Kearny honors legendary athletic greats with Hall of Fame dinner

Michael Millar had attended several Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame dinners before.

After all, Millar recalls when they honored his grandfather, George, who was a fine baseball player during his days at Kearny. He was also there when they honored his uncle Scott and then his father John, the legendary soccer coach and current athletic director.

But there were also Hall of Fame inductions for his older brother, Scott, and older sister Meghan. Scott Millar was a fine soccer player at Kearny, while Meghan was a cross country standout.
But Michael never imagined there would be a day where he would join the rest of the Millar family as members of the Kearny Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s a weird feeling,” said Michael Millar, who earned his place with the rest of his family Friday night at the latest Hall of Fame banquet at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge. “It’s such an unbelievable achievement at such a young age.”

Like most of the honorees Friday, Millar, who just turned 30, is relatively young to be a Hall of Famer.

“I’ve seen so many people who are older getting in,” said Millar, who was an All-American soccer player at Kearny and still holds the record for goals in a single season with 34 set in 2004. “I read so many others’ bios and we have had some amazing athletes to come out of Kearny. We have some well deserved honorees in this group. I’m still amazed by this, because I just turned 30 two weeks ago.”

Millar (Class of 2004) broke the long-standing record for goals in a single season that was set ironically by someone known more for his goaltending exploits, namely U.S. National Hall of Famer Tony Meola.

“Most people don’t realize that I broke Tony’s record,” Millar said. “But that was 12 years ago already. I still make sure that no one has broken my record yet. Obviously, that was a great achievement, but this is as well. A lot of people in this Hall of Fame are people I watched and looked up to as they played for my Dad. I still admire John Harkes. I still think Sergio Ulloa is one of the best players I remember. I never really reflected on what I was able to do before now. It’s almost a surreal feeling. I would have traded in my All-America plaque for one more state championship.”

Millar, who played for another Kearny Hall of Famer in Rob McCourt at Monmouth University, holds the single season scoring record for boys.

Stefanee Pace, twice an All-American (2006 and 2007) and the all-time leading goals’ scorer among girls’ soccer players, also gained entrance to the Hall of Fame. Pace (Class of 2008) graduated Kearny with exactly 100 goals and 95 assists.

At 26 years old, Pace, now Stefanee Kivlehan after marrying pro baseball player Patrick Kivlehan a few months ago, was one of the youngest honorees.

Kivlehan’s Kearny teammate Jenn Pettigrew was in fact the youngest at 25. Pettigrew is a 2009 graduate of Kearny.

Allyson Dyl, a former Observer Female Athlete of the Year honoree, was also among the youngest Hall of Famers. Dyl graduated from Kearny in 2008.

“I think it’s a great accomplishment and it says a lot about what the three of us were able to do,” Kivlehan said. “It also says a lot about how good our girls’ soccer program was. We made a family affair out of the night and we owe it all to Mr. (Mickey) Rusek (who was the Kearny girls’ soccer coach at the time).”

Kivlehan, who still actively coaches two AAU teams for Kearny Thistle as well as the head coach at Secaucus High School, said that some of her players never knew how good of a player she was. Kivlehan went on to have a fine career at Rutgers University.

“Those girls only heard good things about me playing,” Kivlehan said. “Maybe this will help to give me more credibility. It was a really great night. My whole family was there.”

Dan Manley (Class of 2004) is another young honoree. The 29-year-old Manley, who graduated high school with Millar, was a standout wrestler, finishing eighth in the state as a heavyweight, posting a 34-5 record his senior season.

“It was a great event with a great turnout,” Manley said. “It was great to see everyone come back. It’s such a great honor, especially for a wrestler. I read all the names and they were someone who I wanted to be like. It’s a great feeling to know that I am a Hall of Famer. Ever since I started with (Kearny Recreation) wrestling, I’d see all the names up on the wall and I’d look for the wrestling names. To know my name will go up on the wall now is very fulfilling. It’s great to see all these people who give back to the community get honored. To get in as quickly as I did is amazing. It’s something I feel very proud of.”

Manley will marry long-time fiancée Melissa Miranda in November. He currently works in law enforcement in Essex County.

Martyna Ruminska (Class of 2007) was honored for achievements in basketball. Jennifer Smith-Hart (Class of 2002) was awarded for her achievements in softball. Gabriella Dondero (class of 2003) earned her place in the Hall for her achievements in soccer.

Needless to say, this was a young person’s contingency at the Hall of Fame induction.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling how one family could get so many people in the Hall of Fame,” Michael Millar said. “I’m proud to share this with my family.”

Both his biological family and his Kearny High brethren.

Others to get recognized included Ernie Bowman (Class of 1944), Robert Wasilick (Class of 1957), Chris Johnston (Class of 1966), Ron Henry (Class of 1967), Mel Griffin (Class of 1970), Michael Coppola (Class of 1985), Michael Martone (1994) and Scott Fuchs (Coach).

Easily the most recognized and honored group (in terms of All-State honorees and All-American selections) that the Hall of Fame has ever produced.

Congrats to the inductees and to the organizers for putting together such a fine crop of inductees.


It was a Hall of a night for those who gained induction into the Kearny High School Athletic Hall of Fame dinner at the Fiesta in Wood-Ridge last Friday night. Photo courtesy of Kearny athletics.


Current Kearny High School athletic director and Hall of Famer John Millar (left) welcomes the newest member to the Hall of Fame, namely his son Michael (right), at the Hall of Fame induction dinner Friday night. Photo courtesy of Michael Millar.




Learn more about the writer ...

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.”