasping a tie out of the jaws of a Team USA victory in the second round of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, local soccer fans could try to put a positive spin on everything.

Well, at least it wasn’t a loss.

And before the game began, every single Team USA fan would have taken a draw against Portugal, one of the favorites in the tournament and featuring the world’s best player in Cristiano Ronaldo. Before the game, odds makers had Portugal as a two-goal favorite to win the match.

And the 2-2 tie wasn’t exactly the worst outcome the Red, White and Blue could have received. Team USA now needs at least a draw against world power Germany Thursday morning to advance to the field of 16.

However, it was the way the game ended that caused such pain and anguish.

“It was a stinger,” said Christian Garing, a former Kearny High School soccer standout who now runs the Kearny Red Bull Army, a group that attends all New York Red Bulls home games at Red Bull Arena in Harrison.

But Garing had mixed emotions Monday morning.

“I went to bed feeling that we lost,” Garing said. “I woke up a little more positive thinking we can move on. If someone would have told me before the World Cup started that we’d have a win over Ghana and a tie with Portugal, I would have signed that contract right away.”

Regardless of the outcome, the sport of soccer has received a major boost by the attention the World Cup has received.

Just a look at the restaurants and bars in the area is proof that World Cup fever has definitely caught on.

At the popular Kearny Scots- American Club, the joint was rocking with soccer fans both for the win over Ghana last Monday and the draw with Portugal Sunday.

“I think with each passing World Cup, we get to see a bigger following in the United States,” Garing said. “The sport is getting a more positive spin from the media. You can tell by the patriotism that is being portrayed on television that things are turning around. The sport has definitely grown.”

Garing is also impressed with the way Team USA has played in its first two games. People like Clint Dempsey, who has scored a goal in each game, have become household names. Graham Zusi has collected an assist in each game. Both Dempsey and Zusi are Major League Soccer players.

Dempsey scored his first goal just seconds into the game against Ghana and later suffered a severely broken nose, but was able to play against Portugal on Sunday and scored once again, becoming a nation al hero overnight.

Jermaine Jones gave the United States some hope with his brilliant strike from 25 yards out, tying the game in the 64th minute, before Dempsey scored from Zusi in the 80th  minute, giving everyone anticipation of the upset win that just wasn’t meant to be.

“I was in Kearny and Harrison before the World Cup and the talk was that the U.S. wasn’t going to score a single goal in the World Cup,” Garing said. “People were saying that we were not going to get through (to the field of 16). That conversation has sure changed. Now, we think we can win and move on.”

Before the World Cup began, United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was quoted as saying that the United States “had no chance whatsoever of winning the World Cup” this year.

Those comments hit a few sour notes locally.

“I can see where he’s coming from,” said former Kearny High soccer standout Miguel Abreu, watching the games with his entire family, including 2-year-old son Dylan. “But as a player, you never want to hear that. It’s an uphill battle to begin with. You never want to hear your coach saying that.”

Photo by Jim Hague The avid soccer fans at the Kearny Scots-American Club erupt after Clint Dempsey scored an early goal against Ghana.

Photo by Jim Hague
The avid soccer fans at the Kearny Scots-American Club erupt after Clint
Dempsey scored an early goal against Ghana.

 

“I think he was trying to get the best of his team,” said Kearny resident Ed Coleman. “That’s the German mentality (Klinsmann is a former German soccer standout and great coach). They try to underplay everything and hope that the team overachieves. I think the USA fans are more upset with those words than the players. The players know what they’re up against.”

“I hope we get him to eat his words,” said fellow Kearny resident Lennon Gomez, a former Kearny High athlete. “I don’t understand how you say those things before the tournament begins.”

Coleman was certain that Team USA was going to do well in the World Cup.

“I think we’re going to surprise a lot of fans,” Coleman said. “Our backline is young. We also have the best goaltender in the world.”

Tim Howard, Team USA’s net minder, is a former Kearny resident who lived on Pleasant Place when he played for the old MetroStars.

“We’re all hyped up for this,” Coleman said. “It’s unbelievable.”

“It’s beautiful to see all the Kearny people get excited for the World Cup,” Gomez said. “The Kearny pride is showing. It doesn’t get any better than this.”

Abreu was glad to be able to share it with his young son.

“It’s a long time coming,” Abreu said. “The World Cup only comes around every four years. It’s such a great experience here, especially in Kearny, with all the different nationalities in the town. We’re ready for a good USA run. The afternoon games are nice, because we can bring our families. We have second, third and even fourth generation soccer fans here. It’s great to see.”

Garing notices the way Kearny just explodes with excitement during the World Cup. However, it’s not just locally. ESPN showed viewing parties in places like Grant Park in Chicago and Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, where thousands of USA fans gathered together to show their support.

World Cup fever has encompassed the nation, but especially in our own backyard.

“I don’t know if we’re ready to win the World Cup yet,” Garing said. “We still have to earn some respect throughout the world. But we have shown we can win games.”

The United States was just 15 seconds away from winning Sunday and moving on to the final 16. Silvestre Varela’s header off the brilliant cross from Ronaldo dashed those hopes. Now, Team USA has to do it the hard way against Germany. Kearny and the surrounding communities are just hoping upon hope that World Cup fever will include the United States national team through the weekend.