Kearny hoopsters honored at annual awards dinner

Steve Kryatzis admits that he wasn’t sure if he was going to play for the Kearny High School boys’ basketball team last season.

“I was a little iffy to play this season,” said Kryatzis, a senior guard. “But then I realized I wanted to help this team as much as I could.”

Kryatzis wasn’t one of the Kardinals’ leading scorers, but he did impress the Kearny coaches enough to receive the Hustle Award at the program’s annual awards banquet held at the American Legion Post 99 on Belgrove Avenue in Kearny last Wednesday night.

The Kardinals did manage to win 15 games this season. The Kardinals won their fair share of big games along the way and made a return trip to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs for the third straight year.

During the course of the year, the Kardinals upset state-ranked St. Peter’s Prep, upended Union City and then defeated Bayonne for the first time in school history.

Needless to say, it was another successful season for the Kardinals and the team was rewarded with a year-end banquet.

“It makes me feel good that all our hard work paid off,” Kryatzis said. “It gives the chance for the players to be recognized and it’s something that we can hold on to, memories to last our lifetimes.”

Kean University head men’s basketball coach Rob Kurzinsky was the featured speaker.

“He had come to see us play a couple of times,” said Kearny head boys’ basketball coach Bob McDonnell, who recently completed his fourth year as head coach. “He came to recruit a few of our kids. Even though we lost both times he came to see us, even though we were down, we came back at the end and never gave up. He remembered that our kids never quit. That’s a good sign for the kids and for the program. Our kids still play hard and never give up.”

Kurzinsky also reiterated to the players in attendance the importance of good grades in high school, because without solid grades, they could forget about playing basketball in college. Many of the Kardinals in attendance have aspirations to play in college.

“Hopefully, that message gets through,” McDonnell said.

Guard Gralen Vereen is one of those who hopes to play college basketball _ and has more than a legitimate chance to do so. Vereen was presented with three awards Wednesday, the Academic Award, the Defensive Award and the Charlie Dolan Award, given to the Kardinal player who best personifies what Dolan means to the community in terms of charity work and philanthropy.

“I appreciate the awards,” said Vereen, who was able to receive the Dolan Award from Dolan himself. “I wasn’t anticipating receiving any awards. It’s an honor for me to receive this award. Everyone in Kearny knows how important Charlie Dolan is to this town. It’s a great honor for me to receive it.”

Vereen was a huge part of the resurgence of Kearny basketball, with the program winning 31 games over the last two years and capturing a divisional title in the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League for the first time ever last season.

“We were a basketball team that no one believed in,” Vereen said. “And then we were able to get people to come to our games. We went out and proved everyone wrong. It gave us a major sense of pride. I’m able to walk away with my head held high.”

Vereen liked the fact that he got together with his teammates once again.

“It was like having the season all over again,” Vereen said. “We had nothing but good times and laughs. I’m still thinking about that right now.”

“There’s a lot of pride that came back to Kearny,” Kryatzis said. “No one expected us to beat St. Peter’s Prep or Union City or Bayonne. It feels good to play for Kearny again. I have no regrets whatsoever. I loved every minute of it.”

McDonnell thanked the local businesses that contributed to the event like Pepino’s, Pic-Nic of East Newark, Joe’s Pizzeria and Shop-Rite.

“It was our biggest banquet,” McDonnell said. “We had the most amount of parents and guests we ever had.”

Joseph Stawicki received the Coaches’ Award and Javon Jackson was the recipient of the Most Improved Player.

“These kids believed in themselves,” McDonnell said. “No one expected this team to win more than 10 games. They enjoyed some great wins. They need the acknowledgement that comes with a dinner. They work hard and they deserve this. They don’t get a lot of accolades.”

But last Wednesday night, the Kards were rewarded for their efforts, a nice gesture once again and a good way to close out the basketball season.




From left, Steve Kryatzis, Kean University head men’s basketball coach Rob Kurzinsky and Gralen Vereen get together at the annual Kearny High School basketball awards dinner. Photo courtesy of Bob McDonnell





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.”