NA’s Alho named as Observer Male Athlete of Year

Maybe The Observer should just rename its year-end Male Athlete of the Year award to the North Arlington Male Athlete of the Year.

That’s because once again, North Arlington High School lays claim to the Observer’s top male athlete.

Tony Alho, the standout Viking goalie in soccer, standout catcher in baseball and shot put thrower in indoor track, received his award from this sportswriter last week with the school’s officials, coaches and Alho’s family present for the presentation.

Of the 20 young men that have received the honor, an astounding seven come from North Arlington.

Alho joins Michael Gross (2007-2008), Peter Santos (2009-2010), Tyler Krychkowski (2011-2012), A.J. Nocciolo (2012-2013), Danny Cordeiro (2013-2014) and Eric McKenna (2018-2019) as Observer Male Athletes of the Year that attended North Arlington.

North Arlington’s seven honorees are three better than the closest school. Lyndhurst has crowned four AOYs.

The Observer has been presenting awards to the top male and female athletes in the circulation area since 2003.

Alho was more than worthy of the honor.

In soccer, Alho earned All-North Jersey Interscholastic Conference honors as a goalkeeper in all four years of high school. This past season, Alho collected a total of 85 saves in 11 games, registering two shutouts and owned two victories in the NJSIAA North Jersey Group I sectional tournament over Midland Park and Secaucus. The Vikings advanced all the way to the sectional championship game before falling to Technology, 2-1.

In baseball, it was more of the same. Alho earned All-NJIC Meadowlands Division honors three times, including this past season, when he batted .492 with 33 hits and 20 RBI. Alho also continued his success in the NJSIAA playoffs, when he helped to guide the Vikings to a 5-4 win over Ridgefield in the opening round, despite having a seasonal record under .500.

And just to keep in shape during the winter months, Alho joined the NA indoor track and field team and threw the shot put even though he never competed in the sport before.

Needless to say, that’s someone extremely worthy of receiving a plaque as the top male athlete in the area.

Alho was also highly proficient in the classroom, posting an average score of 107 out of a scale where 100 is perfect.

So it’s safe to say that Tony Alho is the quintessential student/athlete.

Alho was a soccer player since he could barely walk.

“My father (also named Tony) brought me down to play soccer before anything else,” Alho said. “I don’t remember exactly when that was, but I was really young, maybe three.”

Incredibly, Alho was not a goalkeeper right away.

“I played defense for my rec (North Arlington Recreation) soccer team for a few years,” Alho said. “I remember my coach saying that we needed a goalie, so I said, ‘I’ll try it.’ I must have been about nine or 10. But as soon as I played in goal, I liked it.”

Alho was also introduced to baseball right around the same time he started playing soccer.

“It was way too early,” Alho laughed. “I actually liked playing both sports equally. I could never pick between the two. I never liked playing the field in baseball. I played third base once and it wasn’t my thing. But I saw the catcher’s equipment and I said that I wanted to try it. As it turned out, I loved it.”

Alho soon learned that there were similarities between being a goalkeeper in soccer and a catcher in baseball.

“It worked out well for me,” Alho said. “I think I was equally talented in both sports. I don’t think I could ever decided which sport I was better at. I took a lot of pride in both and worked hard in both.”

Jesse Dembowski, who just stepped down as the head varsity boys’ soccer coach at North Arlington after a decade on the sidelines, thinks that Alho put himself in an elite category.

“His work ethic was amazing,” Dembowski said. “He gave 100 percent at every practice and every game. His work ethic is just outstanding. I think goalies have to work harder, because they’re on their own a lot. Tony did every single workout like everyone else did. He worked hard at his position. I would challenge him to be the best. And in my mind, he was the best. He met every single skill set that a goalie needed. He had good judgement whether to leave the goal or not. He had good vision of the entire field. He was great at one-on-one plays and could stop shots from anywhere. He had every tool in his possession to be the best.”

North Arlington head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono agreed with his long-time friend and former assistant coach Dembowski.

“I think what stands out most about Tony is his work ethic,” Marcantuono said. “He had the desire to get better every single day. He was able to transfer all of his hard work into a game setting. And he’s one of the best hitters I ever coached. He certainly stands out in my mind. Since his freshman year, he had the desire to catch every game. He probably caught 95 percent of the games. There was only one game where he didn’t catch this season and that was the day of the prom. He got to the game, got one at-bat, got a hit and was gone. He was always so dependable. He was an extremely smart catcher. He controlled all the pitchers. He loved wearing the catcher’s equipment and never wanted to take them off.”

Indoor track and field head coach Michael Farrell said that he wasn’t shocked how Alho took to being a shot putter with no experience or training.

“I wasn’t surprised at all,” Farrell said. “Winter track was a perfect way for him to get ready for the baseball season.”

Farrell said that Alho fit right in with his team.

“He’s one of the best personalities I’ve ever coached,” Farrell said. “He became an instant leader on our team. Not many can step in like that and handle everything like Tony did. He was a joy to coach. His demeanor made him a success.”

Alho adored his time as a track athlete.

“I loved winter track,” Alho said. “It obviously wasn’t my main sport, but it turned out to be one of my favorites. I would recommend track to anyone coming up who wants to try it. I had so much fun.”

Alho was elated to receive the award.

“I feel like everything I’ve done since I was a little kid has been worth it,” Alho said. “My hard work has paid off. I thank everyone who helped me get to this point. There are so many good athletes in this area, so it’s really an honor to receive this award. It feels good to get the recognition.”

Incredibly, the award puts an end to Alho’s athletic career. He will forego sports in college to focus on his education. He will major in psychology at Seton Hall University in the fall.

Alho admitted that at least three colleges were vying for his athletic services, but in this case, academia won out.

“It was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make,” Alho said about concentrating on his studies. “I don’t know what it’s going to be like without having the constant routine of sports. I’ve been active since I was little. It was really hard to tell the schools that I was going to Seton Hall. I just felt like my high school career is where I want to leave off. I think I made the right decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a few weeks. It wasn’t just one day. And it wasn’t easy.”

But there’s one thing that no one could ever take away – and that’s Alho’s legacy. Other kids in the future will aspire to be like Tony Alho. That’s a given.

“All the other athletes from NA who received the award were very deserving,” Marcantuono said. “They all received the award for a reason and all hold a special place in North Arlington history. But Tony was something special. He had the responsibility, the accountability and the dependability. Combined with the athletic ability and you have something truly special like Tony.”

“He’s an incredible young man,” Dembowski said. “He’s what you hope your kid grows up to be like. He’s humble, fun loving. I was just glad to be around him and fortunate to have coached him.”

And as for now forever holding a place in North Arlington High School history, as one of the Observer Seven, so to speak: “I’m so glad and proud to be one of them.”

“I just want to be remembered as someone who gave his all,” Alho said. “I don’t have any regrets. I wouldn’t trade anything, the coaches, the friends I made. It was a great run.”




Tony Alho from North Arlington is The Observer’s Male Athlete of the Year for the scholastic year of 2020-2021. Alho (fifth from right) receives his award from sportswriter Jim Hague. From left are Superintendent of Schools Stephen Yurchak: Director of Athletics Josh Aronowicz; Principal Patrick Bott; Maria Alho, Tony’s mother; Grace Alho, Tony’s sister; Tony Alho, Tony’s father; Observer Sports Writer Jim Hague; Alho; head boys’ soccer coach Jesse Dembowski; head boys’ baseball coach Paul Marcantuono; assistant indoor track coach Jessica Barber and head indoor track coach Michael Farrell. Picture courtesy of Jim Hague


With the school marquee proudly proclaiming the news, North Arlington senior Tony Alho (left) is the 2020-2021 Observer Male Athlete of the Year, the seventh such honoree in the 20-year history of the year-end award. Pictured with Alho is Observer Sports Writer Jim Hague.





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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
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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.”