Becomes school’s first-ever Division I track athlete
It’s a day that Jessica Failace could only dream of happening, but never thought it could actually become reality.
But here was Failace, signing a national letter of intent to attend NCAA Division I Sacred Heart in Connecticut on a track and field scholarship, the first-ever D-I female track athlete from Lyndhurst High School.
And ready for this? Failace was already all set to attend Sacred Heart on her own, qualifying academically as the No. 3 student in the Lyndhurst Class of 2015, gaining acceptance to Sacred Heart’s six-year physical therapy program, going straight from undergraduate studies to earning a doctorate.
Now, Failace goes to Sacred Heart as a respected scholarship athlete.
Talk about living a dream. “I wasn’t even thinking about it,” said Failace, who was a standout soccer player in the fall and sprinter and hurdler in the spring. “I wasn’t even focused on sports going to college. I thought I didn’t even want to compete in sports and wasn’t going to try to.”
But after the coaching staff at Sacred Heart got wind of what Failace could do, including setting five different school records, winning countless county, league and state sectional titles, finishing fourth in the overall NJSIAA Group I in the 400 hurdles and helping the Golden Bears’ 4×800-meter relay team finish fifth, earning berths in the NJSIAA Meet of Champions, they hoped that Failace would attend the Connecticut school as a student-athlete.
“I went to an Open House there and spoke to the coach,” Failace said. “We then talked again after the season. I told the coaches that I still wasn’t sure. But I really loved the coaches and the other athletes. I felt like I belonged. It was close enough that I could come home, eat dinner, leave and go back if I wanted. I have a big family and I don’t think I ever played or ran without someone of my family being there.”
So it all came together last week for Failace, as she signed her letter last week with her entire family present.
It was a historic day, because Failace created history.
“It’s incredible,” said Failace’s head coach in both soccer and track, Kim Hykey. “She’s a Division I track athlete. It doesn’t get any better than that. This is a good ending to her high school career and a great beginning for her.”
Hykey was asked what it was like to coach Failace in two sports.
“It was awesome,” Hykey said. “You don’t get kids who want to do the extra things, like get up at 5:30 in the morning before school and do work. Not many kids want to do that. Hopefully, I can have a kid who is half as good and determined. She’s a well rounded kid who made my life so much easier.”
In 2013, it looked as if Failace would lose a shot at becoming a scholarship athlete. She suffered a torn ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and also damaged the meniscus. It was a tedious process and a major rehabilitation after surgery.
“I knew I had to come back,” Failace said. “If I was out of sports, I don’t know what I would do. I was coming back no matter what.” Failace’s uncle, Frank Benedetto Jr., is a physical therapist who works at Paramus Orthopedic Physical Therapy.
“He took care of me right away,” Failace said. “I was blessed that he helped me. I started physical therapy. Those were the worst days of my life, but they changed me. Those ended up needing two surgeries. I was non-weight bearing for 66 days. But the day after my last surgery made me who I am today. I completely believe that things happen for a reason. It all made me a stronger person. I worked very hard. I wanted to come back better than ever. I knew with the help of my uncle, I would be fine.”
When the 2014 soccer season began, Failace was wearing a bulky brace on her reconstructed knee. But then the games began, Failace ditched the brace and played like she always did, scoring more than 20 goals.
Then, by the time the track season came around, Failace was flying, setting all sorts of records and winning medals by the box loads.
“I never ran track before high school,” Failace said. “I played soccer since I was five, but track came to me naturally. I remember running an 800 (meter run) in practice and Coach Tess (Ed Tessalone) was freaking out about the time. I thought maybe this could be good.”
Failace was asked what it was like to be the first Lyndhurst girl to earn a track scholarship.
“It feels awesome,” Failace said. “I’m glad I made my parents and my coaches proud. I’m glad to represent my school in such a positive way.”
Failace had her sights set on Sacred Heart because of the physical therapy program. Now, she gets the best of both worlds.
“It really is awesome how it all turned out,” Failace said. “I’m real excited to start a new chapter in my life.”
Hykey said that Failace will serve as a positive role model for athletes for the years to come.
“Absolutely, she’s a role model,” Hykey said. “I’m going to talk about her all the time. She might not be here physically, but she will be spoken about for sure. She’s the one I will specially single out. Everyone will still know her. For her to get hurt, then come back even stronger and accomplish more than anyone could have imagined. Yeah, it can’t get any better than that. She’s a very special person.”
“It’s a great feeling to know I’ll still be a role model,” Failace said.
After all she’s been through and all she’s accomplished after, Jessica Failace has earned that distinction – forever.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”