Jacob Cardenas never dreamed that he would enjoy a day like the one he endured last Tuesday.
It was far better than any kid from Kearny could ever conjure up.
But there he was, a 16-year-old junior in high school, a former Queen of Peace student/athlete who now attends Bergen Catholic, standing in front of a crowded chamber inside Kearny’s Town Hall, a room packed with a wide circle of people and professions, people ranging from local grade school-aged youngsters to esteemed professionals.
Cardenas was standing there poised in front of 25 or so firefighters as well as two dozen or so high school aged teens from every school in the area.
Frankly, it was a moment that Cardenas stood proud to receive the official proclamation from Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos and the township council. The elected officials wanted to do something nice to honor Cardenas, because he became only the second wrestler from Kearny to win an NJSIAA state championship.
Cardenas joined former Kearny High wrestling superstar David Cordoba as the only Kearny residents to be crowned as a state champ. Cordoba, who now owns and operates his own wrestling training facility, simply called Cordoba Trained Wrestling School located in Little Falls near Montclair State University, turned the feat back in 1999.
Cordoba has worked with Cardenas in the past and helped to mold the talented Cardenas.
State high school wrestling champs from Kearny? The number of that group now stands at two. Who knows if there will be an increase in that total in the near future? When Cordoba won almost 20 years ago, no one knew if there would ever be another Kearny state champ. But Cardenas did it, setting the example to other youngsters, many of whom were in the audience, witnessing Cardenas receive his honor from the elected officials.
“I never imagined the town doing something like this for me,” said Cardenas, who posted a 27-4 record, winning the NJSIAA District 25 and Region 2 gold medals at 195 pounds before taking home the gold at the state championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last month. “It’s really amazing. I’m very thankful to the Mayor and the other elected officials. I know there were a lot of people who followed me every step of the way. This is incredible, especially coming from my hometown.”
Santos read Cardenas’ accomplishments to the audience and they were really impressive, especially the litany of six straight victories he earned in Atlantic City.
“This is an impressive young man,” Santos said of Cardenas. “I hope he continues to pursue his athletic dreams in high school and college.”
Cardenas is only a junior at Bergen Catholic and will get a major chance to become Kearny’s first-ever two-time NJSIAA state champion next season.
After defeating Sam Wusterfeld of Scotch Plains/Fanwood to win the gold medal in Atlantic City, Cardenas went on three weeks later to compete in the United States Scholastic Nationals in Virginia Beach, Va.
Cardenas won all six times there, becoming the first-ever Kearny wrestler to win both a state and national championship in the same year.
Needless to say, it was a year to remember for Cardenas, one for the memory books and certainly one for the history books.
And it was a credit to Santos and his dutiful council to take the time to honor one of their own, truly a credit to the town and a shining star for the rest of the town to admire. There are plenty of youngsters right now who wish they can become the next state champ from Kearny. They all know now that it’s possible, that Cordoba is no longer in a class of one. He gladly moved over to allow Cardenas to have his permanent place of prominence, a new hero in a town named after a Civil War hero.
“I think we all knew that this was going to happen,” said Tony Carratura, Jr., the current Kearny High School head wrestling coach who coached Cardenas when he was a youngster in the Kearny Recreation program. “The entire wrestling community in Kearny is very proud of him. He’s a great kid and deserves this. He’s a Kearny kid through and through. This is great for the sport in Kearny, great for the wrestling community and great for the town. It’s a celebration for everyone.”
Cardenas said that he was not comfortable in the limelight.
“I’m shaking right now,” Cardenas said. “I’m really nervous. But it’s awesome. I still can’t believe it. It means so much to me, coming from the people of Kearny, my hometown.”
And it’s safe to say that Jacob Cardenas means so much to the town of Kearny in return. He’s now someone to look up to and admire, someone who deserves his place in the spotlight, now and forever.
There’s one place where Cardenas wants to be in 2019, namely right back to where he stood last Tuesday.
“I’d like to do it all again next year,” Cardenas said. “It’s like a dream come true.”
Kearny’s Jacob Cardenas (right), a junior at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, receives a proclamation from Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos (left), honoring Cardenas after the 16-year-old junior won the NJSIAA state wrestling championship at 195 pounds in March. Cardenas became the second Kearny native to ever earn a state championship and is the first to ever capture the United States Scholastic National championship in Virginia Beach, Va.
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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.”