NJSIAA honors top scholar-athletes

The New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association honored all 376 of the state’s top scholar-athletes last Sunday at the Pines Manor in Edison.

One student-athlete from each NJSIAA member school selected a senior to represent their respective schools at the awards luncheon.

Six local students were honored by the NJSIAA. Here’s a closer look at this year’s honorees.


Angelyn Gonzalez Pena, Belleville


Pena was absolutely stunned when she was informed by Belleville athletic director Marcellino Marra that she was chosen to represent Belleville at the awards luncheon.

“I was really shocked,” Pena said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity. There a lot of great student/athletes in Belleville High School. I was pretty shocked. But I feel really deserving. I worked hard to get my grades. To be recognized for that felt really great.”

Gonzalez Pena was a member of the Belleville bowling and golf teams. She maintained a 3.3 grade point average and received a score of 1170 on the Scholastic Aptitude Tests. She will attend Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck in the fall, majoring in psychology with the hopes of becoming a school psychologist one day.

“To be honest, this is all a little overwhelming to me,” Pena said. “Bowling and golf are not sports that usually get recognized. This is one of the first things I’ve actually been able to do for Belleville. It was really amazing to be in that atmosphere with the other honorees. It was a great feeling.”


Layla Barakat, Harrison


The softball and volleyball player for the Blue Tide, Barakat was also shocked that she was selected to receive the award.

“There are some really talented athletes and students in our school,” Barakat said. “It’s a great honor to be selected. It really showed me all of my hard work paid off, all my blood, sweat and tears.”

Barakat, who had a 3.75 grade point average and an 1100 score on the SATs, will attend Rutgers-Newark in the fall and major in criminal justice. She will try to play softball at Rutgers-Newark.

Barakat was amazed by the amount of people attending the luncheon.

“I looked around and said, ‘Wow,’” Barakat said. “It was surreal to be among the best and I was representing my school. Harrison is such a small town. You can drive by, see the stadium (Red Bull Arena) and not even know that it’s Harrison. To have a spot with all the other huge schools and towns. Harrison may be small, but we’re mighty.”

Barakat said that she takes pride in being a true student/athlete.

“Yeah, I do, because always, student comes first,” Barakat said. “I work just as hard in school as I do in sports. It’s nice to know I stood out among my peers.”


Sean Martin, Kearny


Martin, the Kearny High Class of 2019 salutatorian, carried a 5.2 GPA, received a 1400 score on the SAT and a 34 on the ACT test. He’s headed to the University of Virginia and will study biochemistry with the hope of one day going to medical school.

Martin participated in cross country and swimming at Kearny. He was a swimmer in the 50-meter freestyle and a 100-meter breaststroke and ran the 800-meter and 1,600-meter runs in track as well as running cross country.

“I take a lot of pride in receiving an award like this,” Martin said. “I had a tough job with time management and had to work hard with that.”

Martin said that he enjoyed being an athlete.

“I gained so many friends from the teams that I was a part of,” Martin said. “I enjoyed running a lot. It was an outlet for me to calm down. I’m going to miss it a lot. I liked the team atmosphere, the adrenaline part. It meant a lot to me to receive this award. It meant a lot to be recognized.”


Isabella Castagnetti. Lyndhurst


Castagnetti, the standout goalkeeper who is headed to Holy Cross to play soccer, also participated in track and field at Lyndhurst. She maintained a 4.483 grade point average and scored 1420 on her SATs. She will more than likely be the valedictorian of the Lyndhurst Class of 2019.

“I’m totally proud to represent my school and my family at an event like this,” Castagnetti said. “I’ve definitely never been recognized for my academics. No one knows how much time is spent with academics. I’m probably more shifted toward my academics. It’s always awesome to be surrounded by like minded student/athletes. It was very special for me. It was nice to connect with some of the other people that were there.”

Castagnetti’s father, Joe, is a long-time coach at Lyndhurst. He was once the head football coach and now serves as an assistant.

“I get my brains from my mother and the athletics from my father,” Castagnetti said.


Devin Males, North Arlington


Males participated in track and field at North Arlington, where he also maintained a 3.8 GPA and received a score of 1100 on the SATs. He will attend Caldwell University and participate in track there. He plans on majoring in accounting.

Males said that he had no idea that there was such a scholar/athlete luncheon until North Arlington athletic director Josh Aronowicz informed him that he was being selected.

“I was pretty surprised by it all,” Males said. “I thought I was getting it for track alone. I had no idea it was for academics. I liked it a lot that I was able to accomplish something like this. It felt nice to be a part of something so big with other student/athletes. It felt nice that my hard work didn’t go unrecognized.”

Males participates in the long jump, the triple jump and sprints for the Vikings.


Emily DeAngelo, Nutley


DeAngelo, the standout soccer player who maintained a GPA of 3.9 and scored 1190 on the SATs, will play soccer at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania in the fall. She is undecided about a major at this time.

“I try to take as much pride in my academics,” DeAngelo said. “To be honest, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing (as a scholar-athlete luncheon). It was a shock to me. It was pretty incredible and pretty cool. I got to talk to different people from different schools. The interaction was a cool experience.”

DeAngelo said that she never received an award like the one she received Sunday.

“I never put the two together before,” DeAngelo said. “I only received things for sports. But both sports and school are two huge parts of my life. It meant a lot being the only one from Nutley selected. When you step on the field and you wear the Nutley crest on your chest every day, it means so much. This was just another way to represent Nutley High School with pride. It was an honor to represent Nutley High School one more time.”


It’s safe to say that these six young men and women represent our area very well.

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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.”