Kearny’s Adamek contending for heavyweight crown & Lyndhurst’s Rono capturing two gold medals top local sports stories of year
By Jim Hague
The calendar year of 2011 brought many highlights to the local sports scene, with several memorable moments, some that will last a lifetime.
Here’s a list of The Observer’s Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year.
1-Adamek fights for heavyweight title
Ever since Polish-born boxer Tomasz Adamek moved to Kearny three years ago, he became the town’s most famous professional athlete, moving up the ranks in the heavyweight boxing class.
In March, Adamek defeated Kevin McBride in Newark to set up a showdown with Vitali Klitschko for the WBC world heavyweight championship, a fight that was held in September in Adamek’s native land of Poland.
The result didn’t go as planned, as Adamek suffered a loss via a technical knockout in the 10th round. But Adamek plans to return to the ring in 2012 and make another attempt at winning the heavyweight title. He’s recently been seen running the streets of Kearny in preparation for his return to the ring.
2-Lyndhurst’s Rono sparkles in outdoor track, wins two state gold medals
Patrick Rono had already established himself as the greatest athlete in the history of Lyndhurst High School, but in June, he cemented that title by winning two gold medals at the NJSIAA outdoor Meet of Champions.
On perhaps the hottest day of the year, with the temperature hovering around a blistering 100 degrees, Rono first captured the 1,600-meter run in a meet record time of 4:10.01, then a half hour later, came back to win the 800-meter run in 1:50.10. He became only the fourth athlete ever to win two events at the Meet of Champions. Rono would later earn The Observer Male Athlete of the Year award and ended up running for the University of Arkansas.
3-Kearny-Harrison soccer thriller at Red Bull Arena
It was a matchup that many local soccer fans were waiting for years to take place – and in October, it took place in the grandest of all soccer venues in the United States.
Kearny faced off with Harrison in a soccer game played at Red Bull Arena in a special doubleheader just for the local teams. The two girls’ teams from the two schools met in the prelim, with Kearny winning in lopsided fashion.
However, the boys’ showdown was a match to remember. Harrison scored first with just 20 minutes remaining, but then only seconds after the Blue Tide took the lead, Junior Batista knocked in a shot from midfield, then made the assist on Alejandro Dianes’ game-winning goal with three minutes left, giving the Kardinals the 2-1 victory in a day that will not be soon forgotten in local soccer circles.
4-Kearny wins NJSIAA state sectional soccer title
About a month later, the Kardinals grabbed the headlines once again by winning the school’s first NJSIAA state sectional championship in seven years. The Kardinals defeated Randolph, 1-0, again with All-State standout Batista leading the way with the lone goal, to capture the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship, the first for the program since 2004 and the first for Bill Galka as head coach. The Kardinals amazingly did not allow a single goal throughout the state playoffs, with goalkeeper Tyler Anderson leading the way, posting four shutout victories in the sectional and not allowing a goal to Bridgewater-Raritan in the overall Group IV state semifinals, a match that the Kardinals lost via penalty kicks. Still, it was a memorable season for the Kardinals as they occupy two spaces in the Top Sports Stories of 2011.
5-Lyndhurst wins NJSIAA football game, first since 1983
The Lyndhurst football team enjoyed a season to remember, winning eight games, but more importantly, qualifying for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs for the first time since 2004. When the Golden Bears got to the playoffs, they upset top-seeded Rutherford in the first round on the road, giving Lyndhurst its first football playoff victory since winning the state title in 1983. It was a great season for head coach Scott Rubinetti, a Lyndhurst alumnus, who wanted to be able to turn the school’s grid program around. He did so with flying colors in 2011.
6-Field woes turn Kearny into baseball road warriors
When there were grand plans to renovate and refurbish Franklin School Field, installing FieldTurf, it was a joyous approach for the Kearny High School baseball team that used the facility the most. But when the renovation work wasn’t completed in time for the start of the 2011 high school baseball season, it turned into an on-going dilemma that carried throughout the entire season. For most of the season, the Kardinals were road warriors and had to play their games on the road. They did manage to play some home games at Harrison and at Bears & Eagles Riverfront Stadium, the home of the Newark Bears, but they were kept away from playing at home at Franklin all season. The work was finally completed after the spring season ended..
7-Lyndhurst wins county, state outdoor track titles
Although it didn’t hurt having a state champion in Rono on the team, the Lyndhurst boys’ track and field team had a year to remember, winning their second straight Bergen County title, then capping it off by winning the NJSIAA North 2, Group I state sectional championship, the first state title for the school in track since 1950. That’s even before long-time head coach and former Lyndhurst track athlete Tom Shoebridge was even born. Shoebridge developed the entire team and although Rono did lead the way, it was a total team effort that enabled the Golden Bears to attain such lofty and historic heights.
8-Red Bull Arena, Harrison host MLS All-Star game
Harrison and Red Bull Arena became the focus of the international soccer world over the summer, when the Major League Soccer All-Star game was played at Red Bull Arena, drawing thousands of soccer enthusiasts and bringing all the greats in the sport, not to mention famed franchise Manchester United, to the area to participate in the game.
In the days prior to the All-Star game, Harrison was turned into a soccer wonderland, with the highlight being a Legends soccer game, pitting a team comprised of local soccer greats Tab Ramos, John Harkes and Tony Meola among several, against a team comprised of former Harrison High School greats in a match played at the famed Harrison Courts. It was a great night for nostalgia, with temporary bleachers brought in to house the fans watching the Legends game.
It was shocking news that no one knew about, but when Kearny High School played its final baseball game of the season in June, it was the end of an era, because long-time head coach and alum Jim Sickinger announced that he was retiring to spend more time with his family. Earlier in the season, Sickinger had collected the 250th win of his coaching career. He spent more than a quarter-century with the Kearny baseball program, first as an assistant coach and then for the last 16 years as head coach. Sickinger’s former player and assistant coach, Frank Bifulco, has been named as Sickinger’s successor, but it will be hard to replace all the positive things that Sickinger did as a head coach in Kearny.
In almost strikingly similar fashion, Nutley head football coach Steve DiGregorio kept it a secret that he had planned all along to step down at the season’s end. So after the Maroon Raiders made their fifth NJSIAA North 2, Group III state playoff appearance in seven years and after the Maroon Raiders had defeated rival Belleville in their annual Thanksgiving Day game, DiGregorio announced he was stepping down as head football coach at his alma mater after eight seasons, citing family reasons as well. DiGregorio helped to rebuild the Nutley program during his tenure and leaves the Maroon Raiders in far better condition than what he inherited.
Just missed list
Not every story can make the Top 10 Stories of 2011, so here’s a list of other stories that just got nipped at the wire of making the 10 best.
Two local wrestlers, namely Justin Colon of Belleville and Michael Ferinde of Nutley, both won Region 4 championships; Nutley’s Giuseppe Papaccio led Seton Hall to their first NCAA baseball tournament berth in 10 seasons; Kearny’s Mohamed Farih earned a berth on the St. Peter’s College basketball roster, Kearny three-sport standout Janitza Aquino was named The Observer Female Athlete of the Year before heading off to Montclair State to play basketball; North Arlington’s Mike Gross, a former Observer Athlete of the Year, made a triumphant return to college football at Rhode Island after battling a scary illness; Nutley’s Bryan Haczyk earned a contract with the New Jersey Devils’ minor league team after participating in rookie camp; Lyndhurst Little League won the district title and headed to the state sectional tournament and the Kearny Recreation Soccer League celebrated its 50th anniversary.