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It’s been a blessing for 75 years

By Karen Zautyk  Observer Correspondent  KEARNY – On Sunday afternoon, at a Mass of Thanksgiving marking the 75th anniverary of the dedication of St. Stephen’s Church, Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda stood in the sanctuary and gazed up at the breathtaking Gothic architecture and told the congregation that what he was viewing wasn’t […]


Relic is missing from church

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON –  A sacred relic has been purloined from Holy Cross Church in Harrison, according to police and church officials. The religious artifact is believed by the church faithful to be a piece of the original Cross of Christ from Jerusalem and has […]

Ruling due on high school vote

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  EAST NEWARK –  East Newark wants to ask its residents, through a non-binding referendum, this question: “Should East Newark high school students be sent to Kearny High School instead of Harrison High School?” The borough wants the question to go on the […]


Loving life in Harrison

By Ron Leir  Observer Correspondent  HARRISON – When a young Theodore Plasky moved with his mother to the Kingsland Court apartments in Harrison in 1959, they found it a welcome refuge. “We were staying at my cousin’s house in Fairview and the house blew up – I […]


190M could flow to the Passaic

The Occidental Chemical Corp. has agreed to pay the State of New Jersey $190 million to resolve the company’s liability in the contamination of the Passaic River, state officials announced last week. Occidental is the legal successor to Diamond Shamrock Chemicals Co., which had manufactured pesticides and herbicides at its plant on […]


Thoughts & Views: ‘Wretched writers welcome’


The Bulwer-Lytton Contest winners for 2014 have been announced, and I feel compelled to share some of them with you. I have written about the contest before, but in case you have forgotten: Named for 19th-century British writer Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, it is “a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels.” (That is not as easy as you might think.)

It was launched by the English Department of San Jose (Calif.) State University in 1982 and today attracts entries from across the globe. As usual, many of my top picks were Runners-Up or Dishonorable Mentions. So be it. I shall begin with the category closest to my heart: Read more »

Cat colony conundrum


By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 


Controversy over how to deal with a cat colony in the back of an E. Midland Ave. apartment complex came to a head at last Tuesday night’s mayor/Town Council meeting.

Half the assembly chambers were filled with advocates for the colony led by animal activists Leonard and Juliette Twist, a couple who live on the same block where the cats have congregated in a woodsy area along a set of abandoned railroad tracks.

Problem is, according to the town, the cats have spilled over into the parking lot of the apartment complex whose owner, last week, took steps to set traps for the strays, hire an off-duty cop to guard the traps, and send them to the Bergen County Animal Shelter.

There, Mayor Alberto Santos told the crowd, “if a cat is feral and not sociable, it is euthanized. If the cat is sociable, it is held at the shelter and can be held for as long as a year.”

Although the traps have since been removed, Santos said, “I’ve learned that wildlife [other than stray felines] have been trapped … and that two of those wildlife have been euthanized. That should not have happened.” Read more »

News from the KPD blotter


Aug. 1 

At 1:30 a.m., Officer Derek Hemphill responded to the report of a hit-run accident on the 200 block of Argyle Place and found that parked vehicles had been struck. Back-up Officer Ben Wuelfing followed a trail of tire marks and and automobile fluids to Schuyler and Laurel Aves., where he located a “heavily damaged” Nissan SUV and detained two individuals. Wuelfing determined that one, Damaso Castill, 22, of Kearny, had been the SUV’s driver and he was charged with DUI, leaving the scene of an accident and refusing to take an Alcotest.

Sgt. Peter Gleason and Officers John Travelino and Jay Ward answered a request for assistance from an NJ Transit bus driver at 9:30 p.m. at Seeley and Kearny Aves. Police said the driver had ejected an unruly passenger who, upon exiting the bus, kicked out windows in the door and fled. Ward located the suspect at W. Bennett Ave. and Pleasant Place and returned him to the bus for identification. Stephen Scrupski, 52, of Newark was charged with criminal mischief and on an outstanding warrant from Harrison. Read more »

‘Polarized’ impossible to put down after picking it up


By Ryan Sloane
Observer Correspondent 

With some summer night’s heat so oppressive you don’t want to venture outside, there’s always a great book out there that can make the doldrums of the humidity and stale air just go away.

Such is the case with the biography, “Polarized: Sex, Lies and Family Betrayal,” the story of Joseph DeBlasi, formerly of Staten Island, N.Y., who shares his experiences of being bipolar.

Much of the book depicts how DeBlasi was faced, at a very young age, with having to deal with the highs of mania and the lows of the depression the disease caused — and still does cause to this day. But it’s important to know a little background on DeBlasi before reading the book — and we certainly hope you will give this one a read.

When DeBlasi was a young boy, not even 10, his parents were divorcing. His father, a prominent doctor on Staten Island, decided he didn’t want his soon-to-be ex-wife gaining custody of the boy, so DeBlasi writes of how his dad “kidnapped” him to make sure of it. Read more »

New wellness center in Harrison

Stretch Studio_web

Pedestrians walking along Frank E. Rodgers South in Harrison lately may have noticed  a new storefront open up this summer fronted with palm trees, flowers and Adirondack chairs. The welcoming appearance of this new space is just the beginning of what the Stretch Studio has to offer.

Stretch Studio and Café, 209 Frank E. Rodgers Blvd. South, is a wellness center offering yoga and meditation classes for all levels, massages and freshly squeezed juices including organically farmed local wheat grass, salads and  smoothies at the juice bar. Developed not only as a healthy  place for local residents to do yoga and eat right, it is also a place where artists, musicians and movements can collaborate.

A resident of Harrison for more than 14 years, owner  Rebecca Gregory said, “The Town of Harrison desperately needed a place like Stretch, so when my tenants moved out, I converted the space into some thing functional and beautiful for everyone to enjoy.”

Stretch Studio’s wide array of yoga classes includes classes in Spanish and Portuguese and a guided meditation  class (Yoga Nidra). There are plans to include more diverse classes, such as chair/adaptive and restorative yoga. Chair/ adaptive yoga is particularly  suited for adults and those with physical restrictions. Restorative yoga encourages a  deep state of relaxation.

Besides yoga, Stretch plans to expand its reach to include health-based programs and  workshops and to feature a “Speaker Series” on a variety of topics. Stretch hosted its first kids’ yoga workshop in July and currently offers a summer music series. Next up on the series is Josh Reyes and Dangerously Close on  Sunday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m. A fall program is currently being planned in conjunction with artists featured on Jersey City’s WFMU.

Gregory added: “I am very excited to have a place to host local artists and showcase  their talent for our community of all ages to enjoy – though I can’t deny that we enjoy the after parties next door at The Harrison Greenroom.” Similar to Stretch, she and partner Anthony Magnani found a need for good late night food (besides the diner), diverse music, specialty cocktails and beers in the area and opened  “The Greenroom” some nine years ago.

“Before moving to Harrison, we lived in Brooklyn, New York City and New Brunswick, and felt that if we built a place you would typically see in these locales, people would  come. All of these years later we’ve continued to bring this  forward-looking attitude to Harrison and we’re still in business, but I’ve decided to  take the next step towards my passion for yoga and overall wellness and build Stretch.”

Some upcoming events at Stretch Studio include: Restorative and relaxation yoga  Wednesday, Aug. 20, at 7:30 p.m., and a free yoga class Friday, Sept. 5, at 7:30 p.m. Visit Stretch Studio online at www.stretchstudionj.com.

Around Town


A performance by the Library Players, a children’s acting troupe, on Aug. 18 and a Science Fun Workshop on Aug. 25 will be the next installments of the Eight Great Live Monday nights series at Belleville Public Library and Information Center, 221 Washington Ave. Both programs begin at 6:30 p.m. Registration is required. Call 973-450-3434. These programs are for the entire family.

Registration begins Aug. 20 for the library’s Music Together class for babies and toddlers. The class will run Sept. 25 to Dec. 4, with two sessions to choose from on Thursdays at 9:45 a.m. or 10:45 a.m. Space is limited. To register call the library.

Belleville UNICO sponsors a bus ride to the Taj Mahal Sunday, Aug. 24. Cost is a prepaid donation of $30 or $35 if paid the day of the trip. A continental breakfast will be served at 8 a.m. at the Senior Citizens Center, 125 Franklin Ave. A bus will leave from the center at 8:50 a.m. Call 973-759-9259 to reserve seats (no last minute cancellations). Mail checks, payable to Belleville UNICO, to: Gene Antonio, 436 Joralemon St., Belleville, N.J. 07109.

Belleville Elks, 254 Washington Ave., sponsor a Type O blood drive Wednesday, Aug. 27, 5 to 9 p.m. No appointment is needed. Priority is for Type O blood but all types of blood will be accepted. The entire process takes less than one hour. Donors must be at least age 17, weigh at least 120 pounds and be in generally good health. The drive is open to Belleville residents and all surrounding communities.


The Harrison Downtown Community Development Partnership and Neighborhood Preservation program co-sponsor a flea market and collectible show Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in the parking lot at 401 Bergen St. Admission is free. Any school/local organization that wants an exhibitor space to sell their items and/ or promote their club can reserve one of the four spaces that will be offered free. Call 201-998-1144 or visit events@jcpromotions.info to make a reservation.


American Legion Post 99, VFW Post 1302 and West Hudson Marine Corp Detachment 209 sponsor a pancake breakfast to benefit the local Salvation Army Sunday, Aug. 17, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., at 314 Belgrove Drive. Cost is $8 and $5 for children age 10 and under. The breakfast features military-style SOS (chip beef) pancakes, sausage, bacon coffee and juice. The bar will be open to all members and their guests.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., presents a screening of the film “Divergent” (PG-13), based on Veronica Roth’s bestselling young adult novel, at 2 p.m. Monday, Aug. 18. The film will be shown downstairs. Popcorn and light refreshments will be served. For more information, call 201-998-2666.


The Lyndhurst Health Department is collecting donations for students in need. Backpacks, marble composition books, notebooks, dividers, loose paper, crayons and 3-ring binders are welcomed. Drop off donations at the Health Department, 601 Riverside Ave., Suite 1, Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., through Aug. 31. People with children in need of school supplies are asked to contact the Health Department at 201- 804-2500 to schedule a pickup of the needed supplies. Be prepared to give child’s gender and grade level.

Registration runs from Aug. 18 to Sept. 12 for Fall Storytime at the Lyndhurst Public Library, 355 Valley Brook Ave. Open to ages 3 to 4 1/2, this 45-minute program features stories, music and crafts. The program begins on Thursday, Sept. 25, with two sessions available at 10:30 a.m. or 1 p.m. Space is limited. To register, call 201-804-2478.

A sea crab craft program for grades 1 to 4 is offered at the library on Monday, Aug. 18, 2:30 to 3:15 p.m. Registration is required. Call the library to register.

The library hosts “Introduction to Maum Meditation” on Wednesday, Aug. 27, at 6:30 p.m., presented by a representative from Lyndhurst Meditation on Ridge Road. Space is limited and registration is required. To register, please email romeo@ lyndhurst.bccls.org or call the library.

The Lyndhurst Garden Club hosts a plant show and garage sale Saturday, Aug. 16, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Senior Citizen Building, 250 Cleveland Ave. Admission is free. Local gardeners of all ages are encouraged to enter their best flower, fruits and vegetables for judging. Plant registration is at 9:30 a.m. with awards scheduled for 2 p.m. For more information, call 201-939-0033.

The Township of Lyndhurst hosts a Labor Day Weekend Antique and Craft Fair Sunday, Aug. 31, at Town Hall Park. The event includes live music throughout the day, a wide selection of specialty foods and a children’s play area. For more information, call 201-321-2756 or email robin.brystra@gmail.com.

The Blood Center of New Jersey’s bloodmobile will be at the fair from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Donors must be at least age 17, bring a sign or picture form of ID and know their Social Security number. There is no upper age limit for donors provided they meet health requirements. For those who have recently traveled outside the U.S. and for other eligibility questions, call the blood center at 973-676-4700, ext. 132, or 1-800-652-5663. T

he New Jersey Meadowlands Commission hosts the following events:

• Get an up-close view of the Meadowlands District’s spectacular scenic beauty and wildlife with a two-hour guided pontoon boat cruise of the Hackensack River and its surrounding marshes. Upcoming cruises are set for Aug. 19, 21 and 27, at 5:30 p.m. each day, and at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20, all departing from River Barge Park, 260 Outwater Lane, Carlstadt. Pre-registration is required.

Admission is $15. Cruises are recommended for ages 10 and up. For a complete schedule of trips, directions, and to register, visit www.njmeadowlands.gov and go to the Parks and Nature Programs tab at the top of the page or call 201- 460-4677.

• Check out the shorebirds on this summer bird walk at Harrier Meadow on Disposal Road near Schuyler Avenue, in North Arlington Tuesday, Aug. 19, 10 a.m. to noon. Check meadowblog. net for last-minute updates. Participants are asked to sign a standard liability release that is good for NJMC/BCAS events throughout the year. To R.S.V.P., contact Don Torino of the BCAS or call 201-230-4983.

The Lyndhurst VFW Post, 547 Valley Brook Ave., hosts a karaoke party Friday, Aug. 22, at 8 p.m. The VFW hall is available for rentals for all occasions. For more information, call the post at 201-939-5080.

The Lyndhurst Health Department holds a breakfast forum, hosted by Clara Maass Medical Center, Friday, Sept. 12, at 10 a.m. Registered Dietitian Elizabeth Nossier will discuss how a healthy diet can enhance quality of life and longevity. Breakfast will be provided. Call the department to register at 201-804- 2500.

North Arlington 

Openings are available for the Queen of Peace Ladies Bowling League. The season starts Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 12:45 p.m., at North Arlington Bowl, 200 Schuyler Ave. To join, call Betsy at 201-997-3914.

The North Arlington Woman’s Club holds a flapjack breakfast Saturday, Aug. 23, 8 to 10 a.m., at Applebee’s Restaurant, Kearny. The cost is $10. For tickets, call 201-889- 2553.


The fall season of book discussions at the Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, begins Sept. 8 at 7 p.m. The group meets the first Monday of each month. Since the group does not meet during summer, no book was chosen to discuss for this meeting. Instead, the meeting will be a reader’s potluck, an informal discussion on books read during the summer. This event is free and open to all members of the community. Refreshments will be served. For more information, visit http:// nutley.bccls.org or call 973- 667-0405, ext. 2604.

Call him the ‘Golden Boy’ of the ring


North Arlington teen Cammett aspires to become professional wrestler


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

Mike Cammett has always been a fan of professional wrestling. Ever since he was a little boy, Cammett would envision himself as becoming the next Shawn Michaels.

“Watching him as I was growing up, he was always a role model to me,” said Cammett, a 17-year-old senior at North Arlington High School who plays football and is a member of the track team. “The whole electric format of wrestling really intrigued me.”

So Cammett would practice moves he learned watching the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment stars like Michaels with his friends.

“I was jumping and diving off my dresser, breaking beds and walls in my house,” Cammett said.

Cammett said that he was looking for a wrestling school, trying to learn the ins and outs of the professional wrestling game.

Enter Kevin Knight. The Nutley native has been involved in professional wrestling for almost two decades.

Knight never expected himself to be a part of pro wrestling. He was a student at William Paterson in the radio and television production department and had a job at WGHT Radio doing sports.

“Someone said that I would make a great ring announcer, so I decided to give it a try,” Knight said.

At the time, Knight became friendly with pro wrestler Rik Ratchet and Ratchet started to give Knight some pointers at becoming a pro wrestler.

“I worked with him prior to some shows and I learned what to do,” Knight said. “I had the right height and I had a good personality.”

Knight was able to keep his own name as he moved his way up the pro wrestling ranks, eventually doing some shows with the WWE.

“I got beat up by some of their big stars,” Knight said. “Brutus Beefcake, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, the ‘A Train,’ they all got me.”

Knight attended a host of local wrestling shows for four years or so; then he got an idea from other fans.

“People would always ask me how could they get into it,” Knight said. “There were really not a lot of places to learn.”

Knight started his Independent Wrestling Federation, which was housed for 12 years in West Paterson (the town was eventually renamed as Woodland Park).

“While I still wrestled, I taught classes,” Knight said. “I brought in some of the superstars of wrestling to help teach the class like Tito Santana and ‘The Honky Tonk Man.’ They were instructors.”

One of Knight’s pupils, Darren Young, has become a regular with the WWE shows for the last four years.

But Knight’s business was devastated by flooding on several occasions and after a while, he decided to walk away from the sport to become a fitness trainer.

“I sold everything,” Knight said. “But every day, I would still get e-mails and correspondence, asking me about teaching the classes.”

In May, Knight decided to get back into the wrestling ring and reinstitute his IWF, but now in a location on Franklin Ave. in his hometown of Nutley.

“I needed some time away,” Knight said. “But there was always the thought of coming back. Being in Nutley really helped. I get a lot of support from the community and the town. It’s a good fit.”

Since he started classes again four days a week, Knight has 25 students in his regular training program. He usually requires the students to be at least 18 and to have had some sort of athletic background.

For anyone younger, Knight requires parental approval.

Cammett found out about Knight and the IWF on the Internet.

Cammett’s father suggested the lessons as a birthday present, so he agreed to send his son.

“I had been looking for a wrestling school for a long time,” Cammett said. “This was the best birthday present ever. I was happy that I got accepted. My father knew that this was something I wanted to do for a long time, but my friends were asking, ‘Are you really going to do this?’ But I was serious about it.”

Cammett knew that there was a big difference between high school athletics and pro wrestling.

“I know that it’s entertainment,” Cammett said. “I always have to keep that in mind. But I’m always going to perform like it’s real and we’re putting on a show. It’s athletic entertainment, but it’s definitely a different transition from football.”

Knight was a high school athlete, so he knows.

“I’d say that it’s 80% showmanship and 20% athleticism,” Knight said. “When they start out, it’s athletics, but then it becomes show business. But in reality, all of sports is like show business. It’s no difference than ‘Dancing With The Stars.’ There’s a routine, the lights, the costumes.”

Cammett has been attending classes with Knight for three months, but he’s already performed in four events.

“He picked things up very quickly,” Knight said. “It usually takes three months to get in the ring for an event, but Mike was a great student. He has a lot of discipline. I think it’s his athletic background in football and track. He is also a high honors student.”

Cammett isn’t the biggest guy in the world, standing about 5-foot-8 and weighing 175 pounds.

“But if you watch wrestling, it’s not a big guys’ sport anymore,” said Knight, who stands 6-foot-4, but is lean. “It’s about dedication and desire. It’s about passion for what you do.”

Knight teaches his students every aspect of pro wrestling. It includes getting in the ring with a microphone and performing like the wrestlers do, complete with taunting and dramatics.

It also meant that Cammett needed a nickname like most wrestlers.

“I thought about ‘The Real Deal,’ but that didn’t really work,” Cammett said.

Because Cammett has long, flowing blond hair, the eventual nickname was extremely fitting.

“One of my good friends, Maribel Bermudez, has been calling me ‘Golden Boy’ since elementary school,” Cammett said. “I actually like it.”

So sure enough, he’s known as “The Golden Boy Mike Cammett.”

Cammett said that he was a little nervous performing in his first show.

“My hands were sweating,” Cammett said. “It was different in front of an audience. But once I got out there, it wasn’t that hard. It was something I knew I could do. I could be entertaining and I have to be entertaining to be out there.”

Cammett doesn’t have visions of grandeur just yet. He knows that the WWE isn’t calling anytime soon. He also knows that football practice begins this week, so he has to juggle his time between being an aspiring pro wrestler and a high school linebacker and running back.

“No matter how exhausted I am from football, I know I’m going to be back here,” Cammett said. “I’ll be here whenever I can. I finally found that this is the place where I want to be and I’ll take it as far as I can go. I can’t believe I was in my first show in a little over a month. I was just so eager and wanted to learn. It’s everything I could have asked for.”

Knight likes what he sees from Cammett.

“He’s a good kid,” Knight said. “He’s very dedicated and wants it. If he sticks with it, who knows how far he can take it?”

The IWF holds small shows in Nutley every other weekend. They also host private parties for youngsters, like birthday parties. Chances are that “The Golden Boy” will be golden in some of those shows in the future.

Knight’s next beginner classes begin Sept. 7 for adults 18 and older. The IWF Wrestling Centre is located at 75 Franklin Ave. in Nutley. For more information, log on to www.CampIWF. com.

McCourt, O’Neill got coaching starts in Kearny


Thirty years ago this fall, Kearny High School enjoyed a soccer season to remember, perhaps the greatest single year in a litany of soccer excellence in a place called “Soccertown, USA.”

In 1984, the Kardinals posted an undefeated 24-0 record, rolling to another NJSIAA Group IV state championship. But the Kards were also crowned as the No. 1 team in New Jersey and to top that, they were the recipients of the mythical national championship.

It was a team filled with superstars like eventual World Cup standouts John Harkes and Tony Meola (who was a sophomore forward on that team). But the team also featured two best friends, namely Rob McCourt and Mike O’Neill, two guys who grew up together, whose fathers were best of friends since arriving in Kearny from their native Scotland, two buddies who did practically everything together from diapers through corner kicks.

Now, three decades later, those two longtime friends hold another distinction. They are both major college soccer coaches in their home state.

McCourt has been entrenched as the head men’s soccer coach at Monmouth University. McCourt has guided the Hawks to numerous championships over his incredible tenure and will lead the Hawks this season as they begin their second season in a new league, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.

In fact, as they prepare to begin practice in earnest this week, the Hawks are the preseason favorites to win the MAAC title and hopefully will return to the NCAA Tournament this fall.

O’Neill gets a golden opportunity this season, as he takes over the head coaching reins with the Rutgers University women’s program, becoming elevated to the top spot after the retirement of former head coach Glenn Crooks last month.

O’Neill had been an assistant coach at Rutgers for the last several years, after first helping the women’s program at Seton Hall become a solid force.

Now, O’Neill gets to run a major college program on his own.

What are the odds of two best friends becoming major college coaches? It doesn’t happen often.

“We’re best friends, as thick as thieves,” McCourt said. “It all goes back to my roots in Kearny. I think that’s the way for the both of us. It’s 100% of what we’re made of. Our character, the base of all our success, comes from being from Kearny.”

O’Neill was the star of the 1984 team, earning the Coggins Award as the top high school player in the country. McCourt was a fine player in his own right, but he believes that coaching was in both of their futures even back then.

“There was no MLS and the NASL ceased to exist,” McCourt said. “There weren’t many chances to play professionally. John (Harkes) eventually went overseas, but at that time, coaching was the way to stay in the sport and something we could do for the rest of our lives. I think that’s what Mike and I thought back then.”

McCourt got his start as a coach as the freshman coach at Kearny High and was a teacher in the district before moving on to become an assistant coach at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Their head coach, current Kearny athletic director John Millar, knew that both of his standout players would become solid coaches.

“Surely they both had the tools to be leaders back then,” Millar said. “They had the respect of their teammates and they always had great leadership skills. They were both very mature at a young age and worked with our staff and other members of the team very well.”

McCourt remembers his buddy as being one of the first coaches, even at an early age.

“Mike was the one who always took charge, organizing the teams at the (Harrison) Courts, making sure who wore what number and what colored T-shirts to wear,” McCourt said. “He was always the guy we looked up to. In a way, I guess it’s fitting that we got into coaching. It’s like a role we always were meant to have.”

McCourt was asked about the idea that both are now coaching NCAA Division I college programs in their home state.

“That is pretty ironic,” Mc- Court said. “When I started coaching, my goal was always to get back to New Jersey. Mike said the same thing when he was coaching in Indiana. So that part is pretty ironic that we’re both here. I don’t want to be anywhere else. I think Mike feels the same way. We’re two guys from Kearny. Some say we’re crazy to do what we do, but I know we both have the same passion. Jersey roots are Jersey roots. Kearny roots are Kearny roots. Mike’s family is like my family and vice versa.”

McCourt said that he always likes to come back to his hometown, make a stop at the Kearny Scots-American Club where he and O’Neill spent many a night and played many a soccer match together.

“It always helps to come back and learn even more about the great soccer history of Kearny,” McCourt said.

McCourt said that he remains close with long-time friends Bill Galka, the current head coach at Kearny High, and Sal Rosamilia, who was a longtime assistant coach to both Millar and Galka.

“I think it’s fitting that we all got into coaching,” McCourt said.

McCourt has another Kearny product in his coaching staff at Monmouth in former Kearny High three-sport standout Hugh MacDonald, the first-ever Observer Male Athlete of the Year in 2003 who had a stint with the MetroStars. MacDonald played for McCourt at Monmouth after starting his career at VCU.

McCourt also coached former Kearny High standouts Michael Millar and Christian Nogueira at Monmouth.

For having a hand in all of their growth, the elder Millar has a gigantic sense of pride.

“Absolutely, I still have a great feeling about those guys,” Millar said. “I’m never able to grow old because of it. It’s a lot of fun. Robbie always finds time to talk to people from Kearny. We try to get to as many games as we can. I know a lot of Kearny people like to go to Monmouth games because of Robbie. He’s done a great job there.”

Added Millar, “Mike has always expected to win wherever he’s been. I don’t think he got the credit he should have received for what he did at Seton Hall. I hope he can elevate Rutgers to a higher level.”

O’Neill was instrumental in the recruiting of former Kearny High standout Stefanee Pace to Rutgers.

In a way, it’s all part of that strong soccer circle that comes from “Soccertown, USA.”

Nutley’s Papaccio finds new baseball home with Rockland Boulders


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

After getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 18th round of the 2013 Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft, Giuseppe Papaccio thought he was well on his way to a successful professional baseball career.

The Nutley product and former Seton Hall University standout shortstop handled himself well during two stops in the Cubs’ organization last year with the Cubs’ rookie league affiliate, then with the Midwest League Class A affiliate in Kane County, Illinois.

Papaccio hit .279 with two homers and 13 RBI in 37 games at Kane County, dividing his playing time equally at second base, third base and shortstop.

It appeared as if Papaccio was a rising star, well on his way.

“I thought I had a good year,” Papaccio said in a phone interview.

But then, something happened along the way – and Papaccio doesn’t exactly understand why.

Two weeks ago, Papaccio was released by the Cubs. Three days later, he signed a contract with the Rockland Boulders of the independent Can-Am League in nearby Rockland County in New York.

Papaccio tried to put the pieces together of what happened with the Cubs after he went to spring training in Arizona in March.

“I thought I did pretty well in spring training, but then they sent me to extended spring training,” Papaccio said.

The stint in extended spring training began Papaccio’s sojourn through four different stops in the Cubs’ organization, ranging from Boise, Idaho, to Daytona Beach, Florida, to Knoxville, Tennessee, and then finally a return trip to Kane County, Illinois. The Knoxville Smokies are the Cubs’ Class AA affiliate, so he was two steps away from the big leagues, but Papaccio only had two at-bats with the Smokies.

“I wasn’t playing every day,” Papaccio said. “I felt like something was a little off. I went from extended spring training to Tennessee and Class AA for a week. I then went to High Class A in Daytona for six weeks. But I wasn’t playing. It was all so weird. I wondered what I did wrong. Looking at it on paper, I should have been playing. But I wondered, ‘Did I play myself out of a position?’”

Papaccio played just six games with the Kane County Cougars when he was called into the office by manager Mark Johnson, the former major leaguer.

“He told me that they had no room for me,” Papaccio said. “With all the rookies coming in and the team packed with talented infielders, there was just no room. There was a logjam of talent. I left on good terms. It just didn’t work out. I have no regrets.”

The 23-year-old Papaccio, who was an All-Big East selection in 2013, earning Third Team All-America and the New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Player of the Year, didn’t hang his head after receiving his walking papers from the Cubs.

“I wasn’t too upset,” said Papaccio, Seton Hall’s all-time leader in doubles and fourth on the Pirates’ all-time hit list with 237. “I don’t think I could have done anything differently. I didn’t think my baseball career was over. I’m only 23 and I still feel and believe I could play at any of the levels I was at this year. I just needed to play every day.”

Papaccio’s agent made a phone call to the independent Boulders and he signed a contract with Rockland just three days after receiving his release from the Cubs.

“I feel more confident,” Papaccio said. “All I thought was that I needed a chance to play.”

It has only been six games with the Boulders, but Papaccio feels extremely comfortable. For one, he’s living at home in Nutley, eating his mother’s home cooking, seeing family and friends again.

“It’s only 40 minutes away,” Papaccio said. “Over the weekend, we played at Montclair (against the New Jersey Jackals), so that was easy. It feels great to be home.”

But there’s still an empty feeling, still wondering what went wrong that his dream of playing with the Cubs ended so suddenly.

“I do have mixed feelings,” Papaccio said. “I’m really surprised. I never thought I’d be out of the Cubs’ system by now. I thought I did pretty well.”

Papaccio did enjoy his homecoming last weekend against the Jackals.

“I had about 10 of my friends there,” Papaccio said. “I had my Mom and Dad there, my girlfriend there, my sister there. I’m playing baseball and it’s fun again. I’m with a great group of guys. I don’t feel any pressure.”

Papaccio’s former Seton Hall teammates Will Walsh and Greg Terhune are also on the Boulders’ roster, so that has made Papaccio comfortable in his new surroundings.

“The way I look at it, the competition is good,” Papaccio said. “About 75% of the guys in the league have played affiliated ball before on all levels. It’s a good operation.”

And Papaccio figures his stint with the Boulders for the remainder of the summer will be a good tryout to go back to affiliated baseball next spring.

“I’d like to get the opportunity to get back,” Papaccio said. “I’ve always worked hard in everything I’ve done. Ever since I was younger, I was never the best player, but I worked hard, doing the same thing, working my way up. I’m going to play hard, take each out at a time and see what happens. That’s the biggest thing I see. I have my confidence level back. I feel fine, both mentally and physically.”

In six games with the Boulders, Papaccio is hitting .273 with four RBI and one double. He’s playing ball close to home. The dream still lives.

“Things with the Cubs just didn’t work out,” Papaccio said. “I’m still playing.”

Then & Now

Photo by Karen Zautyk

Top: Photo courtesy Kearny Public Library/Museum Bottom: Photo by Karen Zautyk

Regarding the site depicted in this week›s ’Then’ photo, the following description is by William C. Brigham Jr. published in The Observer in 1933: ‘The New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers, located on Belgrove Drive, north of Bergen Ave., is one of the oldest [1887] and most familiar landmarks’ in Kearny. Built to accommodate Civil War veterans, ‘it also became a haven for Spanish-American War soldiers.’

’For years, it was a common and beautiful sight for passersby to see the old veterans sitting under the trees . . . and telling a group of wide-eyed children their heroic tales of Bull Run, Antietam, Gettysburg and Chancellorsville.’

As the number of veterans diminished, ‘it became necessary to consolidate the home with the one at Menlo Park, and in June 1932, the old soldiers, numbering only 46, of which just 13 were Civil War veterans, left the Arlington home. At present, the last building has been razed and the destiny of the plot has not been decided . . .’

The destiny of the plot was to become Veterans’ Field (or ‘Bunnyland Hill,’ named for the small zoo that once was there.) And last week, it was once again full of wide-eyed children, fascinated by a State Police helicopter at the KPD’s National Night Out Against Crime.