LONG OVERDUE: State wrestling champ Mullen honored by hometown of Kearny;

It was May of 2019 when the council chambers in Kearny’s Town Hall featured a standing-room only throng.

Among those in the audience was Kearny resident Jimmy Mullen, in attendance to witness his good friend, teammate and wrestling partner Jacob Cardenas receive his second straight proclamation from the Town of Kearny for winning the NJSIAA state wrestling championship two months prior.

At that point, Mullen’s mind started to wander.

“I didn’t realize how big of a deal it was,” Mullen said. “It was pretty cool, seeing the town all coming out to honor Jacob. I actually thought about it, what it would be like to get one of my own.”

Well, Mullen doesn’t have to just dream about it anymore. Because he had his moment in the sun, just like his buddy – only a little later, due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

Last week, Mullen was honored by Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos with an official proclamation, given to the soon-to-be sophomore at St. Joseph’s Regional High School in Montvale for winning the NJSIAA state wrestling championship at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last March.

It was a historic season for Mullen, who became the first freshman ever to win the heavyweight (285 pounds and higher) state championship.

Mullen became only the third Kearny resident to ever capture a state championship, joining two-time state champ Cardenas, who won the 195-pound state crown in 2018 and 2019 for Bergen Catholic High School and David Cordoba, who won the 130-pound state title in 1999 while wrestling for Kearny High.

Cardenas now wrestles for Cornell University and was away at school for Mullen’s proclamation ceremony. Cardenas, who begins his sophomore year at the Ivy League school, did join the festivities via a FaceTime call. Cordoba was there for the presentation.

Mullen became only the 33rd freshman overall to stand atop the podium at Boardwalk Hall, but the first-ever heavyweight. Usually, freshmen compete at the lower weights.

Mullen was joined by many members of his family, including his mother, Cynthia Sanchez, and father, Jim Mullen, Sr.

Mullen’s coaches with Kearny Recreation, namely Joe Chew and Brian McDonnell, were also in attendance.

Santos represented the town for the presentation. The town is still not conducting live council meetings inside the council chambers, so the presentation was held outside Town Hall on the front steps.

“It gives us great pride to see our youth excel,” Santos said. “This is an incredible achievement that Jimmy has attained, especially as a freshman. It had never been done before. This shows how our community comes together, with our recreation program, with youngsters performing at the highest level. We have a lot of talent in the town. This shows the importance of our recreation programs.

Added Santos, “We’re very proud of you to be able to achieve this at a very young age. You’ve made the community very proud and hope that this is an annual tradition, honoring Kearny residents.”

Mullen won the 285-pound heavyweight division, even though he could have wrestled at the lower weight of 220 pounds. But Mullen didn’t want compete for the spot with friend and teammate Michael Toranzo, so he elected to bump up to the heavier division, despite having to surrender as much as a 65-pound disadvantage to his competition.

Mullen also won the state championship despite being the No. 13 seed, which gave him a much tougher path to get to the state title. In order to claim the gold medal, Mullen had to defeat the No. 5 seed, the No. 4 seed, the No. 2 seed and finally, knocked off the top seed J.T. Cornelius of Southern Regional by a final score of 9-4 in the championship match on March 6.

Mullen posted a 41-3 record, but lost no matches whatsoever in the state of New Jersey all season.

Incredibly, when the NJSIAA state championships began March 4, it marked the first time ever that Mullen attended an event inside Boardwalk Hall.

Cordoba, who now has his own wrestling/training facility in Fairfield called Cordoba Trained, was glad to be there to honor Mullen.

“I’ve watched these kids perform for a long time,” Cordoba said. “They put in the extra work, go to clubs to get better, doing all the right things. I always thought that Jimmy had the chance to be a state champ one day. I couldn’t be happier to share this with these guys (Cardenas and Mullen). It’s a great group to be associated with. Look at Jimmy. He has a chance to be the best heavyweight in New Jersey history. I couldn’t be happier for the kid. I’m super proud.”

It says a lot, considering that New Jersey has produced Olympic heavyweight heroes like Bruce Baumgartner and Steve Mocco.

His local wrestling coaches were happy to be there to honor their champion.

“For me personally, it’s a great feeling,” said Chew, who has been involved with the Kearny Recreation Wrestling Program for more than 20 years. “For our program, it’s a sense of pride. Jimmy always comes back to our program and works out with our kids. He’s a program changer. Other kids will want to be like him. There’s no other way to put it.”

Chew said that he coached Mullen since “he was about four or five,” in baseball and football, as well as wrestling.

“I think Jimmy will help bring attention to the program and have more little kids come out,” Chew said. “Others will want to follow in Jacob and Jimmy’s path and we’ll get more kids. It’s a proud day.”

McDonnell agreed.

“I knew early on that Jimmy was something special,” McDonnell said. “He always had remarkable talent. He was also one of the most coachable kids.”

McDonnell also believes Mullen’s success will bring more local kids into their practice room inside Lincoln School.

“It’s definitely going to help,” said McDonnell, who works with the youngsters along with Kearny High head coach Tony Carratura, Jr. “We’ve been doing a great job for a long time, but other kids see what Jimmy has done and they’ll see a system that works well top to bottom.”

Mullen wrestled at his New Jersey Scholastic State Championship tournament when he was just six years old and finished sixth in his weight class. A year later, Mullen won his first state championship. Mullen then proceeded to win an astounding five state championships while wrestling for Kearny Recreation and coaches Carratura, Jr., Chew and McDonnell.

Mullen is also a standout football player at St. Joseph and started right away last fall at defensive end for the Green Knights, one of the best teams in the state.

The seeds have been placed for Mullen to become only the second Kearny wrestler to repeat as champion (joining Cardenas) and possibly a four-time state champ. But he’s not looking that far ahead.

“My goal is to win the second,” Mullen said. “Everyone is talking about four times, but I have to win as a sophomore first. I’ll go out there and do my best. I still have a lot of time to do more things.”

“I hope I can be here again next year and give Jimmy another one,” Santos said. “He’s set the bar high.”

Mullen will be ready, knowing that his hometown will be ready.

“I have to keep working hard to honor and represent the town,” Mullen said. “It’s pretty cool to realize that the town cares about me. It’s an amazing feeling to have everyone supporting me. Wherever I go to school, I’m still a Kearny kid first.

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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.”