BELLEVILLE – Three township residents were displaced and one was injured by a fire that heavily damaged a King St. dwelling on Sunday, Jan. 25, according to the Belleville Fire Department. Battalion Fire Chief Martin Lutz said township fire personnel […]
The Kearny Office of Emergency Management, in coordination with the Kearny Police and Fire departments, Kearny Emergency Rescue Squad, Office of Mayor Alberto G. Santos, Town Administrator Michael Martello, the Kearny School District, Kearny Health and Public Works Departments, and […]
Here’s an ongoing list of local closures as of 1:22 p.m., Jan. 26. We’ll update this post as new information is available to us. • North Arlington Public Schools, closed Jan. 27. • North Arlington Borough Hall, closed Jan. 27 […]
The Nutley Public Library will close early Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 at 1 p.m., due to inclement weather. Call the library at 973-667-0405 on Tuesday to see if it has reopened. You may also check the library website at nutleypubliclibrary.org […]
State offices will close today at 1 p.m., and will be closed tomorrow, after Gov. Christie declared a State of Emergency for the entire state.
The alarm sounds: a house fire. The volunteers spring into action, arrive at the house, see smooke coming from the roof, strategize and take action. Complications ensue. They work it out. Fire extinguished. No injuries. Job done. Lessons learned.
Another fire successfully fought by members of the North Arlington Volunteer Fire Department and they never had to leave the firehouse. And, in fact, they did all while sitting down.
Did they just hallucinate what just happened? No, they were fully engaged in fighting a fire in real time, with the only difference being that the “fire” was superimposed on a computer screen, along with the fire personnel and rigs.
It’s all provided by Flame- Sim, an Illinois-based company that offers firefighters what the company characterizes as virtual “unscripted, high pressure, full-scale training scenarios,” that, according to Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Zidiak, forces them to make on-the-spot decisions that will have consequences.
Zidiak said the department secured the system with the aid of a $104,000 federal SAFER (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) grant allowing for the purchase of hardware and software.
“All three of our firehouses are linked to the system,” the chief said.
So fire officers can organize informal training exercises with the rank and file or any of the volunteers can opt to come in, grab a remote and use the system on their own time as a way of re-orienting themselves to a variety of potential firefighting situations.
For the department’s younger members, in particular, the technique doesn’t take a lot of time getting used to, Zidiak noted, since the process mimics playing an electronic video game – except, of course, that these simulations can all be played out in starkly real life terms.
“We plan to use it eventually as part of our officer training program to supplement our existing requirements,” Zidiak said.
The software program has 100 different fire scenarios built into the system, along with a “grading page” that rates how a participant reacts to each situation in which he or she is asked to make a decision about what step should be taken next at a fire scene – whether, for example, to grab a ladder of a certain length, or search for victims, etc.
But the system is designed so that any given user, such as the North Arlington Fire Dept., can input additional scenarios that may more closely reflect borough-like environments, Zidiak said.
Volunteer Firefighter Joseph Labarbera, who is coming up on his four-year anniversary with the department, has found the system “very user friendly. I can use it as a tool to be able to develop strategic decision-making skills.” Initially, Labarbera said, as the virtual system puts the “player” enroute to a fire, “it’s prompting me to think what I’m going to do when I arrive at the scene and what level of preparedness I can expect. It’s important to remember that no one scenario fits all.”
The system can also simulate a dense, smoky fire and how it would look through the eye of a firefighter using thermal imagery at the fire scene and test the operator’s ability to maneuver his/her way through that environment.
Meanwhile, Zidiak said, the borough department has tapped another federal funding source – $285,000 in ATF (Assistance to Firefighters) grant program funding – matched by $15,000 in local funds – to secure new air packs, along with individual breathing masks. The equipment figures to last at least 15 years, he said.
About a year ago, the chief said, the department upgraded its communications capability by acquiring and installing “repeaters,” which transmit a radio signal from one location to another, and thereby eliminated certain “dead spots” – coverage gaps – that prevented volunteers at a Schuyler Ave. fire scene, for example, with talking to a company up on Ridge Road.
Recently, the department was fortunate to pick up a surplus piece of military motor pool – a five-ton, 27-foot-long Army truck with a 20,000-pound payload – which, Zidiak said, could be used in emergencies – conditions like Superstorm Sandy – to rescue people stranded in flooded areas. The truck could probably roll through water 36-inches deep, he said. W.J. Devine & Son Trucking in Kearny hauled the vehicle on a flatbed, from the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to the borough, the chief said.
And, for internal use, Zidiak added, “we’re getting computers to do reports and other records we used to do on paper.”
A formerly longtime Nutley resident got a surprise visit recently from township representatives who came bearing a special gift … unrelated to the upcoming holiday season, however.
Pasquale Turello, 96, a World War II Marine veteran, was presented with Nutley’s Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his service to his country.
Township Public Affairs Commissioner Steven Rogers traveled to Berkeley Township in Ocean County to see the veteran, who had moved there in order for his family to care for him.
“He was unable to attend our Veterans’ Day ceremony when we presented 21 Nutley World War II veterans with medals,” Rogers explained. “Therefore, I decided to bring the medal to him.”
Turello, a private, served in the South Pacific during his tour with the U.S. Marines. He received several combat decorations from the military.
Rogers said he contacted Berkeley Mayor Carmen Amato who, together with Berkeley Council President James Burns, agreed to join him for a small military ceremony in Turello’s home with family and friends also there.
“To say the least, it was an emotional day for all of us. On behalf of this 96-year-old Marine and his wife, thank you Nutley for remembering his sacrifice for our nation,” Rogers said.
By Karen Zautyk
Shoppers have enough to worry about during the annual pre-holiday frenzy (What the heck can I get for Uncle Ernie? He hates everything. Is my credit card maxed out? Whaddya mean there are no Chia Pets left? Why isn’t this check-out line moving? Where the hell did I park the car?).
The thought of being a crime victim isn’t usually at the top of the list, though it ought to be considering the opportunities crowded stores, distracted bargain-hunters and vast parking lots afford the criminal element.
In this town, though, shoppers should feel a bit more secure thanks to a Kearny Police Department special initiative.
“On Black Friday,” Police Chief John Dowie told The Observer, “we launched our holiday mall patrol wherein additional officers are assigned, in uniform, plainclothes and on foot, to our mall areas.”
These include Walmart, all the Passaic Ave. centers (Kmart, ShopRite, Marshalls, etc.) as well as the shopping areas along Kearny Ave.
Overseeing the holiday-season project is Kearny Deputy Chief George King.
“In my opinion, it has already paid off,” Dowie said. During the first big shopping week, “we didn’t have any thefts of or from vehicles in the lots, we didn’t have any purse-snatchings, and the volume of shoplifting was less than expected.”
“The concept behind it,” he added, “is to convey a feeling of safety to the shoppers. The uniformed presence also deters crimes, but in the event we do have a crime, we can also provide a quicker response.”
The KPD mall patrols perform other functions, too, such as locating children who have wandered away in the stores and reuniting them with their frantic parents. And assisting motorists who have locked themselves out of their cars.
And while there are still roving vehicle patrols, officers also “go into the various retail establishments and interact with merchants and shoppers and make sure things are going smoothly and safely,” the chief said.
Officers also will monitor the SPEN (State Police Emergency Network) radio frequency, so if a BOLO is issued in connection with a crime in another jurisdiction, they will immediately have the description of the suspect, car, direction of flight, etc., making it easier to spot should it head for Kearny.
Additionally, Kearny patrol cars are equipped with ALPRs (Automatic License Plate Readers), the better to intercept a stolen or unregistered vehicle. “This helps us be proactive, intercepting it before the operator can even get into our mall areas,” Dowie said. And the officers will be forewarned before approaching such a vehicle.
The KPD, although it has earmarked money for this high-visibility holiday initiative, is also getting some “proactive” help from Walmart, Dowie noted. The store, on its own dime, has hired off-duty police officers “over and above its regular internal security.”
The KPD holiday mall project will continue until Jan. 1.
Now, go get those Chia Pets before they are all gone!
By Ron Leir
If all goes well, Kearny can expect to see a new big box retailer along its slowly evolving Passaic Ave. shopping district.
BJ’s Wholesale Club, an East Coast warehouse retailer, will be the anchor tenant for a shopping mall planned by DVL Kearny Holdings LLC for the east side of Passaic Ave., at Bergen Ave.
At a lengthy public hearing held last Wednesday, Dec. 4, the Kearny Planning Board voted 8-1, with certain conditions, to approve an amended site plan filed by DVL that will allow the developer to change the dimensions of two of the six retail buildings for which the company got board approvals five years ago.
One of those buildings, originally designed to accommodate 104,000 square feet of retail spread over two floors, is now being cast as a single level, 87,778 square foot space to be occupied by BJ’s, according to testimony by DVL representatives.
Also, a second building that was approved for a 4,000 square foot single retail tenant is now reconfigured for 17,000 square feet to handle up to five smaller retailers. No tenants, other than BJ’s, are committed.
By and large, the board had no major problems with those changes but it had some concerns about how the proposed layout of one of the new retail buildings would shrink an existing 50-foot easement (between the north end of ShopRite and the old Congoleum factory building) shared by the town and the neighboring Tully ShopRite down to 20 feet, and, at its narrowest point, to just 18 feet.
The developer also figures that six surface parking spaces will be lost, along with a retaining wall, to help facilitate the maneuvering of the 18-wheeler trucks, according to testimony by a DVL engineer.
Still, the board wondered whether that would leave sufficient access for town fire rigs – and for delivery trucks to back in and pull out.
DVL’s traffic expert, Gary Dean, offered the board some perspective, saying that, “Fifty feet is a four-lane road – that’s a lot of blacktop.” And he claimed that there would be enough room – even with just 20 feet – to “accommodate BJ’s delivery trucks, which are the biggest on the road.”
When several board members, including Mayor Alberto Santos and Town Administrator Michael Martello, advised that DVL first check with ShopRite to make sure the store can live with the easement change. And the mayor said he would ask the Fire Department as well.
That implication of delayed action on the developer’s application, pending a resolution of these questions, prompted DVL President Alan Casnoff to inform the board that, although the project site has been dormant for the past five years, thanks to the national recession, time is now of the essence because DVL expected to sign a lease deal with BJ’s by this week.
But at this point in the process, Casnoff said, the board’s failure to act could kill the project. “No preliminary approvals, no signed lease,” he cautioned. DVL is also seeking several land use variances for single retail maximum square footage, minimum setback for internal driveway and parking, along with a few design standard waivers, including parking lot light pole height, sidewalk width and street tree size.
In the end, the board agreed – with Ann Farrell dissenting on traffic-related worries – to grant “conditional approval” to the application – to be memorialized at the Jan. 8 meeting – pending successful resolution of the easement issue, sharing of façade drawings and revised parking plans.
BJ’s Pat Smith, assistant vice president/manager of site acquisition, who attended Wednesday’s board meeting, said he anticipated the signing of a 20-year lease with DVL with options for renewal.
“We’ve been looking for sites in Kearny for the past six to eight years,” he said. “We can better serve our members and expand our membership base. Kearny is a great solid neighborhood and it’s in a more urban location than our typical BJ’s location.”
Smith said the Kearny store — which will have a tire center but no liquor – will feature “the typical BS’s assortment, including fresh deli and expanded organic and fresh produce.” It will employ about 50 full-time workers and about 50 part-time, he said. “We’ll be putting an emphasis on hiring local.”
The K-mart and Modell’s on the site will remain but tenants currently in the old Congoleum factory building will be given six months notice to vacate before the building is demolished, Casnoff said.
Because of the site’s sloped topography, Casnoff said, “we are going to spend more than $1 million to raise the front [off Passaic Ave.] or lower the back of the site.” At this point, he said, the more likely outcome will be “to lower the back but, you get two feet down, you’re digging into rocks. We will probably spend $5 million alone for site work.”
Casnoff declined to project the overall development cost for the project.
Demolition could begin by May 2014. “We’re hoping to turn over a building to [BJ’s] by August 2015,” Casnoff said.
The world experienced a great loss Dec. 5 with the death, at age 95, of Nelson Mandela, the man credited with ending apartheid in his native South Africa.
Despite being imprisoned by his white oppressors for 27 years, when he was freed in Feb. 1990, at 71, Mandela worked to establish a new government based on “reconciliation,” rather than retaliation.
Initially, he was met with resistance from his fellow South Africans, both whites and blacks, but in the end he got what he wanted: a coalition government that would respect all colors.
Mandela’s struggles – in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds – should remind us of at least two other statesmen whose clamoring for justice resounded on the global stage: Ghandi, who fought to end British rule in India through a policy of non-violence; and Lincoln, the “Great Emancipator,” who waged a civil war to preserve the Union in which all citizens were free.
As in Mandela’s case, the goal was achieved but a flawed creation followed. Years of infighting took its toll on South Africans; as a byproduct of independence from Britain, Ghandi had to accept a divided India; Lincoln’s assassination sparked a revenge-minded Radical Republicanism bent on punishing the South for its rebellion.
All three were truly pivotal figures in their lifetime but all were quite mortal, and, therefore, no matter how many statues may be consecrated in their honor, none should be elevated to deity.
To that end, let’s recall the words of University of Cape Town political professor Anthony Butler who wrote in South Africa’s Business Day newspaper (as quoted in the Dec. 7 New York Times), “To idealize a great political leader – to try and take that person out of politics and the humanity out of that person – is in the end a futile or even contradictory endeavor.”
Still, we can say that Mandela, Ghandi and Lincoln each left a great legacy for which we have much to thank them.
Shifting gears: Has a version of the Prince of Denmark crept into North Korea?
News accounts report that before he came to power, Kim Jong-un, that country’s leader, was propped up by his uncle, Jang Song-thaek, and his aunt, Kim Kyong-hee.
But, of late, if these accounts are accurate, following the death of the Kim Jong-il, the current 30-year-old leader’s father, Kim Jong-un (read: Hamlet) has arranged for Uncle Jang to be removed from his government posts and for two of his uncle’s deputies (read: shades of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern) to be killed. Alas, these same accounts say that Uncle Jang (read: Claudius) is estranged from his sickly spouse (read: Gertrude).
Now, Kim Jong-un has been talking about unleashing some of North Korea’s nuclear capability on the country’s traditional eastern and western rivals. (Read: “To take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing, end them ….”).
Draw your own conclusions.
Finally, some thoughts on Kevyn Orr, Detroit’s emergency manager, asking the Detroit Art Museum to consider auctioning off some of its collection, including the famous Diego Rivera murals celebrating the workers of the world, to help the bankrupt Motor City pay its creditors.
What a great irony that would be, if art work that exalts the contributions by the American laborer – the same type of work that came very close to being displayed in the iconic capitalist building, Rockefeller Center – were to be sold to prop up the very city that made America Roar in the Twenties.
Rivera and his staff undertook the Detroit museum job in the wake of Ford Motor Co. goons having killed four auto workers and harming 22 during a 1932 demonstration at Ford’s Dearborn plant. The city’s plutocrats warned Edsel Ford – who had given Rivera the commission – he was being undermined by the artist.
But Rivera was allowed to proceed and, despite the Depression, the museum – which was on the ropes – survived and prospered, thanks in large part, to the Rivera murals’ popularity.
Maybe history will repeat itself.
– Ron Leir
The whole proposition sounds fishy to lots of people but the folks dropping the bait are asking for the patience of, well, a fisherman, before recasting.
It surfaced at the Nov. 14 meeting of the Passaic River Community Advisory Group in Newark from representatives of the Cooperating Partners Group, some 70 companies that have accepted financial responsibility for cleaning up contaminants in the river.
So far, the CPF has arranged for the removal of toxic sediment from a fiveacre section of mudflats along the Passaic in Lyndhurst and is now waiting for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to come up with a remediation plan for a 13-mile stretch of the Lower Passaic, from Newark Bay to North Arlington.
EPA’s plan is due by early next year but, in the meantime, the CPG has drafted its own cleanup proposal, reportedly aimed at selective “hot spots” along the river instead of a more exhaustive scope which the EPA is said to prefer. According to EPA’s Ray Basso, project manager for the Passaic restoration program, the CPG is proposing to clean 125 acres of the Lower Passaic’s 13 miles, which he characterized as “a much more limited remediation” than the EPA’s proposed “bank-to-bank” cleanup of 650 acres.
As part of targeted cleanup remedy, the CPG has pitched a “fish exchange” program which, said Basso, proposes to provide anglers a fresh, “safe’’ fish for every carp caught from the river. Consuming Passaic River fish is prohibited due to pollutants in the water but to what extent that prohibition is enforced is hard to tell. Given carp’s tendency as a bottom feeder, the species is more likely to ingest its food from the Passaic River’s sediment, which, reportedly, is where toxins like PCBs and dioxin tend to be concentrated. Basso said the CPG’s experts believe that “carp contributes 25% of the human health risk” to those who do eat fish from the Passaic, so the CPG’s theory is that, “if we eliminate carp from the diet, we reduce the human health risk by that percent.”
The CPG figures to get a supply of clean fish from a Newark-based fish farm, Basso said.
“As a [fish exchange] concept, that might make sense,” Basso said. But, he added, “As far as the EPA is concerned, we don’t recognize that as a substitute for remediating the river. … The exchange could be evaluated as a supplement to existing fishing bans but we’d like to consult our Fish & Wildlife Service for any potentially ecological impact.” A likeminded skeptical state Dept. of Environmental Protection, partnering with EPA in oversight of the cleanup project, is having none of the exchange, according to DEP spokesman Larry Hajna.
“We’re not taking it seriously at all,” Hajna said. “Effectively, we see it as a red herring … not an acceptable alternative to full cleanup …. We don’t want to see a scattershot approach to cleaning up a river involving hot spot removal and fish exchanges. We’re looking for a thorough cleanup of one of the most polluted rivers of world. This [exchange] really came out of left field.”
Another stakeholder left high and dry by the exchange plan is Ana Baptista, coleader, with Debbie Mans, of the Citizens Advisory Group. “The way it was presented [by CPG], it didn’t seem well thought out,” Baptista said. Baptista said while the CPG “told us [the exchange] was going to be a $1 million investment, that they’d partner with Rutgers University’s agriculture program and that they planned to set up a fish aqua culture in a former Newark church,” those and other details still seemed vague. As an example, she said, CPG mentioned there’d be four locations on the river where the exchanges would happen but, other than Lyndhurst, didn’t identify the other spot.
Apparently, she said, “there are none in the Newark area,” which, she added, is where a lot of “subsistence fishing” goes on, particularly now with the city’s new riverfront park offering a natural fishing dock.
Additionally, CPG’s remediation plan, as best can now be ascertained, “is proposing hotspot removal,” which, Baptista said, “will be leaving most of the contamination behind, in addition to this fish swap to reduce human exposure. We have a lot of concerns about that. If you were doing [the exchange] as a pilot program, not meant as a primary path, okay, that’s something interesting, but to say you’re going to leave behind a lot of toxic stuff, that’s when people said, ‘Well, wait a second.’ … The best thing to do is clean the river.”
“Staggering. Mind-numbing. A real head-scratcher.” Those were the reactions of Jim Hutchinson, managing director of the national Recreational Fishing Alliance, headquartered in south Jersey, to news of the exchange plan.
“Where is the fish they’re going to exchange coming from?” Hutchinson wondered. “They’re saying a lot more of our seafood is being imported from other countries not having to live up to our standards.”
Still, Greg DiDomenico, executive director of the Garden State Seafood Assocation, is intrigued by the exchange idea. “It’s an extremely interesting concept. The seafood industry in New Jersey certainly has a lot to offer. I would hope [the CPG] would contact us or some of our local ports to be part of the program. The industry is well taken care of and highly regulated.”
CPG spokesman Jonathan Jaffe said that the group’s plan has been mischaracterized, that it’s finalizing contracts with its exchange partners and that more details will be forthcoming.
Meanwhile, EPA expects to publish its cleanup plan for the Lower Passaic in January for a “public comment period” of “two to three months,” Basso said. Then, he said, “we will assess, evaluate and address that comment in our final record of decision which should come out somewhere deep in 2014.” If the CPG objects to the plan, “then the ball is in EPA’s court,” Basso said. The agency would consult with the U.S. Justice Department to determine what its next step would be.
At 9:14 p.m., police were called to a Glendale St. location on a report of an auto burglary. There, the victim told police they noticed their motion lights in the driveway activate and then spotted someone wearing a gray hooded sweatshirt rummaging through their vehicle’s interior. The victim said that when he ran outside, the intruder fled.
At 4:32 p.m., police made a traffic stop on Hancox Ave. that resulted in the arrest of Carlos Rodriguez, 31, of Newark, on an active warrant from Elizabeth. Police said they found 100 bags of heroin in his vehicle. Rodriguez was charged with possession of drugs and possession with intent to distribute. After posting bail, set at $5,000 with a 10% cash option, he was released pending a court date.
At 4:23 p.m., headquarters received a report of lost property. The victim told police she took her purse out of her car as she entered the Nutley Diner to eat. Then, she told police, when reaching in her bag to pay the bill, she realized her purse, valued at $350, was missing.
At 8:18 p.m., Nicholas Stevens, 24, of Nutley, was arrested after a motor vehicle stop on Washington Ave. for an outstanding warrant from Bloomfield. After a search of Stevens allegedly disclosed a “one-hitter,” allegedly used to smoke marijuana, police charged Stevens with possession of drug paraphernalia and ticketed him on charges of improper U-turn and driving while suspended. After posting bail on the warrant, he was released pending court dates in Nutley and Bloomfield.
At 8:02 a.m., police went to a St. Mary’s Place location on a criminal mischief report. The resident told police someone reportedly threw a glass bottle at their Dodge Caravan, breaking the middle driver’s side window.
At 10:34 a.m., police responded to a Franklin Ave. business on a theft report. Police said three batteries were reported missing from a delivery truck parked at the end of the business’s driveway. Police said the batteries appeared to have been disconnected by someone unscrewing the bolts. Police said there had been two batteries previously stolen from another truck but that theft hadn’t been reported.
At 4:58 p.m., police received a report of fraud. The victim told police that after being billed $235 by a moving company for transporting their furniture from Nutley to their new home, they paid with a debit card which was swiped through a machine but for which they received no receipt. Later that day, the victim told police, their bank called them about two transactions totaling more than $1,400 made from their account and not authorized by the victim. The bank closed out the victim’s debit account.
At 11:21 a.m., police went to a Franklin Ave. business on an assault report. The victim told police he was working in the parking lot when a man, known to him, hit him in the face with an open hand and kicked him several times. Police said the alleged assault may have been the result of previous issues between the pair.
At 8:43 a.m., police responded to a report of an attempted car theft at a Hancox Ave. location. The owner told police they had returned to the car only to find that the driver’s door lock had been damaged and entry gained by someone who damaged the dashboard and ignition system.
At 12:18 p.m., police received a report of criminal mischief on River Road. The victim told police someone had keyed their vehicle’s driver’s side rear door and quarter panel while the vehicle was parked in the rear of their home.
– Ron Leir
Belleville Public Library, 221 Washington Ave., announces the following programs:
• Saturday Storytime and Craft meets Dec. 14 at 11 a.m.
• Saturday Film Showing features “The Polar Express” on Dec. 21 at 2 p.m.
Belleville Elks Lodge 1123, 254 Washington Ave., hosts its monthly breakfast on Sunday, Dec. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon, featuring a visit by Santa. Bring cameras. The cost is $6 for adults, $3 for children under age 10 and children under age three are free. Three or more inches of snow cancels the event. Breakfasts are held on the third Sunday of every month from September to May.
Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., announces the following programs:
• Get it Write writing workshop meets on the second and fourth Saturdays, Dec. 14 and 28, at 2 p.m.
• Book Club meets on Monday, Jan. 6, from 6:45 to 7:45 p.m. in the Quiet Study Room to discuss “The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern’s Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The ‘Good Parts’ (abridged version)” by William Goldman.
The library will close at 3 p.m. on Dec. 24 and Dec. 31 and will be closed on Dec. 25 for Christmas.
Mary’s Theater Parties and Tours, Kearny, offers Woody Allen’s “Bullets Over Broadway” on March 19 at 8 p.m. Price is $157 per person with a deposit of $100 per person with reservation. Balance is due Feb. 15. Price includes: orchestra seat and dinner at 5 p.m. at San Carlo Restaurant, Lyndhurst, transportation, tax and tip. Seats are limited. Call 201-998-1030.
The West Hudson Detachment of the Marine Corps League invites all former and active duty Marines and FMF Corpsmen to attend an open house, which will be held every Friday, from 7 to 10 p.m., at 286 Belgrove Drive. Guests are welcome.
The Kearny Rotary Club meets every Wednesday at 12:15 p.m. at La Fiamma Restaurant, 440 Harrison Ave., in Harrison. Business leaders from Harrison are invited to attend to learn about the work that Rotary International accomplishes around the world and in local communities. For more information about the Kearny Rotary Club or to join them for a meeting, call Joe D’Arco at 201-955-7400 or Jose Fernandez at 201-991- 1040.
Join the Senior Citizens of Kearny to meet new friends. Dues are $5 per year. This entitles members to five free parties, including a fish and chips dinner. Meetings take place every Thursday at the Henrietta Benstead Senior Center, 60 Columbia Ave. Doors open at 9 a.m. for a continental breakfast and socializing, with a business meeting at 11:30 a.m. and bingo at noon. Guest speakers appear periodically. For club information, call Carol at 201- 991-9369.
Grace United Methodist Church, 380 Kearny Ave., will host a Christmas shopping spree sale and a supper on Dec. 13 from 5 to 7 p.m. The supper consists of soup, sandwich, dessert and beverage for $7. For more information, call the church office at 201-991-1132.
Washington School Chorus will perform for the Evening Membership Department of the Woman’s Club of Arlington at its meeting on Wednesday, Dec.11, at 7:30 p.m., at the Henrietta Benstead Center on Columbia Ave. Members are reminded to bring a $10 grab bag gift.
Lyndhurst Historical Society has a new exhibit, “Let’s Play: An Exhibit of Beloved Toys,” at the Little Red Schoolhouse Museum, 400 Riverside Ave. The museum is open on the second and fourth Sundays of every month from 2 to 4 p.m. A china-head doll and a Lionel train are among the many toys on display. The exhibit is free and open to the public, though a small donation to the Society would be appreciated. For more information, call 201-804-2513.
Lyndhurst Public Library, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts Fit4Kids Magic Show on Monday, Dec. 16, at 3:30 p.m., in the children’s room. Muscle Man Mike presents a magic/puppet show for children ages 3 to 10. Registration is required.
To register, call the library at 201- 804-2478.
The Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst is collecting nonperishable food items, plus hams and lasagne, along with gift cards for ShopRite or Stop & Shop, as part of a food drive for the local Food Pantry, 253 Stuyvesant Ave. Monetary donations, payable to the Woman’s Club of Lyndhurst, can be sent c/o Diane Cichino, 481 Roosevelt Ave., Lyndhurst, N.J. 07071. Donations of unwrapped toys may also be brought to the Food Pantry.
N.J. Meadowlands Commission announces the following programs:
• Third-Tuesday-of-the- Month Nature Walk, cosponsored by the Bergen County Audubon Society, is slated for Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 10 a.m. This free two-hour guided walk in DeKorte Park includes a stretch of nearby Disposal Road. The group will meet just inside the Environment Center, 2 DeKorte Park Plaza, Lyndhurst. Check meadowblog.net for last-minute updates and weather advisories. To R.S.V.P., contact Don Torino of the BCAS at email@example.com or 201- 230-4983.
• Winter Solstice Celebration welcomes the first day of winter and the return of the sun on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 7 to 9 p.m., at the Environment Center. Learn about the history of the solstice, make a solstice craft, and enjoy celebratory food and drink. Adults must accompany children. Admission is $5/person; $4/MEC members. Registration is recommended. To register, visit www.njmeadowlands.gov/ec. For more information, call 201-460-8300 or visit www.njmeadowlands.gov/ec.
Lyndhurst Knights of Columbus hosts a communion breakfast at the Senior Building, 250 Cleveland Ave., on Sunday, Dec. 29, from 10 to 11 a.m. Tickets are $7 each. No tickets will be sold at the door. Pick up tickets at Sacred Heart Rectory, 324 Ridge Rd., 201-438-1147, or call Sal Russo at 201-446-7244 or Nick Garafolo at 201-935-5988.
North Arlington Police Department’s Crime Prevention/ Community Relations Unit will conduct its annual holiday toy drive. New, unwrapped toys and gift cards may be dropped off at the Police Department. The collection continues through Dec. 18. The toys will be distributed with the assistance of the North Arlington Woman’s Club to local families and others in need.
North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Rd., is offering these programs:
• Origami Club, for grades 4 and up, meets on Friday, Dec. 13, at 3:30 p.m.
• Holiday Craft, for grades K to 5, sponsored by the NA Women’s Club, meets on Tuesday, Dec. 17, at 6:30 p.m. Call 201-955-5640, ext.126, to register.
• YA Movie Day, for grades 6 and up, is held on Friday, Dec. 20, at 1 p.m.
• Comics Club, for grades 6 and up, meets on Wednesday, Dec. 18, at 3:30 p.m.
The annual Holiday Treasure Chest Adopt A Family Program which provides gifts to Nutley families in need continues through Dec. 18. Individuals, civic organizations and clubs are invited to participate. Local businesses have adopted families in lieu of purchasing individual staff gifts. Gift cards from local stores will also be accepted. Residents interested in adopting a family or making a contribution are asked to call Annmarie Nicolette at 973- 284-4975.
Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Dr., announces the following programs:
• Saturday Drop-In Craft. Stop by the children’s room on Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. to make a craft while supplies last. No registration is required.
• High School Manga Club meets on Monday, Dec. 16, at 3:30 p.m.
• Pen to Prose Writers’ Group meets on Monday, Dec. 16, at 6:30 p.m. The group is free and open to the public.
For more information, call 973-667-0405 or visit: http://nutley.bccls.org.
Children are invited to drop off letters to Santa at the “Santa Express Mailbox” at the Nutley Oval entrance on Chestnut St. through Wednesday, Dec. 18, allowing Santa enough time to respond to each letter. Parents/guardians are asked to have children include their age and return address on each letter. For more information, contact the Office of Public Affairs at 973-284-4976.
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
A year ago, veteran Kearny High School girls’ basketball coach Jody Hill had to do a bit of last minute scrambling to put together a formidable roster. The Kardinals had lost a ton of talent to graduation, so Hill hoped that the new kids could step in and pick up where the graduating seniors left off.
Well, as the immortal baseball sage Yogi Berra once said, “It’s like déjà vu all over again.”
“We’ve lost 13 seniors over the last two years,” said Hill, who begins her 11th season as the Kardinals’ head coach. “That’s losing a tremendous amount of experience. For the most part, I’ve never had to deal with that before.”
However, Hill isn’t exactly putting her head down and sulking about her team’s prospects. Quite the contrary.
“It’s a nice feeling to have some younger players who are going to be around for four years,” Hill said. “We’re going to try to mold them, not just for today, but also down the road. There are positives and negatives in having a young team. You take a hit with experience and you ask them not to make the same mistake twice. You learn from your mistakes.”
Hill said that she has been extremely positive since practices began in earnest last week.
“In the early going, we’re breaking down the fundamentals more,” said Hill, who guided her remade team to 15 wins a year ago. “We’re working on them making the right decisions. We definitely have our work cut out for us.”
Hill likes the athleticism of the team.
“We do have some athletes and we do have some size,” Hill said. “Overall, I think we’re looking to have more of an inside game this year than ever before. Our size is going to be a huge strength.”
As a former Hall of Fame guard during her playing days at Harrison High and later Pace University, Hill was a fearless point guard. So she has always favored guard play.
“We’re a little inexperienced at guard, but we do have some talent,” Hill said. “We have athletic guards who have to learn the game a little more. But I can see the progress. They keep getting better and better.”
Hill also likes the way her team has approached the new season.
“I think they’re very excited about it,” Hill said. “The energy level is excellent and we’re trying to put that energy level out onto the floor. The eagerness is there. I can see that in the seniors. We have spots in the starting lineup that are open to anyone who steps in and proves that they deserve it, prove that they want it.”
Leading the returnees is sophomore Amber Crispin, who stepped in toward the end of last season and became a key contributor and starter. Crispin is the team’s top returning leading scorer, but she averaged only six points a game. That’s a sign of just how much Kearny needs to rebuild this year.
“She came in as a freshman starter and led our team in steals,” Hill said of the 5-foot- 6 Crispin. “She has tremendous speed and competitiveness. She is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever coached. I just hope that can carry over to the rest of the team. I hope it’s contagious. She has a lot of speed and energy. She’s also real eager to start the season and I like that. Amber has to be one of our leaders this year, even though she’s a sophomore. She leads by example and also knows what to say to the others. She’s a special kid.”
Another returning player is junior Emilia Fernandes. The 6-foot Fernandes is the team’s tallest player and she has to use that size to her advantage.
“I can definitely see her potential,” Hill said. “This is her time to shine. She’s been very dedicated to improving. She now has tremendous footwork. She realized what she needed to do and took a big step forward. Her goal is to play in college and she’s willing to do anything to make that happen. She’s added more moves near the basket. She’s made a big improvement over last year.”
The rest of the entire Kearny roster is still battling for playing time. In Hill’s eyes, they’re all players right now, not starters.
Freshman Sydney Pace, the younger sister of former Kearny standouts Stefanee and Samantha, joins the fray as a 5-foot-6 guard.
“She’s already played varsity soccer, so she knows what it takes,” Hill said. “She’s not intimidated at all. She comes from a good athletic family and she wants to get on the court to prove what she can do.”
Senior Carolina Souza is another contributor. The 5-foot-5 Souza owns a nice touch from the perimeter and is a good defender.
“She’s paid her dues and put in a lot of time,” Hill said. “She’s a good leader. She just needs to penetrate with the ball better.”
Junior Daniella Echevestre is a 5-foot-6 jack-of-all-trades.
“She literally can play any position,” Hill said. “She’s our most versatile player. She’s a great passer who played point guard on the JV level, but we need her inside more. She’s very strong and uses her body well.” Spiridoula Dimou is a 5-foot-2 senior guard. “She’s one of our toughest kids,” Hill said. “She’s extremely hungry to play varsity. She’s spent the last three years down on the bench, waiting to get put in the game. She’s our most vocal kid.”
Kiana Cardenas is a 5-foot-11 senior forward.
“She has no varsity experience,” Hill said. “She’s very raw. But she’s a coachable kid who is working on her speed. She’s going to provide solid minutes for us.”
Sophomore Nawal Farih is a 5-8 forward whose older brother and sister played varsity basketball at Kearny.
“She has good potential,” Hill said. “She has a good basketball body and goes extremely hard to the basket. She keeps getting better each year. She comes from a good basketball family. She just loves to play and she’s doing great in practice.”
Junior Nicole Sanchez is another back-up guard.
“She’s feisty and scrappy,” Hill said of the 5-foot-4 Sanchez. “She plays defense very well and can make the outside shot.”
Junior Patty Sheldrick is a 5-foot-7 guard with good ball handling skills and a good long range shot. Sophomore Izabela Stazewski is a 5-foot-9 forward who is still learning the game. Sophomore Erica Greenlee is a 5-foot-4 athletic guard who made headway in the Kearny summer league.
“I put her in one game and she had like four steals in a minute,” Hill said. “She has good instincts for the ball.”
Junior Vanessa Gallego is a 5-foot-4 guard who is a reliable defender.
As you can see, Hill has a lot of work to do between now and the Kardinals’ season opener against Hudson County power Bayonne Dec. 20. The Kards will also play this year in the North Arlington Christmas Tournament, where they will face local rival Queen of Peace.
“We definitely will get better as the season moves on,” Hill said. “Right now, we just need to find a little chemistry. They’re finding themselves for the first time. But I think we should have a pretty good team.”
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Once again, the Belleville boys’ basketball head coaching position was open and Jim Stoeckel was poised, ready for the challenge.
“I felt it was a good opportunity to build something from scratch,” said Stoeckel, who was hired in September to replace Kurt Villani. “I live in the area. I know Essex County basketball. I know Belleville. I remember going to Belleville games when I was younger.”
Stoeckel’s father, Jim Sr., is a long-time high school basketball referee in Essex County, so the familiarity has always been there.
The younger Stoeckel was the head coach at Newark Academy for five years and spent the last three years at Bloomfield under Patrick Brunner.
“I wanted the chance to get back to being a head coach again,” Stoeckel said. “I know it’s a challenge, but I want to get in Belleville and get kids interested at the lower levels, like middle school and take it from there. I know Belleville could be a good program and when we get it there, we want to keep it there.”
Stoeckel said that he’s been encouraged by the turnout and the effort of the players.
“It’s been very good,” Stoeckel said. “We have to put this all together in two weeks. I’ve never dealt with anything like this before. No one knows anything. The kids are all learning to play. It’s a lot to take in, with such a short period of time.”
Nearly 60 kids attended tryouts and Stoeckel had to weed through the numbers and get his 15- man roster.
“Those first two days with the 60 kids were hectic,” Stoeckel said. “I had to get through it. We’re now pretty much set. We’re still waiting for a few kids to pass their physicals. Things are a little different now.”
Stoeckel said that he has been impressed with how hard the players have performed.
“I’m encouraged by the effort,” Stoeckel said. “They have responded well. I think we have to give it time and we’ll see. But if the effort is already there, that’s the first step. If they’re willing to learn, then they can become a better basketball team.” Stoeckel said that he didn’t see the Buccaneers play last year, so he’s starting with a clean slate.
“I just heard that one kid came off the bench and played a little,” Stoeckel said. “That’s all I knew. I was happy that there were so many freshmen and sophomores came to tryouts. I want to lay down the ground work now, so the kids can learn. We have five seniors, not like having 20 seniors. So we have to build from the bottom up.”
Leading the returnees is Jacob Dabon, a 5-foot-11 senior with good range from the outside.
“He definitely can shoot it,” Stoeckel said.
Senior Wilbert Then is a 5-foot-10 guard who is a tough defender. Senior Shakhi Tanner is a 6-foot-2 guard with long arms.
“He’s long and wiry,” Stoeckel said. “He can play a little.”
Nelson Pichardo is a junior guard with decent skills. Antonio Tyler is a 5-foot-9 senior guard. Chris Torres and Wally Battle are both 6-foot-2 junior forwards who will help on the inside.
The Ayala twins, namely Henry and Joel, help the Buccaneers’ depth.
Ande Velez is a 5-foot-7 sophomore with a ton of promise.
Stoeckel is still getting to know his team, learning their positives and negatives, pluses and minuses. He deserves the chance to learn what he’s coaching. It’s been a whirlwind since he was hired less than two months ago.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Stoeckel said. “We do have excellent effort thus far. That’s the first step.”