NJIC honors local athletes who display sportsmanship

WEEHAWKEN – Every year, in perhaps the best of all the honors programs that are offered to the top student/athletes, the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference holds a very unique luncheon honoring the senior student/athletes who best personified sportsmanship in their respective sports.

They didn’t have to be the ones who hit the ball furthest or ran for the most yards. They weren’t the ones who scored the most points or ran the fastest times.

In fact, the award has nothing to do with their athletic prowess. These student/athletes were being honored for one thing — just being themselves.

Paul Mobus, who played the three major sports, namely football, basketball and baseball, at Harrison High School, was the NJIC Male Sportsmanship recipient from his school.

“Honestly, this means a lot to me,” Mobus said. “It’s because I showed the true character inside me. I am always helping players from other teams. I think it’s really important. Most kids are very disappointed with the way they get treated by others. It’s just something my parents taught me. It starts with me and how I act. It’s something I always do in all sports.”

Each member school in the 36-member NJIC was allowed to select one male and one female athlete from their respective athletic programs to attend the awards presentation at the Chart House Restaurant, which was held last Wednesday.

Since its inception in 2009, the NJIC has gone out of its way to make sure sportsmanship is promoted – and the awards reception is proof that the student/athletes in the NJIC can get recognized for other things than their athletic prowess.

Mobus is headed to Hudson County Community College in the fall with the hope of attending a four-year school in the future. For now, athletics will become a thing of the past for Mobus.

“Sports are out of the picture,” Mobus said. “So I’m just excited to get recognized for doing what I do best, helping other people. I like helping others.”

Mobus said that he didn’t know that there was a luncheon to honor student/athletes.

“I never knew there was such a thing,” Mobus said. “It’s actually great to be recognized for doing other things. I knew I could never be the MVP. I think people need to be recognized for doing other things. This isn’t a bad way to go out.”

Joselyn Gutierrez from the Harrison softball team was the school’s female recipient.

“I was actually surprised,” Gutierrez said. “I never received an award like this. It’s rewarding to know that someone was watching me and recognized me. I didn’t know anything about it. I was very excited to receive the award. My parents were excited as well. Sometimes, good sportsmanship goes by unrecognized, so it’s good that there is something like this.”

Gutierrez said that she goes out of her way to help others.

“I’m always helping others,” said Gutierrrez, who is going to Montclair State University to major in psychology. “I help my teachers. I help my teammates. I help those on the other team. I put them ahead of myself all the time. So this is a very rewarding feeling.”

Gutierrez said that she hopes to try out for the softball team at Montclair State.

Gutierrez liked seeing other student/athletes who were from the other NJIC schools.

“It’s nice to see others from different schools,” Gutierrez said. “This is bittersweet, because it’s the end of my high school days. So it’s a little upsetting. But it’s not a bad way to end it. I’m going out with a bang. It’s a great feeling to know that other schools get noticed as well. Even though our record wasn’t great, I was recognized. Harrison is like the little family that sticks together.”

Michael Awad was the male recipient from North Arlington High. He was on the boys’ soccer and golf teams with the Vikings.

Awad also didn’t know there was such a luncheon.

“I had no idea,” said Awad, who is ranked third among the Class of 2019 that will graduate later this month. “It’s nice to know that I received an award that wasn’t all about athletic ability. It’s just for being a nice human. It’s nice to know that the character my parents instilled in me is getting recognized. It’s an awesome way to go out.”
Awad is headed to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York to study electrical engineering.

Awad said that he always tried to be a good sport growing up in sports.

“It definitely was important to me growing up,” Awad said. “I guess being a good sport does matter. If you’re a girl and you’re a good sport, people remember. But it’s hard for boys. My parents always wanted me to be nice first. That’s what they wanted and they’re getting. It’s also nice to know that the NJIC cares more than the win-loss record.”

Briana Fernandez was the North Arlington female recipient. She’s going to take courses at Arizona State online through her employer Starbucks in Clifton, where she is a barista.

“I love the fact that they’re helping me with school,” said Fernandez, who will study psychology at Arizona State. “Starbucks is really good with helping their employees.”

Fernandez missed all of the softball season after suffering torn ligaments in her ankle during the volleyball season that required surgery. She wants to become either a guidance counselor or a therapist someday.

“The whole experience made me stronger,” Fernandez said. “I got to know so many girls through volleyball and a lot of them are here. If anyone ever had a question of me, I was there to answer it. I wanted to be as helpful as possible. I love that I was able to represent my school here. It’s crazy to think we’re graduating. I can’t believe it went by so fast.”

Fernandez was pleasantly surprised that there was such an awards presentation.

“I thought it was pretty cool,’ Fernandez said. “It was great to be recognized, not only by my coaches, but by other coaches. I feel like I always helped out. I feel like we showed what we have in North Arlington, that we do the right things. I also have a little sister (Elisa) who is on our teams and I feel like I have to lead her in the right direction. I’m pretty honored to receive this honor and represent our school.”

Isabella Castagnetti, who more than likely will be the valedictorian for the Lyndhurst High School Class of 2019, was there to receive the female sportsmanship award for her school. Her male counterpart and close friend Frankie Venezia had a state playoff baseball game to pitch in, so he missed the luncheon.

“I feel nowadays that everyone is focused on winning and stats,” said Castagnetti, who played soccer and was a part of the track team at Lyndhurst. “If you just step back and realize what sports is all about. I’m here as a person, not as an athlete. It’s nice to be recognized for that.”

When Castagnetti received word of the award, she had no idea she was receiving yet another honor.

“At first, I thought I was in trouble,” Castagnetti said. “I had absolutely no idea about this award. It’s nice to be recognized along with Frankie and share that experience with him. This award is even sweeter than others, because it’s about who I am and not what I did. It’s probably the best honor I’ve ever received. It was really nice. I always make sure that I shake the opponents’ hands and the opposing coach. It’s something I’ve always done. I’m glad it didn’t go by unnoticed. I always try hard to be a better person. It’s easy to be a good athlete. It’s harder to be a good person. I just put in the work that your parents taught you. I learned well from my parents.”

Castagnetti’s father, Joe, is a long-time coach at the school and the former head football coach.

All in all, it was a good day for the NJIC and a proud day for the sportsmanship recipients.




North Arlington seniors Michael Awad (left) and Briana Fernandez (right) represented their school at the annual North Jersey Interscholastic Conference Sportsmanship Awards luncheon at the Chart House Restaurant last week. Photo by Jim Hague


Harrison seniors Paul Mobus and Joselyn Gutierrez represented their school at the NJIC Sportsmanship Awards luncheon last week. Photo by Jim Hague


Lyndhurst senior Isabella Castagnetti was the female recipient at the NJIC Sportsmanship Awards luncheon last week. Lyndhurst’s Frankie Venezia, the school’s male honoree, was at his team’s state playoff game, and missed the luncheon. Photo by Jim Hague




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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.”