It’s very rare when a student/athlete graduates at the top of his or her graduating class.
Usually, the role of valedictorian is played by someone who spends all of their free time in a library with their noses pressed against textbooks and encyclopedia.
But that wasn’t the case with the valedictorian at Queen of Peace for the Class of 2015.
Kearny resident Michael Pettigrew earned the distinction of being at the very top of the QP graduating class, while also excelling in both basketball and baseball for the Golden Griffins.
“For me, academics always came first,” said the recently graduated Pettigrew, who is headed off to Drew University later this month. “I love playing sports, but I wanted to make sure I was going to a good academic school. I would have had to sacrifice sports if it weren’t for my concentration in academics.”
Before he graduated, Pettigrew represented Queen of Peace at the NJSIAA’s Scholar/Athlete Luncheon at the Pines Manor in Edison.
“I think playing baseball and basketball really helped me,” Pettigrew said. “Sports were stress relievers for me. I went out and played, then came home and concentrated on my school work. It really helped me.”
But being the top of his class? It’s truly a remarkable feat to be a standout two-sport athlete and No. 1 in a graduating class.
“It’s definitely something I’m proud of,” Pettigrew said. “I had a lot of support over the years, from my parents (mother Pat and father Mike), teachers, administrators, who pushed me so I could accomplish great things. A huge amount of credit has to go to my parents. They supported me every step of the way. I feel very fortunate to be able to do well in both sports and school.”
Pettigrew said that some of QP’s top students in the Class of 2015 were also fine athletes, like the Mastrofilippo twins, soccer, basketball and softball standouts Michelle and Micaila, who finished second and third in the class respectively, as well as pole vault queen Catherine Rosalski, who was among the top 10 in the class.
“We had a great selection of student/athletes to get selected as the top one,” Pettigrew said. “I was happy and excited to be chosen as the one to represent Queen of Peace.”
Pettigrew had a brilliant baseball campaign on a team that struggled mightily this past spring. He batted .514 (35-for-68) with 10 doubles, four triples and 22 RBI.
He also finished his career on an absolute tear, going 11-for-15 with three doubles, three triples and 10 RBI. He had a four-hit, four-RBI game against Dwight-Englewood in one of his final appearances in a Golden Griffin uniform.
Pettigrew earned All-NJIC Liberty Division honors for a second straight year in baseball. He also received recognition from the All- NJIC Liberty in the winter for basketball.
“Winning and losing really didn’t matter that much to me, as long as I played hard and I had a good time,” Pettigrew said. “I love playing baseball so much. That’s basically all I could ask for.”
Right before the baseball season started, Pettigrew decided that he would attend Drew and play baseball there.
“It honestly had a huge impact on me,” Pettigrew said. “It made me relax and I had my best year by far. I was able to play baseball with a clear head, knowing my future was already set. I usually play better when I’m not thinking too much.”
Like someone who is atop his class doesn’t spend all of his time thinking about something.
Pettigrew spent his summer months playing baseball for the Bergen Swamp Rats (now there’s an attractive name) in the highly competitive Met League, perhaps the best semi-pro baseball league in northern New Jersey.
Pettigrew played on the Swamp Rats with five or so others who play collegiately at Drew.
“It gave me a head start,” Pettigrew said. “I tried to do whatever I could to be as prepared as possible for college baseball.”
The Met League uses strictly wood bats, so the transformation from composite and aluminum bats was a little tough getting used to at first. Obviously, the pitching was also better than what Pettigrew had been used to facing on a regular basis.
“But it was nice to be able to take a step up a little and play already with college players,” Pettigrew said. “It was a very good experience.”
Pettigrew hit .350 in the Met League and showed his versatility, playing second base, third base, shortstop, left field and centerfield for the Swamp Rats.
In any case, Michael Pettigrew leaves Queen of Peace as one of the best allaround scholar/athletes in the school’s history. It’s hard to argue being the top of the class.
“Looking back at my four years of high school, I have a lot of good memories,” Pettigrew said. “I was able to accomplish a lot of good things. I just hope I can continue it on into college.”
Pettigrew has yet to decide on a major.
“It’s why I chose a liberal arts college like Drew, because I am not sure yet,” Pettigrew said. “I’m considering engineering and economics, but I don’t know.”
Pettigrew said that he chose Drew, which is located in nearby Madison, for several reasons. He received a Baldwin Honors Scholarship to attend school there.
“The coach (Brian Hirschberg) is the nicest guy,” Pettigrew said. “I’ve met some of the players and I get along well with them. It’s the best of all worlds. I’m really excited about the next four years.”
And if he begins to feel just a little homesick or needs Mom to do his laundry, well, he’s only 30 minutes away.
“It was a tough process, but I was glad to have a few options,” Pettigrew said.
When you’re a valedictorian, there’s an old saying. There’s no place like home. Or something like that.
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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.”