Toodleloo, friends, for now

Almost 22 years ago, I received a phone call from my late great friend Joseph “Jay” Sticco, a man who I knew very well from his days involved with North Bergen Recreation and my days with the old defunct Hudson Dispatch.

My friend Jay called me to ask if I knew of The Observer newspaper.

“Yes, Jay, I live in Kearny,” I told him. “I’m aware of The Observer.”

Jay told me that The Observer was in the market for a sportswriter. I told him at the time that The Observer didn’t have a regular sports section, that the paper only printed local recreation scores and information that was provided to the paper.

“Well, they want to have a regular sports section,” Jay said. “Would you be interested in writing for them?”

In a career that has now reached 41 years, with stops at practically every newspaper and news gathering organization known to man, I have never been one to turn down a possible paycheck. I think I even told Jay, “I’d be willing, as long as they pay me.”

Jay had set up another freelance gig for me that didn’t end well, because the owner of that paper didn’t want to pay me. Another that Jay was behind was with a Bergen County weekly chain. I went to meet with them and the owner said that he wanted sports. When I asked the owner what he was looking for, like local features or perhaps an Athlete of the Week feature, the owner said, “Fifty dollars worth. I’m looking for fifty dollars worth of sports.”

But this tip from Jay was the real deal. I set up a meeting/interview with the owner/operators of The Observer, namely publisher Lisa Tortoreti Feorenzo and general manager Robert Pezzolla. The meeting was one that changed my life for the positive, because I was quickly hired by The Observer and began a 21-year career with The Observer that unfortunately ends with this week’s edition.

I have made the decision to retire in all aspects of my incredible career, which has exceeded my wildest dreams. I’ve covered Super Bowls, World Series, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. I even covered the old Meadowlands Grand Prix, the Indy Car race that maneuvered through the parking lots of the old Giants Stadium and Brendan Byrne Arena. I also served as the public address announcer for both Rutgers-Newark for 18 years and New Jersey Institute of Technology for 15 years.

At one point in my life, a colleague, Mike Moretti, dubbed me as “the hardest working sportswriter in New Jersey.” And at that point, I had about 11 different jobs.

But there was only one that mattered in recent years, that being the sportswriter for The Observer, my hometown newspaper.

I loved every minute that I covered local sports for this newspaper for the last two decades. I gained an identity in my home area that I could have never dreamed of taking place.

Many of the great people I got to meet and know from The Observer’s circulation area never knew me before, but embraced me as their own once I said two words: The Observer.

Over the past two decades, I’ve written hundreds of Athlete of the Week features and those great athletes opened up to me and told me their great stories while focusing on their achievements. I’ve covered hundreds of games and events and tried my best to put those events to words so that others could enjoy and celebrate.

I’ve had people open up the front doors of their homes and invite me in, simply because of who I was and what I did. I cannot be more thankful for those incredible signs of generosity and faith. I can’t even begin to thank everyone for that kind of Observer hospitality.

I watched two outstanding soccer players, namely Hugh McDonald of Kearny and Omar Sowe of Harrison, grow into professional soccer performers, getting a chance to play with the local team in Major League Soccer, McDonald with the MetroStars and Sowe with the Red Bulls, although Sowe has been loaned out this season to play for a professional team in Iceland of all places.

Speaking of those two towns and schools, how could anyone ever forget the countless times that Kearny faced Harrison in boys’ soccer, some of those matches being held in Red Bull Arena? The buzz, the excitement that came with a showdown between the neighboring rivals can never be duplicated, capped with last fall’s overtime showdown at Red Bull Arena, won by the Kardinals, who then went on to capture the NJSIAA Group IV state title.

One of the first big events I covered for The Observer was the 2003 NJSIAA Group IV baseball championship game between Shawnee and Kearny, a game that the Kardinals unfortunately lost. But I will fondly recall the red carpet treatment I received from then-coach Jim Sickinger and his band of Kardinals that included the aforementioned McDonald, who became The Observer’s first-ever Male Athlete of the Year. The Kards lost that day in Toms River against Sean Doolittle of Shawnee, someone who went on to play in the big leagues and make the All-Star team once in each league.

I watched a former Kearny baseball star named Matt Smith make it in professional baseball, pitching for several seasons for the now defunct Newark Bears with Hall of Famer Tim Raines as a manager and Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson as a teammate. Sadly, the place where they played, Bears and Eagles Riverfront Stadium, is now history, destroyed to build a commercial complex that never happened. Where the once-majestic stadium stood is now a vacant lot of sand and gravel.

I was fortunate to tell tales of joy and celebration, of heartbreak, tragedy and turmoil. I tried my darnedest to make those stories as entertaining and informative as possible. Some of the features were extremely emotional, but to the credit of the subjects, they opened up to me freely and told their sagas.

I watched a local respected Parochial high school, Queen of Peace of North Arlington, close its doors forever, not before handing this section a host of controversial and bizarre occurrences to write about.

I bid adieu to a host of great people who passed on, some far too early to go, like the Golden Boy of North Arlington, Michael Cammett, Stephanie Miller and Adrian Velazquez, all tragically gone before their 30th birthday was celebrated.

Some others passed and are certainly missed, like former Belleville athletic director Karen Fuccello, former Nutley athletic director Angelo Frannicola, former grid coach Ralph Borgess, former Harrison four-sport superstar Kevin Hoey, former Lyndhurst grid great Tommy Longo, former Queen of Peace baseball coach and athletic director Ed Abromaitis, former Queen of Peace track coach Ron Mazzola, former North Arlington coach and athletic director Bill Ferguson among others, but none greater than former Nutley grid coach Steve DiGregorio, who bravely fought cancer to return to the coaching sidelines in 2020, leading his beloved Maroon Raiders to an undefeated season, only to lose his battle to the hideous disease less than a year later.

I’ve made countless friends, too many to list here. But the relationships between myself and these coaches and athletes might have started out strictly professional, they evolved into friendships that will long into my old age – which gets older by each creak of my knees and back. I’m forever grateful for those friendships.

Each and every school in our circulation area treated me with the utmost respect. The administrators all first class and helpful. The athletes just filled with endless enthusiasm and joy that I cannot even fully fathom. Those relationships are precious and not to be soon forgotten.

I wish I could thank you all individually, but I just can’t. You know who you are. You all have a special place in my heart.

Finally, my Observer family, people like graphic artist Michelle Rybeck, editor-par-excellance Kevin Canessa and the heart and soul of the paper, the aforementioned Lisa and Bobby, who treated me like family, fussing over me when I was sick and praising me to everyone who would listen. Thank you so very much for the last two decades. I can never repay my gratitude.

I’m not going anywhere. I’ll still reside in Kearny. I’ll be around. I’ll still attend games, still offer the glad hands and hugs, still crack the wisecracking jokes, still be me. I’m not dying, just stopping to work. So please, feel free to call, e-mail, stop by if you see the Durango in front of my house, just to say Hi. I’ll always cherish the last 21-plus years. I wish I could thank my friend Jay Sticco for this marriage that ends today.

I’m leaving this space in incredible hands. My friend Jason Bernstein, begins writing here next week. He has an impeccable resume of sports journalistic excellence. He already knows the area and knows a lot of the coaches from his coverage for and The Jersey Journal. Jason will definitely continue in the excellent sports coverage you’ve come to expect from The Observer.

I had a youth basketball coach at St. Paul’s (Greenville) where I grew up in Jersey City named Dick Branagan, a man who I totally adored and idolized. I can’t even begin to describe the relationship I enjoyed with Mr. B. Anyway, Mr. B never once said goodbye to anyone. He didn’t believe in the word. He always thought goodbye was so final. He always said, “Toodleloo,” instead.

So I’m taking a page from my old Biddy coach Mr. B. Toodleloo, my avid Observer readers. And thank you from the bottom of my heart. Over and out.

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.”