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NJIT experiences March Madness in CIT tourney

3-18 NJI_web

By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

NEWARK – 

Eight years ago, when the New Jersey Institute of Technology arranged for its athletic programs to compete under the NCAA Division I banner, the Highlanders have fought hard for respectability in all sports.

It’s been an uphill battle for the men’s basketball program, which once had to endure an NCAA-record for consecutive losses with 51. So in years past, the final regular season game would mean the final game of the season for the men’s basketball program at the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

A team without a conference since the Great West Conference disbanded three years ago, the Highlanders, the nation’s lone independent, would collect the uniforms, put the balls in a closet and call it a year.

However, the Highlanders knew this year that they knew they had something to play for, namely a berth in the postseason and the College Insider.com Tournament.

The CIT extended its first invitation to the 32- team field to 18-11 NJIT and even gave the Highlanders a home game against the University of New Hampshire, a game that was played at the Fleisher Athletic Center Monday night after press time.

Needless to say, the people at NJIT are ecstatic to be extending their basketball season by a few weeks.

“It’s really hard to put it into words,” said NJIT head coach Jim Engles, who has spent the last seven years at the school. “It’s a special moment for everyone involved. From where we were to where we are now is pretty special.”

When Engles took over the program seven years ago, the Highlanders were winless the season before (0-29) and in the midst of an NCAA record 51-game losing streak. In fact, Engles won only one game during his first season.

But the improvements soon began. The Highlanders won 10 the following season, then 15 in 2010-11. They won the Great West Conference regular season championship in the league’s final year in 2012-13, winning 16 games, which was the NCAA Division I high before this season.

NJIT helped its reputation earlier this season, when the Highlanders traveled to Crisler Arena and the then-No. No. 17-ranked Michigan. It helped the Highlanders gain national recognition.

“We came full circle that day,” said senior forward Daquan Holliday, who hit the clutch free throws in the final minute to secure the 72- 70 victory over the Wolverines. “Before then, no one knew what NJIT was. After it, everyone would say, ‘Hey, you go to NJIT.’ It’s just amazing how far we’ve come in such a short time.”

The Highlanders did have to pay an entry fee of $36,000 to get into the CIT, according to athletic director Lenny Kaplan. But the school gets to keep all revenues in ticket sales for the game, so that’s why they’re making a push to sell out the 1,500-seat Fleisher Athletic Center.

“It’s still a positive for us,” Kaplan said. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had an opportunity to play in the postseason. Getting a chance to host a game in the postseason doesn’t come around often. As an independent, just getting a chance to play in the postseason is tough. But we’re getting a chance to play in front of our own fans. We’re excited to offer that opportunity.”

“We want people to know we have a good team here,” Engles said in a recent postgame press conference. “To be honest, it’s been a whirlwind. The amount of recognition and exposure we’ve received has been tremendous; the amount of people who have reached out to contact us. It’s been humbling for all of us.”

And the Highlanders are the lone Division I program in New Jersey still playing. Everyone else is on the outside looking in.

NJIT has been battling for the last three years to find a permanent conference. The Highlanders once played in the Great West Conference with schools like Chicago State, South Dakota and North Dakota, but that league disbanded when the remaining schools all found suitable leagues, except NJIT. This marks the second straight season that the Highlanders are the nation’s lone Division I independent.

“I want to see us get in a league,” said Engles, who led the Highlanders to a 13-16 record as an independent a year ago. “I think it would help the school, but also help the entire city of Newark. We’re going to continue to do what we have to do. We need to get in a league and we need more of that. A game like this definitely has to be a selling point and has to put us back in the conversation. It has to be used as leverage.”

Engles said that he gets choked up thinking about all the players who endured that horrific losing streak.

“I get emotional when I think of all the players who had to go through all of that,” Engles said. “We can’t forget about that, because that’s part of who we are. It’s always going to be with us.”

Kaplan said that the postseason berth comes on the heels of the announcement that plans are underway to build a new $100 million athletic facility that should be ready for occupancy by 2017.

“We would much rather get a postseason bid through a conference tournament,” said Kaplan, who continues discussions with several leagues in order to gain possible admittance. “It’s tough enough right now operating as an independent. If this is an opening to take it to the next step, then we’re going to do it.”

Kaplan said that he has already scheduled meetings with officials from the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC), which is comprised of mostly all-black institutions.

“We’ve also reached out to others as well,” Kaplan said. “We’ve had some conferences tell us that the No. 1 reason why we didn’t get in was our athletic facility. Well, now we’re getting a new one, so that will hopefully reenergize conversations.”

In the meantime, the Highlanders will get another game – a home game at that – and maybe more.

“I think we look at it as a challenge,” said sophomore guard Damon Lynn, the Highlanders’ leading scorer who collected the 1,000th  point of his career in a recent win over Howard. “We feel like we’re going to make the most of it.”

“It feels great to know that my last practice wasn’t my last practice,” Holliday said.

Engles knows that the program has to start somewhere.

“It’s definitely a reward, but we don’t want to be too happy about it,” Engles said. “We need to get into a conference. Before people weren’t ready to entertain us as a member of their conference because we were so bad. Now no one might want us because we’re good. We’re getting some national recognition and that’s a good experience for us moving forward.”

So how much has NJIT mania gripped the nation? Well, it has definitely stirred up the sales of athletic gear at the school’s book store.\

Peter Maranzano, the book store manager, said that sales have increased an estimated 258 % since the win in December over Michigan – with a lot of those online sales coming from places like East Lansing, Michigan and Columbus, Ohio, the Wolverines’ two biggest rivals in the Big Ten Conference.

“To say sales have exploded would be an understatement,” Maranzano said. “It’s kind of amazing. On a typical Monday morning, I’d come in and have 3-to- 5 online orders. I came in Monday and there were 90 orders. It was incredible. Roughly half of the orders came from Michigan and Ohio, so we’re theorizing that it was Michigan State and Ohio State fans trying to razz the Wolverines. To get T-shirt sales from East Lansing is not at all what I expected.”

Maranzano said that a majority of the sales were from New Jersey, from alums and students.

“We had a lot of students coming in,” Maranzano said. “It was a nice little victory for everyone.”

Lynn knows that the Highlanders have to build on their new-found attention.

“It was only one game,” Lynn said. “We can’t stop here. We’re the ones stuck without a conference.”

Obituaries

Audrey M. Borkowski 

Audrey M. Borkowski (nee Mohr) of Kearny entered into eternal rest at Select Specialty Hospital in Rochelle Park on March 10.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held at Our Lady of Sorrows and burial followed in Holy Cross Cemetery. www.armitagewiggins.com

Born in Newark, Audrey moved to Kearny after getting married and resided there until her death. She leaves behind her beloved husband of 58 years, Chester Borkowski, and her loving children Emily and Peter, also of Kearny. She also leaves behind her sister Harriet Ellison, along with several nieces and nephews. Her brother Richard Mohr passed away in 1988.

Donations may be made to The Children’s Memorial Garden in Winding River Park in Toms River. This garden is in memory of children that have left us too soon. Donations are tax deductible and can be sent to TCF Garden Fund, P.O. Box 485, Toms River, N.J. 08754 (www.oceantcf.com/memorialgarden.htm ) or a charity of your own choice.

Jose D. Domingo

Jose D. Domingo, of Harrison, entered into eternal rest at Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, on Wednesday, March 11. He was 82.

Funeral arrangements were under the direction of the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison. A funeral service was held at the funeral home. His cremation was private. For information, or to send condolences to the family, please visit www.mulliganfh.com.

Born in Argentina, Jose emigrated to the U.S. in 1962 settling in Queens, N.Y., before moving to the West Hudson area 43 years ago. Jose worked as a printer for Paquet Corporation, Passaic, for many years before retiring in 1998. He was a parishioner of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Harrison. In his free time he enjoyed hunting, fishing and collecting stamps.

He is survived by his beloved wife Blanca Paulina Domingo (nee Scattolini), loving children Walter Domingo and Miriam Domingo Pace, cherished grandchildren Gabriela and Alyssa Pace, dear siblings Haydee Mateosian, Sonia Arraez and Maria Clara Oliva. He is also survived by many nieces, nephews and cousins.

He was predeceased by his parents Palmira Angeloni Domingo and Pablo Domingo.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 11454, Alexandria, Va. 22312 or in care of the funeral home in loving memory of Jose.

Joseph A. Poland Sr. 

Joseph A. Poland Sr. entered into eternal rest on March 13 at home. He was 76.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, he lived most of his life in North Arlington.

Arrangements were by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was held at Queen of Peace Church followed by burial in Holy Cross Cemetery. www.armitagewiggins.com

Joe was a retired foreman at Holy Cross Cemetery. He was an active member of Queen of Peace Church serving as an usher and also was in the Knights of Columbus.

He is survived by his devoted wife Maureen (nee Kavanagh), his loving children and their spouses Denise B. and Dominick Orovio, Joseph A. Jr. and Angelica Poland and Lisa E. and John Minervini. Brother of Nellie Hennessy, Clare O’Neill and Carleen Doyle, he is also survived by his cherished grandchildren Anthony, Christopher, Travis, Kali-Bridget, Jessica, Joseph, Melissa, Michael and Jeremy. In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to The Wounded Warrior Project.

Thomasina Stoner

Thomasina Stoner (nee Dougan) died March 14. She was 74.

Born in Kearny, she moved to Carteret 20 years ago.

Visiting will be on Tuesday, March 17, from 9 to 11 a.m., at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. from the funeral home and burial will follow in Arlington Cemetery. www.armitagewiggins.com

Thomasina was the wife of the late Ronald Stoner and Jack Gross. She is survived by her loving companion Frank Hervin, her daughter Kathy and her husband John Planer and grandchildren Rachel and David. She was predeceased by her brother Sam Dougan.

She was a secretary at Paquet Oneida in Clifton. She loved to bowl and had been a member of the Liberty Chapter Order of Eastern Star. In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to the American Cancer Society.

Dorothy Warzenski 

Dorothy Warzenski (nee Osmul), of Harrison, entered into eternal rest at Alaris Health at Kearny on Friday, March 13. She was 89.

The funeral will be conducted from the Mulligan Funeral Home, 331 Cleveland Ave., Harrison, on Tuesday, March 17, at 10:30 am. A funeral Mass will be offered at Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, Harrison, at 11 am. Friends may call on Tuesday from 9:45 am. Interment Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. For information, directions or to send condolences to the family, please visit www.mulliganfh.com.

Born in Kearny, Dorothy was a lifelong resident of Harrison. She worked as an administrative secretary for many years for RCA, Inc., Harrison. She was a parishioner of Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, and was active in many of the churches organizations and activities, volunteering much of her time following her retirement. She often volunteered at bingo and was a member of the OLC Rosary Society. She was also a member of the Holy Cross Seniors, Holy Cross Church Cancer Guild and the Newark Seniors.

Predeceased by her husband, Alfred Warzenski (2004) Dorothy is survived by her close friends Anna Barbosa and family and Wafaa Chia and family as well as many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. She was predeceased by her 11 brothers and sisters.

In lieu of flowers, the family would appreciate donations to Our Lady of Czestochowa Church, 115 S. Third St., Harrison, N.J. 07029 or in care of the funeral home in loving memory of Dorothy.

‘Don’t forget his public service,’ says Santos

Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos had this reaction to the news of John Leadbeater’s guilty plea:

“The initial charges came as a surprise to me,” said Santos, who defeated Leadbeater in the 2009 mayoralty contest. “And the guilty plea was a disappointment in that John devoted so many of his years to public service, both on the Town Council and Board of Education.”

Nonetheless, Santos said, there was money lost through the criminal enterprise and “those who lost money are the ones who suffered damage here and they need to be made whole. This was not a victimless crime.”

If there can be said to be an up side in this situation, Santos said, it is that the criminality charged to his onetime political rival was “not related to his past services as a councilman or member of the school board.”

Don’t shovel, get ticket: NPD

It may be getting a trifle warmer but in Nutley, police have been no less vigilant in trying to keep residents safe from slipping on snow- and/or ice-covered sidewalks.

On March 7, officers responded to an Alexander Ave. location on a report of a hazardous condition and, after seeing that the sidewalk was topped by ice, issued a summons to the property owner for failure to clear their sidewalk within a 36-hour period.

On March 10, patrol units were advised that a home on Ravine Ave. had a dangerous condition and, upon arrival, found the sidewalk hazardous, causing pedestrians to walk in the street to avoid falling. The homeowner ended up getting a summons.

And on March 11, police said they observed a Bloomfield Ave. homeowner removing snow from their property and dumping it on Bloomfield and Vine St. Police advised the owner to discontinue that activity and to put the snow back on their property. They also gave the owner a summons.

All the tickets issued carry a mandatory court appearance, police said.

• • •

Between March 7-13, Nutley PD responded to 34 motor vehicle accidents, 10 disputes, eight suspicious incidents, 36 medical calls and these incidents:

March 7 

Taha Aziz, 26, of Bergenfield, was arrested on a DWI charge after police said he was observed weaving over the double yellow lines and traveling in excess of the posted speed limit at Kingsland St. and Washington Ave. Aziz was also ticketed for speeding, failure to keep right and careless driving.

• • •

An individual walking along Whitford Ave. was bitten on the right leg by a small Chihuahua, the victim told police. Nutley Rescue Squad transported the victim to an area hospital for treatment and police issued the dog’s owner a summons for unlicensed dog. Police advised the owner to quarantine the dog for no less than seven days pending a follow-up visit by the township Health Department.

March 9 

Police said Krystie Cruz, 27, of Clifton, was intoxicated when she crashed her vehicle into a snowbank on Coeyman Ave. Cruz was charged with DWI and failure to produce an insurance ID card.

March 11 

A fraud victim came to HQ to report that they had noticed multiple unauthorized withdrawals from their bank account. Police said that two separate withdrawals totaling more than $300 were made from an ATM in Bloomfield. The victim told police that their bank card was neither lost nor stolen.

• • •

A Centre St. resident reported a burglary to a basement storage bin. The building owner told police that the wooden door to their basement storage bin had been pried open and the lock damaged and that a gray metal shelf about 4-by- 4-feet and three or four metal radiator covers were missing.

March 12 

A Passaic Ave. resident reported criminal mischief to their auto. Upon returning to their vehicle, the resident noticed that the entire right side had been scratched.

– Ron Leir 

Dems question hiring of Ceberio firm

NORTH ARLINGTON – 

Last Thursday, North Arlington Borough Council made it official: By a 4-2 vote, they voted on a resolution to hire RCM Ceberio LLC as a redevelopment and public relations consultant at $2,500 a month, including all expenses and travel, from March 1 to Dec. 31, 2015.

The council’s two Democrats – Al Granell and Tom Zammatore – said they voted against it because the hiring procedure was “flawed” and lacked “sufficient transparency.”

The contract awarded the Wayne firm, headed by former N.J. Meadowlands Commission executive director Robert Ceberio, calls for RCM Ceberio to implement a three-pronged plan:

• “Prepare an economic development inventory of potential sites in the borough,

• Monitor commercial uses and commercial tax ratables,

• Take necessary initiatives to attract businesses, which will make a major contribution to the economy of North Arlington.”

The firm’s contract says that the real estate inventory “will include vacant or underutilized properties and commercial properties, categorized according to their adaptability to various types of business, professional and industrial enterprises.”

Additionally, the firm is charged with working with borough elected and appointed officials to devise “land use and redevelopment opportunities” and prepare formal solicitations to prosective developers.

As part of that effort, the firm is to get public input on potential projects, work with state and federal agencies to promote local development prospects, assist developers in preparing the submitting applications to expedite relevant approvals, aid the borough in preparing economic development grants and document all potential real estate development opportunities.

Meanwhile, Granell griped that the borough circumvented “normal governmental procedure” by failing to have circulated a Request For Proposal for a redevelopment consultant.

“This is not an emergency hire. So why is the council being pressured into hiring this firm at this time?” Granell said.

Zammatore said that, “there was no advance notice given” of a presentation that Ceberio made to the council in a closed session held Feb. 26, “nor prior disclosure of the role of [former borough Mayor Len] Kaiser in the Ceberio firm.

“We had no time to prepare or evaluate [Ceberio’s] credentials or to define his duties. … I felt the process should be opened to other applicants and the most qualified candidate selected for the job.”

Granell questioned Ceberio’s capability “to boost small town development” and suggested that the firm’s hiring was premature since the proposed borough redevelopment board has yet to be formed. “The borough … should allow [the board] to meet and begin to lay out goals for redevelopment and a strategy,” he said.

Mayor Joseph Bianchi has said he plans to appoint Ceberio chairman of the redevelopment board whose eight members will be a combination of council members and the public.

As for the firm’s public relations responsibilities, Zammatore noted that RCM Ceberio failed to submit a Request For Qualifications – as two other firms did – that the borough had requested in December. (No action was taken by the borough after the Dec. 18 submission deadline.)

“The mayor and council majority are doing an end run around the proper hiring processes … and they want to force the hiring of a company to do public relations that has no documented experience in that area,” he added.

Ceberio has said that he has performed public relations work for the mayor’s office in Secaucus while employed there.

Smile & Implant Center welcomes Dr. Mendia

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The Smile and Implant Center in Kearny announces that Dr. Jonathan Mendia, dental anesthesiologist, has joined the practice, offering IV sedation and general anesthesia to pediatric, special needs, anxious and dental-phobic patients. Mendia aims to minimize patients’ dental fears, ensuring that anxious children and adults are comfortable during their dental care.

Mendia obtained his doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. He then completed a two-year residency in dental anesthesiology at the school and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The Smile and Implant Center is a full-service dental office with a board certified periodontist and oral surgeon on staff. To learn more about dental anesthesia and the sophisticated dental services offered by the center, call Alexis at 201-991-1055 or email alexis@ thesmileandimplantcenter.com for a free consultation. For more information, visit www.TheSmileandImplant- Center.com and www.SedationNJ.com.

Feds say Kearny doc sought to torch his offices

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By Karen Zautyk
Observer Correspondent

KEARNY –

A Kearny doctor has been indicted in Pennsylvania for allegedly attempting to hire a Philadelphia man to burn down the Kearny Ave. building housing his medical practice.

The motive, authorities said, was to destroy his patient files.

The doctor is also accused of illegally dispensing prescription painkillers. The indictment was handed up last week in Philadelphia against Dr. Mudassar Sharif, 40, who owned Garden State Primary Care at 711 Kearny Ave., it was announced by Zane David Memeger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Read more »

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‘Heightened’ prep

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

KEARNY – 

It’s only his second time on stage at Kearny High School, but senior Alex Vazquez is rising to the task of tackling a lead.

So says Michele Samoski, who is directing Alex and a cast of 33 in the high school’s spring musical, “In the Heights,” opening March 19.

The show, which focuses on a low-income neighborhood in the Washington Heights section of New York City whose residents rally round each other, features as many as 25 songs – mostly ensemble-based – and six big dance numbers, all done to rap and hip hop stylings. Read more »

Monitor will stay for now

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By Ron Leir
Observer Correspondent 

HARRISON – 

The Town of Harrison, which has received special state aid for the past five years – and, with it, the special attention of a state fiscal monitor – recently tried to disengage itself from that arrangement.

Sorry, not yet, was the state’s answer, according to Mayor James Fife.

“We asked to have our transitional aid shifted to our regular state aid,” Fife told The Observer last week, and, in so doing, have the state end its role of financial overseer. Read more »