Their enduring friendship was first reported in the pages of The Observer in the May 12, 2004 editions.
North Arlington natives Nick Edwards and Dana Sprague were featured that week for their sports prowess at their respective schools, Edwards with the baseball team at St. Peter’s College and Sprague as a softball slugger at Montclair State.
Edwards and Sprague were close friends from their childhood days, attending Queen of Peace grammar school together, playing every sport imaginable on dead-end streets like Devon and Elm that featured very little vehicular traffic.
“There were about eight kids that played sports together,” Edwards recalled. “We played soccer, stick ball, football, you name it. And Dana was the only girl. But she was just one of the crew. She was just as competitive. It wasn’t even a question that she was one of us.”
“I never thought anything else of it,” Sprague said. “I grew up living with an older brother (Bobby, who was a standout baseball player at Queen of Peace and later Fordham and was once a draft pick of the Chicago Cubs), so that made me as tough as I could be. I always tried to outdo the boys in everything, box ball, roller hockey. I just knew I wanted to show up the boys and teach them a thing or two.”
Sprague said that having a highly respected older brother “lit a fire under me,” she said.
“My father (retired Kearny school principal Bob, Sr.) always said that I was the best hitter in the family,” Sprague laughed.
Edwards said that Sprague was better than most of the kids playing on the streets of North Arlington.
“I knew she was talented,” Edwards said. “There were times I picked her over the other guys. She knew the fundamentals and knew the game. I think Bobby was tough on both of us and pushed both of us. I saw how he played and it was a good reflection of what we wanted to become.”
Throughout their lives, Nick and Dana remained close friends.
“Our families would spend every New Year’s Eve together,” Edwards said. “It was a tradition to go to the Sprague house and watch the ball drop.”
The two followed each other through their respective high school days, Edwards at St. Peter’s Prep, where he was an All-Hudson County football and baseball player (and one of only three Marauder baseball players to ever reach the 100 career hit plateau) and Sprague as a multi-sport athlete at North Arlington High School.
“We would always see each other’s names in the papers,” Edwards said. “No matter what, we always had our friendship and respect for each other.”
Edwards and Sprague both chose education as their field of study in college and both Edwards and Sprague ended up being selected as captains of their respective college teams, which was also reported in that first article here some 16 years ago.
“My final two years of college is when I started to shine,” Sprague said. “Sitting on the bench my first two years was really a test of my character. I wanted to play, so I knew I had to get better. My father always told me that if I hit, they couldn’t take me out of the lineup. So I just came into my own. In my last at-bat in college, I hit a double off the fence.”
After graduation from college, both Edwards and Sprague pursued careers in teaching and coaching. Edwards was a teacher in the Kearny school district and was once the head football coach at Kearny and the head baseball coach at the now-defunct Queen of Peace. Sprague was once the head softball coach at East Orange and won her 100th career game as a coach in her ninth season.
“We rebuilt that program,” Sprague said. “We had girls who never even picked up a ball before and we ended up winning. We always made the state playoffs. I’m so proud to have had that experience.”
Both attended their respective colleges to receive their Master’s in administration with the ultimate goal of becoming principals. Both had the same role model, although one was just a little closer than the other.
“Dana’s father was my biggest educational mentor,” Edwards said. “I always picked his brain. He knew my life in teaching and coaching.”
“He’s my best coach on the field and in life,” Sprague said of her father. “He gives me a lot of advice. I take a lot of what I do today from him.”
Edwards always thought he would spend his life coaching, even when he was getting up at 4:30 a.m. to monitor the weight room at Kearny High.
“But I knew I also wanted to start a family and coaching would have taken up too much time,” Edwards said. “I wanted to have a stable position.”
So Edwards first became a vice principal at Smalley School in Bound Brook, with about 430 students from grades three through six.
“I was the vice principal for three weeks and I learned that the principal was leaving,” Edwards said. “It was kind of nerve wracking, learning the students and the staff. But I knew I had the ability to be a leader from my days of being a captain, then a coach. I knew I had the ability to work with others.”
The 39-year-old Edwards is completing his second year as a principal. He’s proud to report that Smalley School had the highest test scores in the Bound Brook school district. His enrollment will increase to 600 in September and he has 48 staff members to oversee. Edwards is married to Susanne and they have a 1-year-old daughter Harper Rose.
Sprague, now 38, is the principal at Little Falls School No. 1 for grades five through eight. She has about 400 students to supervise.
“The Little Falls community is so strong,” Sprague said. “We have supportive family members and it’s a diverse community, which I love.”
Sprague said that she’s proud to be part of an all-female administrative team in Little Falls, headed by superintendant Tracey Marinelli, the former superintendent in Lyndhurst.
“She’s been an amazing mentor,” Sprague said. “I feel so at home. I couldn’t be happier.”
It’s safe to say that amazingly that these two lifelong friends are both successful grade school principals. It’s a far cry from those childhood days on Devon and Elm.
“I think it’s just a really cool story,” Edwards said. “We both took the education route, then administration. I always thought Dana would follow that route because of her father. Now, instead of calling each other to play stickball, we call each other to pick each other’s brains.”
“I don’t think it’s too shocking,” Sprague said. “We always have been supportive of each other and we both had supportive parents. We were both good athletes and it’s been said that former athletes make the best administrators. So I don’t think it’s surprising at all. I just think it’s really cool.”
And certainly makes a local sportswriter take a flashback to 16 years ago almost to the very day.
North Arlington native Nick Edwards is now the principal at Smalley School in Bound Brook. Photo courtesy of Nick Edwards
North Arlington native Dana Sprague is now the principal at Little Falls School No. 1. Photo courtesy of Dana Sprague
Back when they were youngsters, Nick Edwards (left) and Dana Sprague (right) were teammates on a North Arlington youth soccer team. Photo courtesy of Nick Edwards
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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.”