NA boys’ track: Making strides toward respectability


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Two years ago, Danny Cordeiro was known strictly as a standout soccer player.

North Arlington High School classmate Mike Brazzel was a three-sport athlete, playing football, basketball and baseball.

Now, the two have done wonders to help put the Vikings’ track and field program on the statewide map.

How does that happen? How do a soccer player and a three-sport contributor become track and field standouts?

“I still prefer people talking to me about soccer,” said Cordeiro, who backed up his first place showing in the 800 and 1,600-meter runs at the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championships two weeks ago with a gold medal performance in the overall Group I championships in South Plainfield Saturday.

“I am glad that people are talking to me about both sports, but I’m still a soccer player,” said Cordeiro, who is headed to the New Jersey Institute of Technology to play soccer in the fall. “I think on paper, it looks like I’m better in track. I didn’t run track before high school. I didn’t even think about it. It just started off as something I did to stay in shape for soccer. Over the years, it’s become a separate thing.”

Cordeiro won three gold medals at the state sectionals, finishing first in the triple jump as well. His fourth event was a fourth place finish in the long jump. It was one of the best allaround performances in the state.

Brazzel was a pitcher on the NA baseball team last spring, when he decided to walk away from baseball and become a javelin thrower.

“It took me a while to figure it out,” Brazzel said. “The coaches always told me that I was good in track.” Brazzel’s interest in the javelin came as a fluke. “It all started with a broken wrist,” Brazzel said. “I was doing the high jump, but after I broke the wrist, I went to the javelin. I never threw it before. I guess it was a lot like throwing a baseball.”

Last year, with just two weeks practice, Brazzel went to the NJSIAA North 2, Group I sectional championships and won the javelin. Two weeks ago, Brazzel repeated as state sectional champion and last Saturday, he took third overall in Group I.

“I guess after a while, track just appealed to me more,” Brazzel said. “It’s very hard for me to believe that I excelled this much. I never would have expected it. This is breathtaking.”

Now the two reluctant track standouts are headed to the granddaddy of all New Jersey track meets, the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield Wednesday night.

“It helps the recognition for the program,” North Arlington head track and field coach Joe Cioffi said. “It’s what we wanted to have. I’m not sure that the novelty has begun to wear off. It’s just that they both have confidence in what they’re doing.”

Cioffi is impressed with the development of both athletes.

“It’s really amazing to see what they’ve done,” Cioffi said. “They won league titles, then state sectional titles and now they’re on to the Meet of Champions. It’s an amazing accomplishment.”

Cioffi credited the work of all his seniors, including P.J. Sirotiak, Anthony Morreale and Thai Scott.

“This group of seniors we had pushed it forward,” Cioffi said. “The icing on the cake was Danny and Brazzel winning. We’ve moved this program forward in four years and I’m really proud of that. Each year, we’ve shown improvement and now we’re sending two athletes to the Meet of Champions. It’s definitely exciting for us.”

Brazzel feels that being a pitcher helped his development as a javelin thrower.

“It’s about the same kind of motion,” Brazzel said. “Being that I had been pitching for a long time made throwing the javelin easier.”

Brazzel plans on competing in both football and track and field at East Stroudsburg University in the fall.

“Track just sort of appealed to me more,” Brazzel said. “It just took a while for me to figure that out.”

Cordeiro is certainly shocked at becoming the school’s first-ever overall Group I champion in track and field.

“I’m definitely surprised, because I never thought of myself as being a runner,” Cordeiro said. “I’m happy what I did, but what we did as a team as well. I want to go to the Meet of Champions and win there. I always go to a meet thinking I can win. I’m really looking forward to it.”

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