By Ron Leir
They’re trying to bring back the pride.
For the past several years, students and staff at Kearny High School have grown accustomed to a hybrid existence: normal everyday instruction in an environment of partly cordoned off hallways and classrooms, scaffolding and outdoor classroom trailers.
At some point, soon, district administrators say, work will resume on the long-stalled, multi-million dollar project designed to graft new classrooms, a new cafeteria and a grand five-story atrium onto the 90-year-old high school.
As a morale booster, KHS Principal Al Gilson turned loose veteran photography instructor Gary DiVincenzo to do a little redesigning of his own by focusing on a section of the school’s lobby entrance where school fliers and announcements were taped on the wall.
To DiVincenzo, it was an affront to a visitor’s eyes, an insult to the school’s once pristine interior.
“Look at the architecture,” he said, gesturing toward the high ceilings, carefully styled designs and wainscoting. “Today, you could never afford to put marble and hardwood walls in a public school building. Unfortunately, this marble hasn’t been polished in 50 years – something that would probably cost $20,000 to do – which is not in the budget.” Heeding the principal’s plea “to do something to make it more classy” by creating a photo montage, DiVincenzo willingly responded to the challenge.
“I decided to show the history of Kearny High School over the years,” he said, through a pictorial review.
And clearly, Kearny High has had a treasure trove of memorable achievements to draw from: particularly in the interscholastic athletic arena and, most notably, in soccer. As chronicled by Wikipedia, the Kardinals boys soccer team has won 16 NJSIAA Group IV championships since 1946, the girls soccer team won the North I, Group IV state sectionals in 2007 while the cross country unit has captured many county, conference and state championships.
So, going with that strong suit, DiVincenzo enlisted the aid of members of his advanced photography class and, together, they poured over hundreds of pages of old KHS yearbooks dating back to 1927, which, luckily, were available from storage in the principal’s office.
The research began last winter and DiVincenzo credited two of his students – June alumna Emily Papa, who designed last year’s KHS yearbook, and current senior Shannon Stoia, this year’s yearbook photographer – as being particularly helpful in volunteering their time and leadership on the project.
Selecting images to be represented in a KHS photo collage was often an arduous task, said Shannon. “It was hard to keep consistency among the various categories like football and soccer teams, in terms of the quality of the photos, especially the ones we found in the older yearbooks going back to the ‘20s and ‘30s,” she said. “Some were really fragile.”
The project team “grabbed a few [images] from each decade,” she added.
Another helpful resource, DiVincenzo said, was the KHS alumni website for references to longtime Kardinal coaches, standout players and those “celebrity” alums like the late Giants football player Alex Webster, Tab Ramos and John Harkes, professional soccer players in England, and Tony Meola, who played soccer for the old Metro Stars, among others.
And there were Kardinal coaches like Doc Loughridge, who steered basketball squads during the 1940s, and Bob Kirk, who guided soccer squads to several state titles in the ‘60s, for example. Others of more recent vintage included Ralph Borgess Sr. and Jr. for football and Jim Cifelli for track.
“I’m a Kearny High grad, Class of 1972,” DiVincenzo said, “so I remember these were winning coaches.”
Also included in the photo mix were shots of student activities and clubs from the various school eras.
“The hardest part was putting it together,” Shannon said, “because of the measurements [of the panels] we had to fit.”
To prepare the approximately 50 photos picked for mounting, DiVincenzo had the students scan the images from the yearbooks and sent them to a New York photography firm, Adorama, to insert them on metal plates which were then framed and arranged in the form of panels that were affixed to the lobby wall.
DiVincenzo said the project couldn’t have been completed without the help of school carpenters Carl Conrad and Mike Kijeski who cut the frames to the shape of the photos, glued the finished panels to a plywood backing and secured the entire 4-foot-by-10-foot display by drilling anchor bolts into the wall.
“Now when you walk into our building, it just pops,” said Gilson. “I think the photography class and Mr. DiVincenzo did a great job with this project. And, as the school construction job advances, we want to do more of this type of thing in different parts of our building.”
KHS Vice Principal John Millar, ranked among the nation’s “winningest boys soccer coaches” by ESPN for his Kardinal coaching from 1975 to 2006, said the montage serves as a big morale booster for students and staff alike.
“It takes the veteran staffers here, in particular, back to the different eras in our history. You can remember the great teams, the championships, that those people represented in the photos helped establish,” he said.