Whenever Jim Sickinger logs on to Facebook, he’s reminded of the impact he’s made during 25 years of coaching baseball at Kearny by the pictures he sees of former players now coaching their own kids.
“I’ve been very fortunate that over the years that numerous kids have gotten into the coaching ranks,” said Sickinger. “Whether it’s at the high school level — and I know a lot of them now with their sons playing Little League and such — they’ve all gotten involved with the game and it’s great to see. It’s great to see them giving back to the game, giving back and helping kids learn the game.”
Last Tuesday, 11 years after he last coached at Kearny High School, Sickinger received further confirmation of the impact he’s made on the sport when he was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
The ceremony took place before the NJSBCA’s annual Senior All-Star Games at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“It’s quite an honor. You look at who’s been in there, you look at who you’re inducted with and it’s very humbling for sure,” Sickinger said. “It makes you think back to all the great coaches that I’ve had, all the great players that I’ve had in order to make all of this possible. It was a lot of reflection. I was really taken aback with the outpouring of affection from former players and coaches when they found out. A lot of text messages, emails and well wishes.”
Sickinger, who graduated from Kearny High School in 1983, coached 25 years at his alma mater, the last 16 of them as head coach. During his time as head coach, Sickinger won more than 250 games, including two state sectional championships in 2000 and 2003.
The 2003 team, which featured future New York Red Bulls defender Hugh McDonald and future head coaches Frank Bifulco (Kearny) and Jairo Mendez (Harrison) reached the state Group 4 final before losing a nine-inning heartbreaker to a Shawnee team led by MLB All-Star Sean Doolittle.
While Sickinger’s teams won plenty of games in the rugged Watchung Conference, what he was most proud of was when his kids were praised for their toughness.
“I love Kearny kids because they’re tough, hard-nosed kids,” Sickinger said. “Sometimes, we didn’t have the best players, but our teams always had tough kids. I love when people say that about Kearny kids. That’s what we pride ourselves on — being tough kids. We play the game clean, but we’re going to be tough. I loved hearing that at the ceremony.”
As a Kearny kid himself, Sickinger would know. He was a two-year starter for the Kardinals, earning All-State honors as a junior in 1982 before continuing his career at William Paterson University. It was at William Paterson where then Kearny coach Joe Rubeone asked Sickinger if he was interested in helping out with the freshmen.
Sickinger spent eight years assisting Rubeone, then, after another year as an assistant, took over as Kearny’s head coach.
Sickinger retired after the 2011 season in order to watch his daughters Kathleen and Lindsay play sports.
Even in retirement, Sickinger couldn’t completely stay away from the game he loved, especially once Kathleen and Lindsay graduated high school and went on to college. He served as the pitching coach at Butler for two seasons and for the last three years was a volunteer softball coach at Millburn.
Kathleen and Lindsay, as well as his wife Catherine, were beside Jim when he was honored at home plate last week. For Sickinger, that meant more than anything because they literally grew up on the fields of Kearny with their dad coaching.
“They are the most important people in my life and the fact that my wife and daughters were there meant everything to me because they were there from the beginning,” Sickinger said. “My wife was bringing them to Kearny baseball games when they were in strollers. That’s all they ever grew up doing. They knew how to do the scorebook and operate a scoreboard before they were in kindergarten. It was definitely a family affair so I got to spend it with the most important people to me.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)