By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Vinny Abbott, Brian McDonnell and Scott Millar all attended Kearny High School right around the same time, right as the new millennium began a little over a decade ago.
All three were excellent athletes in their respective sports, with some of them participating in more than one varsity sport. They all went on to play sports in college, and when their college days were over, they returned home to Kearny to become teachers and coaches, giving back to the community that raised them.
The same can be said for Bob Cressman, another Kearny native, another Kardinal product and athlete, who went away for college, came home and became a long-time respected coach.
In the case of Charlie Dolan, he wasn’t a Kearny High product, having attended St. Cecelia’s instead. But Dolan has owned a major place of prominence in Kearny High athletics for many years as a volunteer coach and contributor.
On Wednesday night, Nov. 7, the five aforementioned men will all have earned something remarkably in common.
They will be among the 18 deserving men and women who will be honored as part of the 20th Induction Ceremonies at the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame Association’s dinner at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge, beginning at 7 p.m.
Abbott was fine three-sport athlete during his days at Kearny High, competing in football, wrestling and track and field before he graduated in 2003.
Abbott was a standout wrestler, earning two NJSIAA District 16 gold medals, advancing twice to the Region 4 finals, earning a berth at the state championships in Atlantic City. He’s one of only five Kardinal wrestlers to reach the 100-win plateau.
“We had some pretty good accolades my senior year in football as well,” said the 27-year-old Abbott. “We beat Plainfield in football my senior year, so that was memorable. I also did some nice things in track and field. I threw the shot put, but I also ran the 100 and 200-meter dashes. I made some really good memories.”
Abbott was a little surprised when he learned that he was gaining induction this year.
“It’s pretty nice to receive word that I was getting in, especially this soon,” Abbott said. “It’s a really nice honor. Just to be in the same sentence with wrestlers like David Cordoba (the school’s lone state wrestling champion) and my coach Tony Carratura means so much to me. It really hits close to home.”
Abbott remains a teacher at the high school and is currently an assistant coach to Carratura with the Kearny wrestling team.
McDonnell was also a fine wrestler during his career, earning District 16 and Region 4 titles, as well as joining Abbott as a member of the 100- win club. McDonnell was an excellent cross country runner as well, competing in wrestling and cross country for all four years of high school.
“I actually joined cross country to get in shape for wrestling,” said the 26-year-old McDonnell, currently a math and algebra teacher at the high school. “But I never felt like I was one or the other. It was always both for me.”
McDonnell will earn induction in the all-around category, meaning that he earns the distinction for more than one sport.
“That makes it very special, going in as an all-around,” said McDonnell, who now serves as an assistant coach to Jim Cifelli with the school’s cross country team. “As the years went on, I always went back and forth as to which I was better at. I really don’t know.”
McDonnell was also surprised to receive the honor at such a young age.
“I thought it might be something I would receive in the future, not this soon,” McDonnell said. “I thought I would have to wait a bit for this. It puts an exclamation point on what was a great high school career.”
McDonnell embraces the fact that he’s coaching at Kearny now after being an athlete at the school.
“I definitely like the idea that we’re giving back,” McDonnell said. “I think it’s something we wanted to do when we got involved in coaching. It’s fun to be able to give back and keep the tradition going.”
Millar is a third generation of Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Famers, joining his grandfather, George, who played multiple sports during his days, and his father, John, the legendary soccer coach and current athletic director. Scott Millar was a tremendous soccer player for his father during his playing days, graduating in 2002.
“I really never put too much thought into it before I got word,” said Scott Millar, now 28. “Now, as I think about it, it’s a tremendous honor. It’s definitely extremely humbling. To consider myself in the same category with some of the great soccer players who have played here is a little farfetched, but it’s still extremely humbling.”
There will be a day when another Millar receives his proper due, namely Scott’s younger brother, Michael, who remains the school’s single-season record holder for goals in one season.
“For me to be in the same sentence with my brother is humbling,” Millar said. “Having played for my father is something I don’t take for granted at all.”
Millar is now the freshman boys’ soccer coach at the school.
“I try to take some of the things I learned from my father with me and instill those values into the freshmen,” Millar said. “It’s a privilege for me to work with the coaching staff and it’s a thrill for me to be able to come back and give back a little as a coach.”
Cressman graduated from Kearny High in 1975 and came back to coach in 1981. He retired as a track and field, cross country and football coach seven years ago, but he left a legacy of giving back for a quarter century as a dedicated three-sport coach.
“I was able to have some great coaches during my days growing up and I saw that they brought a joy to coaching,” Cressman said. “I never had a bad coach and I learned so much from those good guys. It’s also great to see the young guys come back and coach. I coached Vinny Abbott and Brian McDonnell in track and field. I was inspired by others like Jim Cifelli. They were the foundations of what I wanted to do as a coach, built my philosophy as a coach.”
Cressman said that he also coached fellow inductees Pat Cyrgalis (football) and Ashley Ficeto (track and field), so it will be a special evening for Cressman.
“It’s a real nice feeling and it’s something I’m going to look forward to,” Cressman said.
Dolan, who was inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame a few years ago, thinks that his induction as a contributor will also be special.
“I’m getting an award for doing something I love doing,” Dolan said. “I never figured I’d get in, but it’s definitely something special. Being with the kids made it easy, seeing them develop from freshmen into seniors. The kids gave me respect and I always appreciated that. So many people have come up to me and congratulated me. It really means a lot to me.”
Others gaining induction are Frank Bernard, Bill Mastriano and Gene Smedberg for baseball; John McLaughlin for outdoor track; Bobby Banach and Taj Roberts Pettigrew for soccer, Harold Trevenen for tennis; Billy Clifton as a coach; Marty O’Malley as a contributor; William Galley and Warren Rebholz for football; Ficeto for girls’ swimming and Kate Sudol for girls’ tennis.
Tickets are still available for the induction dinner. The event, which is now a triannual dinner, will begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 7. For more information about tickets, contact the school’s athletic department at (201) 955-5051.