NA pays tribute to JCPD fallen Det. Seals, then wins hoops opener

When the horrific news came down that Jersey City Police Detective Joseph Seals was killed on duty two weeks ago, the North Arlington High School athletic community wanted to do something special to honor their native son.

The 40-year-old Seals was a long-time resident of North Arlington and was involved in several community related activities in the borough.

So North Arlington asked Saddle Brook High School if they would move the basketball season openers last Friday night to NA instead of Saddle Brook as originally planned. Saddle Brook obliged after learning that North Arlington wanted to honor Seals with activities at the doubleheader.

The athletic department sold special blue T-shirts as well as candles and glow sticks at the game/ Special raffles were held as well, with all proceeds of the games going to Seals’ widow Laura and their five children.

North Arlington assistant coach George Rotondo is a Jersey City Police Captain, so the loss of Det. Seals hit home personally.

“George knew Detective Seals real well,” said North Arlington head boys’ basketball coach Marcello D’Andrea. “Detective Seals was an active member of our community. Saddle Brook was nice enough to move the game for us. So we were on board to do something special.”

The entire evening was dubbed “Blue Out” with the entire gym packed to the rafters with the spectators mostly all wearing the T-shirts honoring Det. Seals.

“It was a collective effort,” said D’Andrea, who is in his third season as the head coach of the Vikings. “It was nice to see the community come out in full force.”
Laura Seals attended the game, as did several members of the Jersey City Police Department, including Det. Seals’ detective partners.

“The outreach was tremendous,” D’Andrea said. “We had senior citizens there and we had a lot of kids there. The tribute was nice.”

And before the Vikings took the floor to face Saddle Brook, D’Andrea addressed his team.

“My pre-game speech was simple,” D’Andrea said. “I said that tonight was more about life than basketball. It was about carrying yourself well like good young men and show everyone that you’re proud to be from North Arlington.”

The Vikings responded as well on the floor, earning an impressive 62-30 opening night victory.

Leading the Vikings was senior guard Michael Cortellino, the lone returning starter from last season. The 5-foot-11 Cortellino tossed in 14 points in the victory. He’s expected to be the team’s leader this season.

“He’s more of a shooter,” D’Andrea said of Cortellino. “He can shoot the three (3-point shot). He’s a scrappy kid who goes after it. He’s definitely the catalyst of the team.”

Friday night, the Vikings had another catalyst in junior guard Joey Witt. The 5-foot-6 Witt, the quarterback on the football team and a standout as well in baseball, added basketball to his impressive resume. Witt scored a team-high 20 points in the win, including four 3-pointers.

“Joey saw very limited action last year as a sophomore,” D’Andrea said. “He doesn’t look like a basketball player because of his size, so people tend to lay off him. So this time, Joey made them pay by knocking down his shots. Joey shoots the ball real well. He’s very scrappy and physical.”

Senior David Mata is another player who saw spot action a year ago. The 5-foot-11 Mata, a forward on this undersized team, had four points and five rebounds in the opener for the Vikings.

“He does all the dirty work,” D’Andrea said. “He gets rebounds, dives on the floor for loose balls, works hard down low. He’s a real hard-nosed kid.”

Junior Fernando Baez is a 5-foot-7 guard who transferred to North Arlington from Union City High School. Baez tossed in eight points in the opener.

“Fernando was a JV (junior varsity) player in Union City, but he’s coming here to help us out,” D’Andrea said. “We are running a point guard by committee so far, with three different kids getting to handle the ball. Fernando is a good distributor who picks up the tempo on the floor.”

Sophomore Oscar Torres is another key player. The 5-foot-10 Torres played on the freshman team last season. He is also a guard.

“Oscar is a ball of energy,” D’Andrea said. “He has a long wing span with his arms, so he defends well. He goes after it. Oscar can also knock down the three.”
Torres also scored eight points in the win against Saddle Brook.

“He gave us a good effort.”
So did freshman forward Sean Manzo, who wasted little time making his varsity debut. The 5-foot-10 Torres can play either the small forward or the power forward slots.

“He also shoots the ball well,” D’Andrea said. “He has a good basketball IQ. He’s moving up the ranks and may transition into a starting role before long.”

Junior Nick Rodriguez is also in the mix. The 6-foot-3 Rodriguez, also up from the JV, is a force close to the basket.

“He closes up the middle of the floor,” D’Andrea said. “He has the ability to alter shots and grab rebounds.”

Junior Arben Lolovic is a 6-foot-2 junior forward.

“He’s probably our best rebounder,” D’Andrea said. “He does come in and grabs the ball. He gives us good looks defensively. He’s buying into the defense and will get a decent amount of minutes because of his defense.”

Freshman Daniel Janosek is a 5-foot-10 guard.

“He shoots the ball well,” D’Andrea said. “He has really good hands and steps out from the foul line and can knock down the three. He is coming along well.”

D’Andrea is obviously wasting little time to utilize both Manzo and Janosek, even though both are pure rookies.

Others to see action includes Hazam Mohamed and Kelvin Vasquez.

So the Vikings got off to a good start on a special night honoring a special man, a fallen hero, a friend to the community who lost his life tragically doing his job, protecting the people of Jersey City.

“It really was a good night,” D’Andrea said.

And there’s hope for more good nights down the road. The Vikings host their annual William Ferguson Holiday Tournament Thursday, facing University Charter of Jersey City in the first round, with Belleville playing Bergen Tech in the other semifinal.

“We have good athleticism,” D’Andrea said. “We have a good bunch of kids. If they buy into what we’re doing, we’ll win some games this year. We have a good foundation for now and the future.”




The North Arlington boys’ basketball team paid special tribute to borough resident Det. Joseph Seals of the Jersey City Police Department, who was shot and killed on duty two weeks ago, before Friday night’s season opening win against Saddle Brook. From left are senior Michael Cortellino, head coach Marcello D’Andrea and senior David Mata. Photo by Jim Hague



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.”