Kearny celebrates 30 years of girls’ crew with return of Olympian Dore-Terhaar

Since leaving Kearny for Rutgers University almost 30 years ago, Jen Dore never had much of a chance to return home.

“I remember going to speak to the kids at Roosevelt School once,” said Dore, who now officially has added the Terhaar to her last name after marrying United States national women’s crew team coach Tom Terhaar several years ago.

“Everyone just went off to college and went their separate ways,” said Dore-Terhaar, who went from the Kearny crew team to earning berths on two United States Olympic teams in Atlanta in 1996 and Sydney in 2000. “I just got far removed from Kearny.”

So when the most decorated member of the Kearny girls’ crew tradition learned of a 30th anniversary celebration/awards ceremony and pig roast, Dore-Terhaar decided it was time to head back home.

She took two of her four children _ namely 7-year-old Anna and 3-year-old Peter _ back to Kearny for only the second time since she graduated from Kearny High in the mid-80s.

“I lived on Williams Street,” said Dore-Terhaar, whose older sons Jack (11) and Henry (10) stayed home. “I drove by my old home and I couldn’t believe how small it was.”

Dore-Terhaar was one of several rowers and coaches who came back to the old boathouse to celebrate the 30th anniversary.

“It was a nice day,” Dore-Terhaar said. “I’m glad I came up.”

The Terhaar family now resides in Cranbury, N.J., close to the Olympic training facility. Dore-Terhaar is also far removed from crew, although she helps out coaching a team from the Peddie School.

“It was really nice to see everyone,” Dore-Terhaar said. “I was very comfortable with everyone. It’s nice to know that the program is doing well all these years. The girls are very enthusiastic and it was good to see the (Passaic) river busy. It was a really nice day.”

Many of the current members of the Kearny crew team wanted to have their picture taken with Dore-Terhaar _ and rightly so. She’s a member of crew royalty in this town, just like fellow Olympian Jeff Klepacki.

Dore-Terhaar is forever a slice of Kearny athletic folklore. She’s the pinnacle in the sport who gives everyone hope of fulfilling a dream.

“My daughter asked, ‘Mommy, why is everyone taking a picture with you?’” Dore-Terhaar said. “I feel so removed from the sport that I didn’t understand it. I am surprised with the reaction from the girls. I guess I don’t get their perspective when I have a job (science teacher at Peddie) and four kids. But I was thrilled to be a part of it all. It was really neat.”

Dore-Terhaar was pleased to be able to take a trip down memory lane.

“It was great to see all my coaches again,” Dore-Terhaar said. “I’m still friends with Dave (Paszkiewicz, the girls’ crew coach). It was fun to be back and I’m glad I went. It was great to see my coaches and how things remained the same after 30 years. It was a lot of fun, a really good day. It was nice to be back in Kearny.”

Most of the honorees were happy to see a fellow honoree named John Sweeney in attendance. Sweeney was in charge of keeping the boats clean, waxing them down before races. He’s now a few months shy of 97 years old, but made the trip alone from his home in Pennsylvania.

“He’s an incredible guy,” Paszkiewicz said of Sweeney.

“He’s absolutely amazing,” said former girls’ crew coach Gretchen Cuccio, who also returned for the event. “He’s a testament to what the program is.”

“Seeing Mr. Sweeney was the highlight of my day,” Cuccio said. “I had to take my kids to let them see what it was all about. With crew, we weren’t a team. We were like a family.”

Cuccio went on to coach track and field in Kinnelon.

Other former coaches raved about how well the event was run.

“It was a first class event,” said Pat Ragnoni, the former girls’ crew coach who coached Dore to a national title in 1988, three years after the program started. Ragnoni is currently the vice-principal at Lincoln Middle School.

Ragnoni, who never coached crew and never rowed prior to his appointment as head coach in 1986, said that the program changed when Dore came aboard.

“She just had natural athletic ability,” Ragnoni said. “Her boat was second in the nation her first year and won the national title two years later. It was quite an accomplishment. When we started, we only had eight girls and one coxswain. I didn’t leave any stone unturned and I covered all the bases trying to get kids to come out. It was a fantastic afternoon, filled with memories and stories. But I’m the one who coached Jen Dore first. It was a special day and the current team got to see some history.”

In 1994, under Cuccio’s guidance, the Kardinals won another national title.

“We made the kids work,” Cuccio said. “It was a different sport back then. There was a lot of pressure, but it wasn’t as difficult as it looked once you find the right combination.”

Paszkiewicz was overjoyed to see so many people turn out for the event.

“We knew with the 30th year, we had so many people who had to be recognized,” Paszkiewicz said. “It’s not because of the people who came before us. But the people of the past are very significant. There were a lot of parents who took the time to make sure we had boats and things we needed. It really was like a big family reunion, with people you haven’t seen for a while. I never thought we’d have a day like this. It was a lot of fun.”

Chris McShane coaches the freshman and novice girls and a lot of them are new to the sport. He loved spending time with Dore-Terhaar when he was a youngster.

“There was a line of girls wanting to meet her,” McShane said. “The girls were in awe of her. I was hoping that she would come back and she did. She showed our girls a lot of attention and care. It was a great turnout, a great day. It’s the first time that we ever did anything like this and you know that we’ll do it again. A lot of great people were here. Dave’s been around for all 30 years. He’s the historian and does a great job of sparing the monotony every year.”

So what made Jen Dore go from a reserve soccer player and softball player into one of the best Olympic rowers ever?

“My friends said I should give it a try because I was so tall,” said Dore-Terhaar, who stands 6-foot-2. “I just went down to the river and gave it a try. I liked it right away. I liked the hard work involved. It was something different.”

And it paved the way for a girl from Kearny to encase her place in local immortality.

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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.”