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Monday, June 26, 2017

West Milford's removal of Finke is bizarre to say the least



In all my 34 years of sports writing, this saga today takes the cake. It takes a lot to wrap your hands around it. My brain hurts from the idiocy.

But here goes. John Finke has been the head boys’ basketball coach at West Milford High School for the last 28 years. He’s turned a totally moribund and listless program into a perennial pain in the rectum for opponents, especially in Passaic County. His teams are annually competitive and win big game after big game. He’s won 355 such games over the last 28 basketball seasons and made a very cold gym a lively and exciting place to be every winter, especially with three runs to the NJSIAA North 1, Group III sectional final game.

One would figure that Finke would be able to hold his position for life. After all, he graduated from the place in 1982 and came back home to coach his alma mater, taking over a position that no one really wanted.

When it comes time to rehiring coaches, there’s almost an unwritten rule, especially with long-time coaches, that it’s a rubber stamp on the paperwork and everything gets pushed along pretty neatly.

However, for some reason this year, when it came to reappointing Finke, the brilliance that sits on the West Milford Board of Education decided to vote on Finke being rehired.

So on May 23, the Board of Education, a nine-member group, decided to vote on whether Coach Finke should be retained. Finke would need five votes from the Board to be rehired. At the meeting that night, two members already left prior to the voting, which left seven remaining.

So of the seven people left, four voted yes, two (Board president James Foody and member Glenn Huber) voted no and one (Debbie O’Brien) for some unknown reason abstained.

Not getting the necessary five votes to be retained, Finke is out. He’s out after 28 years, out after 355 wins, out without fanfare or anything. Just gone.

In fact, the backstabbing athletic director Joe Trenticosta, has already recommended that the Board hire Patrick McCarney, a long-time friend of Trenticosta, as Finke’s replacement.

Finke didn’t think he was in jeopardy of losing his job and losing the chance to coach son Andrew, a First Team All-Passaic County selection last March, for his senior season. So he didn’t attend the May 23 meeting. For all intents and purposes, he was in.

“But at 11:05 p.m. I got the phone call that I was voted out,” Finke said. “I couldn’t sleep a wink. I went to work the next day.”

Needless to say, Finke is shocked.

 “It’s hard to believe that after 28 years, and all the things that have happened throughout that time, all the accomplishments and all the different players coming through the program, that two ‘no votes’ could end my career,” Finke said.

Needless to say, Finke’s supporters are up in arms. Parents, former players, current players, former coaches, opposing coaches have flooded Finke with calls, e-mails, texts and what have you.

“I’m not defeated,” said Finke. “After 28 years, I plan on fighting this.”

The time for the WTFs are over. Believe me, I’ve said the same thing about 1,000 times since May 23. WTF is the Board of Education thinking? If there weren’t nine people in the room, then why not revote when nine are indeed present? Or in that respect, have them mail in a secret ballot so this way we won’t have any idea who voted out a coaching legend. WTF West Milford? WTF?

Finke doesn’t know how to react now.

 “For 28 years to go by, and my son will be a senior next year, I would have liked to go out with some dignity and respect and on my own terms,” Finke said. “I would like to go out at my final awards dinner and say ‘Goodbye and thank you’ to all the people who helped me throughout my career, my family. I don’t get to do that now. I don’t get that chance to go out the right way, the way that a 28-year veteran coach should be able to go out.”

Damn skippy. Finke deserved the right to go out on his own terms. He’s done nothing wrong, except guiding the Highlanders to a losing season last year. But as everyone knows, unless you were St. Anthony or you are currently the Patrick School, high school basketball in New Jersey is cyclical. You win for a couple years, then you pay the fiddler, then you get another chance to bounce back.

“We had everyone back,” Finke said. “We were going to be very good.”

“It’s like they all stabbed me,” said Finke, who also coaches the golf team. “It’s not a physical pain. But they have ripped the passion I had for coaching being taken away from me. There’s no reason.”

Well, there’s now reason to unite as one to support Finke, one last chance for the coaching giant to save his job. The Board of Education will convene Tuesday night at the Westbrook School at 7:30 p.m. Anyone who is anyone should take the time to be there. Coach Finke deserves better. If the Board of Education wanted him out, then there would have been better ways.

“John, you suck, you’re history,” could be one, but that would be lying.

“John, you’re awful, we’ve tried with you and you’re done,” could have been another.

But for a guy to find out the way he found out_ via a text from a friend _ well, that’s just wrong.
It was a special B of E session with not all members present. That really doesn’t form a forum. And if four voted for him and two voted against him, that means the end? Because of James Foody and Glenn Huber? They are the two who cast the votes against Finke. Chances are neither saw the Highlanders play.

Because if you saw them play like I did, you would be proud of the way they held their own against the big boys. They played Teaneck a few years ago in the state playoffs and completely outmanned. And Finke had the team playing hard to the bigger end. West Milford lost by about four points, but it was part of the moral victory that made Finke the great coach that he is.

West Milford should do the right thing and recast a vote at Tuesday night's meeting. It would be the only fair thing for Finke. Actually, the fair thing would be to let him go out on his own terms in a year or two. Not this way. Not without getting the chance to build on last year's 9-18 record. Not to have someone else coach his son for his senior year.

Let's hope they get things right in West Milford. John Finke deserves better.

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If anyone has driven in my beloved home town of Jersey City recently, you'll notice one glaring problem.

THE TRAFFIC!!!!

Ugh, driving through Jersey City's streets right now is like a mouse trying to get through a maze to get a piece of cheese. This street is blocked. No, it's that one. No, it's one more. It's downright frustrating.

Now, I know some of it is because of the massive amount of construction going on. But in the Jersey City Heights? Have you tried to simply sit on Baldwin Avenue near Pershing Field. You don't even need the time of day. You're sitting in traffic.

The same thing is going on at Garfield Avenue in the Greenville section. Since when so many cars want to drive through Greenville along Garfield. Oh, Lord, times have changed.

So has the traffic. It's annoying.

Some politician should run on the No Traffic ticket for Mayor Steve Fulop's job in November. Promise that all the road construction would be done and the hideous traffic that is on Route 440 every single day is fixed. I know of one way to fix the Route 440 dilemma. How about stagger the traffic lights to make them all green at the same time and all red at the same time. That doesn't take a genius.

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 You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com or www.theobserver.com



Monday, May 29, 2017

Ramsey hockey situation just wrong -- way wrong.

There's a situation brewing at a northern Bergen County high school that needs to be addressed, because it is sending out the wrong message in every way imaginable.

OK, here goes: The Ramsey High School head hockey coach, a man by the name of Dean Portas, was not rehired to his position at the end of the season. In fact, Portas was warned and then told he was being let go even before the season ended.

This is a man, Portas, who only took the Ramsey program from the depths of despair and led the Rams to a state championship just two years ago.

When Portas, who was the head coach at Fair Lawn for two years and an assistant coach at Montclair for seven more before arriving in Ramsey, took over as the head coach of the Rams, the team had just lost in the state finals in consecutive seasons.

In his first season at Ramsey, Portas led the Rams to a 25-2-2 record and finally, the long-awaited NJSIAA Public B state championship. He was named the New Jersey Coach of the Year by NJ.com. One of his players called Portas "the most prepared coach I ever had."

So why is Portas out of a job?

Well, apparently, the Ramsey Board of Education president Tony Gasparovich pushed for Portas' removal because Gasparovich's son, James, didn't get enough ice time in the eyes of the Board of Ed president.

James Gasparovich didn't like the idea he wasn't playing and sent a text to his teammates to predict that Portas would be gone at season's end.

Here's his text, courtesy of NJ.com and the fine work by reporter JJ Conrad:

TextMessage.jpeg

"Undergo numerous changes in the coaching staff?" That's interesting. How would a disgruntled kid know that?

That's because his daddy pulls the strings.

You see, James Gasparovich didn't play much for the Rams. He wasn't good enough to get many minutes on the ice. A defenseman by trade, the younger Gasparovich was simply not as talented as his teammates and either received a spot on the bench or was asked not to dress among the 20 players who went to road games.

As as sophomore, James should have seen that and waited his turn like thousands of other high school athletes who don't get to play varsity right away. Heck, Michael Jordan -- yes that one -- was cut by his high school basketball coach as a freshman.

But James didn't show the necessary patience that comes with an underclassman in high school. He didn't know the meaning of "wait your turn."

That's because his daddy was the Board of Ed president.

The problems between the older Gasparovich and Portas began a year earlier, in March of 2016, when the younger Gasparovich was not included on the 25-man contingency that went to the Tournament of Champions luncheon at the Prudential Center that is sponsored every year by the New Jersey Devils.

Then-freshman James Gasparovich wasn't included, but the team manager, a young man with Down's syndrome, was asked to attend. That infuriated the mighty Tony Gasparovich and thus the feud began.

So when the 2016-17 season began and now-sophomore James wasn't playing much, the Board of Ed president started to boil. Tony Gasparovich started sending out e-mails to other Ramsey BOE members, to the Ramsey athletic director and the Superintendent of Schools Matthew Murphy to say that "the hockey coaching situation has to be addressed."

Gasparovich wrote the e-mail as "a parent of an RHS hockey player," and not the BOE president. This came after Gasparovich had a phone conversation with Portas about James' playing time. The season was all of two games old.

So the season goes on, the younger Gasparovich quits the team, the older Gasparovich becomes incensed and at season's end, Portas is told that he's not being re-hired as head coach.

Apparently, it's not the first time that Gasparovich used his power as the BOE president to get rid of a coach because of his son's lack of playing time. He did the same with a freshman baseball coach after poor James didn't play enough for either his liking or the old man's liking.

Portas told Conrad that he didn't understand why he was fired.


A coach who goes 25-2-2 and wins a state title and a year later, he's gone? Does that even sound fair?

If Portas was abusing his players or doing something illegal, then his removal would be warranted. But all Portas did at Ramsey was win. And now, he's gone because the sour puss BOE President is pissed that his son is not playing? Oh, Lord, does that ever take the cake.

And the amazing thing is that everyone in Ramsey is being tight-lipped. Only parents have expressed their displeasure at recent BOE meetings. The members of the BOE? They've said nothing. The superintendent? Nothing. The AD, Jim Grasso? Again, like Sgt. Schultz on Hogan's Heroes, he knows nothing.

How could everyone in power in Ramsey just simply turn a blind eye to Gasparovich and allow him to do what he's done? It's only given the entire Ramsey athletic program a black eye. Why would anyone want to go there to coach? What does the BOE think is the simple solution, allow James to play?

I have always been a firm proponent of one coaching philosophy. Simply put, the best players play. It shouldn't matter who the kid's daddy is. If he was the mayor or the superintendent or even Portas' kid, if he wasn't good enough to play, then he shouldn't play. If his father was the King of England and he couldn't play, then he shouldn't play.

And Gasparovich has done this unthinkable deed while his son is just a sophomore. Well, what happens when the new coach comes in next year and believes that James shouldn't play? Does the new coach get canned as well? Or does Gasparovich get to hire the new coach with the guarantee of playing time?

I don't know how the kid comes back and tries to play on that team. He has to be scorned by his teammates, the object of attention for peer abuse.


The situation has not been settled. A new coach has not been hired, which is really great for off-season conditioning. And if they want Portas back, which doesn't appear likely, would he want to go back? I don't know if I would.

So how does Ramsey move on from here? Does the Board of Education continue to allow Gasparovich to make personnel moves based on the kid's playing time? Does Gasparovich get removed? Or do they hope it all just goes away by the time the hockey season begins again in November? Who knows?

There's only one certainty about this situation _ other than JJ Conrad doing his due diligence and getting all sides of the story. Read his account on NJ.com

http://www.nj.com/hssn-mms/2017/05/what_we_know_about_the_ramsey.html

The certainty is that a Board of Education president has no right to inflict personnel changes simply because he doesn't like the fact that his son doesn't play. That's what happened and that's just wrong. And the members of the Ramsey BOE who have turned a blind's eye? They're wrong. The superintendent who didn't step forward and handle this situation the right way? He's wrong. And the AD who just played the political game and allowed the BOE president to step all over one of his coaches? He's wrong, too.

They're all wrong. The whole situation is wrong. And until they do the right thing in Ramsey, which would be to remove Gasparovich as the BOE president FOREVER, then everyone in Ramsey is wrong.

The only one who did nothing wrong is Dean Portas, except win 25 games and a state title. I guess that's wrong as well. The people in Ramsey are sure acting as if it was.

You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com or www.theobserver.com.








Sunday, May 14, 2017

Here's my Mother's Day tribute to my Mom. Happy Mother's Day

EDITOR'S NOTE: This column was first printed in The Hudson Reporter Newspapers on May 14, 2000, which was Mother's Day. At the time, the column received such a positive response (more than 40 letters and cards), easily the highest response total for any column written here over the last 15 years. It was reprinted in May, 2003 as a tribute to Moms everywhere.

This week, it gets republished as a tribute to Helaine Hague, who died Friday, Sept. 22, 2006.


It's Mother's Day, the first of the new millennium. It's a day to lavish Mom with gifts of appreciation, flowers, cards, candy, maybe a trip to her favorite restaurant. It's an occasion for children to truly remember what Mom really meant to them through the years.

Although it shouldn't take the second Sunday in May to think about Mom, we are all forced to do so on a day like this. And that's good. We should all take the time and remember Mom. After all, we wouldn't be here without her, right?

But it's far more than that. Every successful person - and for that matter, every successful athlete on any level, from Little League to the pros - has been inspired and touched by the dedication and love of his or her mother.

As a sportswriter, I've witnessed the importance of mothers on their aspiring athletic children so many times, both behind the scenes and in full view. There can not be a single athlete alive who said that he or she wasn't affected by the love and care and concern of their mother. Impossible.

Some people may have disagreements with their mothers and may not want to admit it. But here's a little refresher course, just in case you've forgotten.

Who was the one to wash the Little League uniform and make sure it was as close to lily white as possible for the next game? When practices ran late, who was the one who made sure that there was some semblance of a hot meal on the table?

When you were ravaged by cold and flu, who was the first one to come with the aspirins and cold compresses? When you had the upset stomach, who was the first to offer the "old family secret?" When you had the little cut on the finger, who had the handy Band-Aid already opened?

When you needed a ride from basketball practice to baseball tryouts to soccer games, who was the one who already had her keys in hand? And when that soccer game was being played in a steady downpour, who was the one standing on the sidelines with the bright, broad smile?

And who was the one who went to the football games to cheer you on, even when she had no clue what was going on? Sitting in the stands at those cold, frosty football games, closing her eyes with every opportunity that her "little baby" could actually get hurt? How about the endless baseball games they watched you play in the hot, summer sun, just to see your last at-bat in a 23-2 loss?

Sure, Dad was there, but no one loved you more than Mom. Dad might have been the inspiration and the one you wanted to prove something to, but Mom was there with her undying devotion and love, from cleaning the uniforms to cleaning the scrapes and cuts.

Being your mom was a thankless job, but someone had to do it. You weren't about to wash your own uniform and make it sparkle in time for game day. And face it, you always got the sticky end of the Band-Aid mangled and twisted.

I know about Moms, because I had one and still have one, although she's now a mere shell of what she used to be. But Helaine Hague is still my Mom. And today's her day.

Fate wasn't kind to Helaine Hague nearly 30 years ago, when cancer took her husband far too early, before Jack and Helaine could grow old together. Fate left Helaine Hague with the task of raising a moody 15-year-old daughter and a demanding 10-year-old son, without the man she had been totally devoted to for 33 years. She didn't plan on being both father and mother to two growing children, but she had no choice.

We all could have totally fallen apart after the death of my father. I mean, my father was the breadwinner and the backbone of our family. We all fed off him. His loss could have been devastating to the point of destruction.

But because of my mother's strong will and dedication to her children, she did her best to make sure that my sister and I never wanted for anything. She made sure that we received the best possible education (my sister's at Holy Family Academy and Montclair State and mine at St. Peter's Prep and Marquette). We weren't exactly rich and there were times where we wondered where the next dollar would come from. But we never wanted or lacked anything.

And that's a credit to my mother, who did it all on her own. I adore my father and cherish his memory and what he stood for, but the reason why I have anything today is Helaine Hague. You read these words today because she was strict and loving and stubborn and unwavering and belligerent and caring. Although she never wanted that role, she was father and mother wrapped into one. And she did a good job.

My mother was a dutiful servant to the Jersey City Board of Education for 20 years, serving as a teacher's aide at three schools, the last being Rafael Cordero School (P.S. 37) in downtown Jersey City. She looked forward to getting up every day and spending the day with the youngsters who made her feel young.

As a woman, she was one of the most active people I knew, volunteering her time for several organizations, like the Cub Scouts, Catholic Daughters, St. Paul's Rosary Society, St. Paul's Senior Citizens, the All Sorrows soup kitchen, the Columbianettes, et al. I mean, she was constantly on the go, going from one meeting to another. I marveled at her energy.

As a mother, she was always there for me, in everything I did. After my father's death, it had to be emotionally hard to return to the Little League fields where my father and I spent every Saturday, but she was there to watch her little boy. She remained that chubby kid's biggest fan throughout Babe Ruth and high school, always asking me to "make her a home run." There were some Babe Ruth games where she was the only parent attending the game - and she had no idea what she was watching.

She never wanted to watch football games or wrestling matches, for fear I would get hurt. More than often, that indeed happened. But she was there, probably closing her eyes and clutching the rosaries.

When I went off to college, she wrote me a letter every single day and sealed the letter with a dollar bill inside. Every single day. You have no idea how far those dollars went and how far the love traveled from Jersey City to Milwaukee. With every note of news from home, I felt like I was there with her.

When I came home after college, I had a job delivering meats for a meat purveyor, and received a good salary. After four months of the madness, my mother had enough.

One morning, she stood over my bed as I woke, and asked me one question.

"James, what you do every day, does that have anything to do with journalism? I mean, the bloody coats and stink, is that journalism?"

I answered with a stupid laugh, "Of course not, Mom. Why do you ask?"

"Well, I suggest you do something with your life in journalism," and she walked away. I got the hint. I quit the meat delivery job that week and started a new job writing obituaries for $100 a week, $600 a week less than what I had getting delivering meat.

That was 17 years ago. I've been involved in a life of journalism ever since.

For years, my friends have always given me abuse, saying that I was a "Mama's boy," because I lived with my mother for 34 years, until she was moved to a nursing home, when her battle with Paget's disease became too unmanageable.

You know what? They were right. I was a Mama's boy - my Mama's boy.

She's getting up in years now, spending her days in a nursing home 90 miles away. She's wheelchair-bound and can't hear much at all. Her eyesight, previously ravaged by cataracts, is poor. So is her memory on selected days. Helaine Hague deserved to live her golden years in better fashion. In that respect, fate has never been particularly kind to her. Cancer took her husband, and old age took her grace and dignity.

But she's still here and still my mommy. I miss the feisty, pain-in-the-rear Polack who drove me crazy and battled with me for most of my life. I have that as a memory.

I still have my mother, the one who made me what I am today, who gave me every opportunity to be able to express my opinion in words. I don't know what I would have done without her. I owe everything I have today to my mother.

Today will be her day, in whatever fashion that may be. I know I'm not going to have many more. It could very well be the last one. We never know.

To all those who have mothers and have the ability to enjoy the day, please do so. While you can.

And to all those mothers who have toiled behind the scenes, happy Mother's Day. You're appreciated in these parts. I know what you all do. And you do it well.

EPITAPH: Helaine Hague went to her final rest last week. Her pain and suffering is finally over and she has finally been reunited with the man she adored after such a long time. From the bottom of my heart, I appreciate the cards, letters, e-mails and calls I've received since Mom passed. She would have been happy to know that her picture finally graces the sports pages. - Jim Hague

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The end of an era: St. Anthony HS 1952-2017




It’s safe to say that St. Anthony High School has been a major part of my life since childhood. I mean, I remember seeing Bob Hurley dribbling around our neighborhood in the Greenville section of Jersey City, wearing the high top sneakers and heading up to St. Paul’s (Greenville) courtyard, bouncing the ball and I was a toddler. Hurley lived a block and a half from me _ him on Linden Ave. and I was on Kennedy Boulevard between Greenville and Linden.
Then, I remember the day in second grade at St. Paul’s when we were introduced to the new gym teacher and it was none other than Hurley, who quickly became forever “Mr. Hurley” to me, but some of my classmates were calling him “Bob.” To this day, some 47 years after he was introduced to the students of St. Paul’s, he remains either Mr. Hurley or Coach Hurley to me.
I simply cannot bring myself to calling him “Bob.”
Mr. Hurley ran the Jersey City Recreation summer program in St. Paul’s courtyard. In the morning, it was for the kids of the neighborhood, an organized way for hundreds of local youngsters to play football, softball and of course, basketball. It kept all of us out of trouble and gave us an activity during the summer months.
In the early evening, Hurley ran a summer league for high school players. I was fortunate enough to keep score for a lot of those games. I read in Hurley’s book that some of the other scorekeepers were paid money to keep the book. I think I got paid in olive loaf sandwiches and apple juice from the free lunch program. Still, I had the major responsibility of keeping score _ and I was all of 10 years old. My parents didn’t have to worry where I was, because I was with Mr. Hurley in the courtyard “doing the book.”
But in that summer league, I got to see all the great players from all over come to my courtyard. I remember seeing a guy wearing a plaid jacket and dark-rimmed thick glasses. That was Dick Vitale. I also met a guy wearing a maroon windbreaker in the middle of the summer, which I thought was very weird. That man was Jim Valvano.
I also followed Bill Willoughby, who was going to become the first player to go directly from high school to the NBA. I followed him to a local alleyway near the court where Willoughby proceeded to urinate. I was thrilled to tell people I saw Bill Willoughby pee.
Hurley became the head coach at St. Anthony in 1972. He had a team of players who were from the same St. Paul’s neighborhood that we were from, namely my childhood idol Bob Kilduff, Hurley’s point guard, and the Rochford brothers, Pat and Danny, who were the two older brothers of my nearest and dearest childhood friend John, who eventually played for Hurley as well.
But that great St. Anthony team of 1973 was fun to watch. I was fortunate to climb into the back of the Rochford family station wagon with my buddy to watch his brothers play. I also looked up to Kilduff, who lived around the corner from me on Greenville Ave. and always stopped to give me a basketball pointer or two.
To his credit, Bobby Kilduff never once treated me like I was a little kid, even when I was a little kid. I can still hear him saying, “Jamesy, in basketball, you can’t do everything with just one hand. You have to get a left hand.”  Kilduff eventually helped me develop a little bit of a left-handed layup and dribble moves.
But can you imagine the sense of pride I had watching those Friars win game after game and I personally knew three of the players? Pat and Danny Rochford really didn’t give me the time of day, because I was their little brother’s best friend, but hey, I was their brother’s best friend. So I was there all the time.
I also got the opportunity to watch a two-year-old little boy taking a basketball that was far bigger than him and hoisting it at the basket over and over. He didn’t come close to making a shot, but he kept trying, even though a lot of the crowd in St. Mary’s of Elizabeth’s gym was laughing.
Well, want to know who got the last laugh? That little boy turned out to be Bobby Hurley, who 20 years later was named the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament, a distinction owned by such legendary names as Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Bill Bradley, Lew Alcindor (later Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Bill Walton, Magic Johnson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing before him.
After those early Friar years, I followed the team through that heart wrenching loss to Hudson Catholic in the 1975 HCIAA championship game at the Jersey City Armory, a Hudson Catholic team that featured NBA players Jim Spanarkel and Mike O’Koren. I closely watched the Friar teams of the late 1970s, because my buddy John Rochford was on those teams. I remember having the flu and not being able to go to the Friars Parochial C state title game one year, but watched the game on the New Jersey Network with Dick Landis doing the call. I had a major school assignment, but I was able to count how many times I spotted Roch on television that day.
I watched the Friars with Mandy Johnson, especially one state playoff game played at St. Peter’s Prep, when I was already at Marquette and brought my best friend from college Dean Antony to the Friar game to see future Marquette guard Mandy Johnson first hand. And who was at the game? None other than Marquette coach Hank Raymonds.
I followed the Friars through the David Rivers era and watched David move on to Notre Dame, where he became a First Team All-American and later a first round draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Then that little kid who I used to watch in St. Paul’s courtyard, who received scorn from the fans in Elizabeth as a toddler, got his chance to play for the Friars. Bobby Hurley was brilliant. So were his teammates.
In 1986, I was hired by the Hudson Dispatch to write sports. I had been writing at other newspapers in the state since 1983, but in the glorious year of ’86, I was able to return home to Hudson County and write for my father’s favorite newspaper, the one that we had delivered to the front door for 25 years.
At that time, I got to see the Friars play from a different perspective, as a sportswriter. I was no longer the fan in the stands. I had a job to do and I tried to do it as best as I could, although I was perceived by some to be “anti-St. Anthony,” which was so far from the truth.
In those days, I did have my wars with the late Sister Mary Alan, the school’s athletic director. They were some epic battles. Sister Alan stood up at an HCIAA meeting one time and blamed me for inflating the vicious feud between St. Anthony and Ferris.
Someone broke into St. Anthony and spread feces on the statue of St. Anthony. I learned about it and wrote it. That game resulted in a nasty brawl after the last game played between the two at Dickinson High School. St. Anthony requested _ and received _ its release from the league before the 1988-89 season. At the HCIAA meeting, Sister Alan said that it was “Jim Hague’s fault for writing that silly article.” I thought I was just doing my job.
That year, 88-89, was incredible. The now independent Friars were unbeatable. Bobby Hurley quickly became the best high school player I’ve ever seen. His court awareness and sight was hard to describe. Terry Dehere was a lights-out scorer, Jerry Walker the tough-as-nails defensive force and freshman Rodrick Rhodes showed the potential that would eventually make him an NBA first round selection.
That team was like covering the Beatles. They sold out every gym that they played in. Some places had hour-long waits to get in. There were girls screaming and squealing for a piece of their heroes. The NJSIAA tried to capitalize on Friar Madness and decided to establish the basketball Tournament of Champions that year. It was a way to make money, a chance to perhaps sell out the Meadowlands Arena. It remains in place to this day.
I remember that year North Bergen was the only team to face the Friars during the regular season and not get housed by more than double digits. North Bergen lost by only eight, which caused the late Randy Chave, the North Bergen coach at the time, to say about the Friars, “They’re not that good. There’s a team in Hudson County that could beat them.”
This was Randy just allowing the green monster known as envy and jealousy to get the best of him. I wrote a column across the top fold of the Hudson Dispatch that talked about Chave’s quote and that there was a team in Hudson County that could actually beat the fabulous Friars. I thought of two teams: Jersey City State and St. Peter’s College. I thought that the Friars could beat JCSC on talent alone and that St. Peter’s, playing with men against the boys of St. Anthony, would simply wear down the Friars, but it would be a close game.
St. Anthony rolled through that season undefeated _  of course _ defeating Elizabeth in the T of C final in the Brendan Byrne/Meadowlands Arena.
There were other great St. Anthony moments in the Meadowlands, including the great 1996 final performance by guard Rashon Burno, collecting 10 steals in the T of C title game against Shawnee. Why was this so important? Because Burno spent the first three years of his basketball career playing for a blowhard, loudmouth youth basketball coach.
And when Burno was 10 years old and missed two free throws with no time on the clock to lose in the state semifinals, that coach told Burno he would play for St. Anthony someday and forget all about that heartbreak. That coach was me. Needless to say, he recovered well.
There was a dry spell in the T of C for a bit, from 1997 until 2001, when Donald Copeland calmly drained a corner jump shot to give the Friars a 48-47 win over Shabazz. A year later, the Seton Hall-bound Copeland did it again at the Meadowlands Arena when the Friars defeated Neptune by 20 points.
There were the undefeated national championship teams of 2008 with six NCAA Division I scholarship players and 2011 with Gatorade Player of the Year Kyle Anderson (now with the San Antonio Spurs) and future Rutgers guard Myles Mack
In between, there was the incredible 2010 ceremony at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts that I was fortunate to cover. The legendary coach, my former gym teacher, was getting inducted with the 1992 Dream Team and with people like Karl Malone and Sheryl Swoopes. It was almost surreal to be a part of. Mr. Hurley even told other sportswriters to use me as a reference to our old Greenville neighborhood and the St. Paul’s courtyard.
Through it all, St. Anthony basketball has been a major part of my life since I was a little boy straight through my life as a sportswriter. You kind of take it for granted _ until you get the news that came down Wednesday afternoon.
I sort of knew it was coming, because I heard the resignation and defeat in Hurley’s voice last week. I’d known the man for 47 years, interviewed him professionally for the last 34 _ and I never heard defeat like I did last week. He knew the other shoe was about to drop, that there was no saving the little school on Eighth Street this time around.
Still, it doesn’t make the news any less painful. It stings bad that St. Anthony is closing. It’s another slice of my childhood, of my hometown, that is being ripped away, like so many other Catholic schools before it.
But those schools didn’t feature the fabulous Friars. They didn’t have the legendary coach. They didn’t have the incredible history of nearly 1,200 wins and 28 state championships and 13 Tournament of Champions titles, of 150 Division I scholarship players, of nine NBA players. That’s all St. Anthony and that will all go with Hurley when the locks are put on the doors for good _ and eventually the wrecking ball comes to tear down the school and put up a gigantic high-rise like the one going up across the street from the school right now.
It’s sad, so very sad, that it will all come to an end. No one wanted to see Bob Hurley’s coaching career end this way. No one could have ever imagined he would have stayed there for nearly 50 years, but no one could have dreamed it would all end this way. We truly believed that Hurley would ride off into the sunset on his own terms, not being told what to do by the greedy powers-that-be that run the Archdiocese of Newark.
That’s the sad part. Hurley didn’t leave on his own. He deserved better.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Major concern about young girls in D.C.

The sports world has to stop spinning for a few minutes to address a more serious issue. March Madness has to take a backseat. The NHL playoff push is secondary for now. Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season is approaching, but right now, it can wait.

The major news of the day coming out of our nation's capital has nothing to do with whether the Republicans had enough votes to overthrow the Obamacare medical insurance program, although if you watch all the cable news networks, that's all you will find on the air. House Speaker Paul Ryan has received more air time today than even Press Secretary Sean Spicer.

But the names that should be more relevant belong to teenage girls of African-American and Latino descent. They are 13-year-old Yahshaiyah Enoch and Aniya McNeil, 15-year-old Juliana Otero, Jacqueline Lassey, Dashann Trikia Wallace, Dayana White and Morgan Richardson, and 16-year-old Talisha Coles.

These names are not household names by any stretch, but right now they should be. Because these young ladies have gone missing in Washington. They've all vanished over the last three days. These are just eight names of the 13 young ladies that were reported missing over the last three days in our nation's capital.

It's unfathomable to think that so many teenagers could be missing in such a short time frame, all from the same backgrounds, the same neighborhoods. Thirteen teenage girls have gone missing in a three-day span  from our nation's capital. That should be the headlines. That should get most of our attention.

It shouldn't be whether Obamacare stays in effect and the Republicans go back to the drawing board to find a more suitable alternative. Right now, politics has to play second fiddle in our nation's capital. There's a serious epidemic of missing teenagers and for some reason, it's not drawing a lot of attention on the news networks.

If it were just one or two girls, then I might think it was a case of disgruntled teens taking a hiatus from their parents. But 13? No, this is major reason for concern tonight, because we may have a sick and deprived individual doing some hideous things. Maybe there are more than one of these fiends. Who knows?

But right now, that should be the focus of our attention. It should be assisting the Washington police department in finding these young ladies, offering assistance in terms of information of where these girls might be. It's time for collective prayers and solemn thoughts, because this is an epidemic. This is not a case of runaways. Frankly, there will not be a happy ending to this story.

It should be the focus, the lead story, the reason why anyone would turn on the news at this hour. We should all do whatever we can to help the people of Washington find these missing girls alive. Even people who live in the state of Washington instead of the District of Columbia. We should be giving whatever kinds of assistance we could give to find these young ladies.

I don't think there will be a happy ending here. I just don't understand why the news coverage has been so limited. We've been deluged with President Donald Trump's saga every day since he took the Oath of Office, so swamped with Trump that the entire news cycle has almost forgotten these missing ladies.

Let's all hope and pray that there's some semblance of good that comes out of these missing girls in Washington. It's really a sick and sad situation _ far worse than any politician sticking out his chest and making a dramatic stand about a health care policy.

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Now, a bit about sports.

Although there haven't been a host of buzzer beaters and nail biters in March Madness this year, there has been some excellent performances. Xavier of Cincinnati, who almost didn't get into the field of 68 and was the last of the No. 11 seeds not sent to play in the First Four games in Dayton, mainly because of the proximity of the schools, has stunned the world with their three wins to get to the Elite Eight.

The Musketeers, guided by brilliant head coach Chris Mack, have defeated Maryland, Florida State and now No. 3 seed Arizona to get to the Elite Eight. Junior guard Trevon Bluiett has been absolutely sensational and is making everyone stand up and take notice. This is a team that lost six straight games in February, the worst stretch the program has endured in 35 years.

I went to Milwaukee in February to see Marquette play Xavier and the game wasn't even competitive. The Golden Eagle Warriors won by 22 (83-61), but it was far worse that that. Bluiett was benched for that game with a sore strained ankle. Bluiett, the son of parents who are both products of the U.S. Marine Corps and met when they were serving in the Marines, had to do whatever he could to get back onto the floor and help his team.

Myles Davis, a senior guard, a local product who once played for my high school alma mater St. Peter's Prep, had a phenomenal career at Xavier, but became disgruntled this season and quit the team. Davis had to sit out the first half of the season due to misdemeanor criminal charges hung over his head. Davis ranks as one of the school's all-time leading scorers, but he was done. Edmond Sumner, the starting point guard, blew out his knee on the final day of January and he was done. The team then lost six straight. They were dead in the water.

But somehow, the Musketeers have strung together three straight wins and knocked off the mighty Arizona Wildcats, who have two absolute studs on their team in Allonzo Trier and the Finnish sensation Lauri Markkanen, but somehow Bluiett and his boys get a chance to dance Saturday night against top-seeded Gonzaga for the right to go to the Final Four in Arizona.

Xavier with its 24-13 record, became the eighth team seeded 11th or lower to reach the Elite Eight. Only three. Only three of those No. 11 seeds have gone on to the Final Four in NCAA tournament history, namely VCU (2011), George Mason (2006) and LSU (1986). It's really a remarkable story.

Now we have the great Kentucky-UCLA matchup tonight, perhaps the best game of the tourney thus far.
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The recent snowstorm set the scholastic spring sports season back, forcing teams to work out in hallways and basements and classrooms, anywhere they could to get some semblance of a workout in to get ready for next Saturday's Opening Day.

Can you imagine being a baseball player and having to go out in this cold and wind and try to prove yourself to the coach to make a roster? It was so depressing for adults. I can't imagine what it felt like for the players.

Right now, they have eight days to prepare for their first game. Some teams barely got outdoors during that time. But eight days to get ready. Not exactly a lot of time at all.

But this trusty reporter will be ready for the 35th high school baseball season of his career. The first stint with the Daily Record in the spring of 1983 brings back names like Jerry Hug and Jim Price of Montville and Erik Peterson of Newton and Mike Sebesto of Parsippany. It conjures up the thoughts of the gigantic bugs at Lurker Park, bugs that were almost the size of baseballs. You could go to a game at Mount Olive or Morris Knolls and the game would begin in 75 degree temperatures and it would be 35 by the seventh inning. But it was all thrilling Morris County baseball, coverage that continued on into the summer with American Legion and Morris County Majors. It really was a great time. I can't believe 35 years have gone by.
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Here's to hoping that something good comes out of Washington with those missing girls. I will say an extra prayer tonight for their safety.
You can read more of my work in the www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com




Thursday, March 16, 2017

It's March Madness time

If you're a pure sports fan like I am, then the next two days are simply the best days of the year.

How can you do any better than watching the NCAA Basketball Tournament for 12 straight hours in each of the next two days? I don't care if you don't like basketball at all, you're bound to get caught up in March Madness beginning this afternoon right around the lunch hour. You can literally go from lunch to a midnight snack and never take a break from the action.

I remember in my younger days going to the neighborhood sports bar, because it had a satellite feed and they had all the games on. So I could go from TV set to TV set with Heineken in hand, watching all the games and losing money with each passing game.

Now, I don't gamble anymore and I don't have to leave my living room, because all the games are on broadcast television. I just have to make sure I know the differences between CBS, TBS, TNT and Tru-TV.

Wait a minute, wait a minute. Tru-TV? What in God's name is that? And where is that on the dial? I have to get ready.

I also have to get ready for Charles Barkley offering insightful analysis of the games _ and Good Ole Chuck doesn't know a single player on the teams. He just rolls off the team's name, talks about some certain style he thinks the team plays, and makes it seem like he knows what he's talking about.

Every announcer under the sun is working this weekend. My friend Jim Spanarkel, who I saw Monday morning after he called the Atlantic 10 final between Rhode Island and Virginia Commonwealth in Pittsburgh on Sunday, will be in Buffalo calling those four games today.

Buffalo does such a wonderful job hosting the first round of the tourney there. The people of Buffalo embrace the visitors with such vigor. The food in Buffalo is delish. The drinks flow. It's a great time. I always loved hitting Schwabl's for "Beef on a Wick" and of course, the Anchor Bar for chicken wings, but I can't handle the Buffalo wings that are way too spicy for a weak baby like me.

Anyway, Spanarkel told me that he got stuck in an elevator for more than two hours Saturday with two other people and he had to be hoisted out of the elevator. Now that's some feat for someone who stands 6-foot-5.

I hope the elevators run well in Buffalo. He does such a great job calling the games. I loved him with my buddy Ian Eagle, but CBS has now paired Spanarkel with the legendary Verne Lundquist and they do a great job together.

Part of me wishes I was in Buffalo.

Another part of me wishes I was in Greenville, S.C., where Duke, North Carolina, Seton Hall and my beloved alma mater Marquette are all playing tomorrow.

There was a part of me that was packing up today and driving to Greenville, but thought about it some more and decided to stay home and capture that Madness in my living room. I would have loved to see all those teams in action in the same venue. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

But the snow threw a white blanket over any travel plans I might have had. Since my illness in 2013, I have to worry about simply getting around. Walking is now a major chore. And falling down is the biggest fear of all. I fear going down with every step I take because if I go down, it's going to take the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir to get me back on my feet.

And tomorrow is St. Patrick's Day. There was a time in my life that St. Paddy's Day was the most important day of the year. Well, maybe the day of the Jersey City parade, followed by St. Paddy's Day itself.

The parade day this year was way too cold for this old man's bones. I'm just not the same beast I once was.

So anyway, without further ado, here's my entire selection sheet, down to the champion

EAST:

I like Villanova over Mount St. Mary, although watching Junior Robinson against the Wildcats will be fun; I'll take Wisconsin over Virginia Tech (sorry Buzz) and Virginia over N.C. Wilmington; I'll take East Tennessee State over Florida (upset special) and SMU over USC; I'll take Baylor over New Mexico State and I'll take some Midwestern Jesuit school in Milwaukee over South Carolina (OF COURSE, IT'S MARQUETTE, RING OUT AHOYA) and Duke over Troy.

Continuing in the East, I'll take Villanova over Wisconsin and Virginia over East Tennessee; I'll take SMU over Baylor and (ut oh) I'll take Duke over Marquette. Did I just pick against the Golden Eagle Warriors?

OK, in the East, I'll take Villanova over Virginia and Duke over SMU and then the Blue Devils heading to the Final Four with a win over Villanova.

WEST:

I'll take Gonzaga over South Dakota State and Northwestern (Go Wildcats!) over Vanderbilt (whose nickname is the Commodores and I think right away Lionel Richie). I'll take Notre Dame over Princeton and West Virginia over Bucknell. I'll take Maryland over Xavier and I'll take Florida State over Florida Gulf Coast in a game where the first team to get to 100 wins. I'll take St. Mary's over VCU and Arizona over North Dakota.

Moving on, I like Northwestern over Gonzaga (Go Wildcats) and Notre Dame over West Virginia. I like Maryland over Florida State and I'll take Arizona over St. Mary's.

I like Notre Dame over Northwestern (see ya Wildcats) and Arizona (go Wildcats) over Maryland.

And Arizona goes on to the Final Four in its home state.

MIDWEST:

I'll go with Kansas over UC Davis (sorry Bill Herenda and Ken O'Brien) and Michigan State over Miami (Izzo never loses a first round game). I like Iowa State over Nevada and Purdue over Vermont. The Vermont fans party like there's no tomorrow and they like Ben & Jerry's there. I might have some Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie in honor of the Catamounts. I like Rhode Island and my buddy Danny Hurley (go Scott Bucks) to beat Creighton and Oregon to knock out Iona. I like Michigan to knock off Oklahoma State and Louisville to beat Jacksonville State.

Moving on, I like Kansas to beat Michigan State and Purdue to beat Iowa State. I like Rhode Island (I've always been a Rams fan) to beat Oregon and Michigan to eliminate Louisville.

I like Kansas to beat Purdue (what a great game that will be) and Michigan to end Little Rhody's miracle run. And then Kansas to beat Michigan to head to the Final Four.

SOUTH:

I like North Carolina to beat Texas Southern and Seton Hall to beat Arkansas (GO PIRATES!). I like Middle Tennessee to upset Minnesota and Butler to beat Winthrop. I like Cincinnati to beat Kansas State and UCLA to beat Kent State. I like Wichita State to beat Dayton (sorry Aggie Murawinski and Dennis Bergin) and Kentucky to beat Northern Kentucky.

Then North Carolina beats Seton Hall and Butler beats Middle Tennessee; UCLA beats Cincinnati (sorry Darren Savino) and Kentucky beats Wichita State again.

Then Carolina beats Butler and UCLA beats Kentucky and Carolina goes to the Final Four by beating UCLA (sorry Vigg).

We have Duke, Arizona, North Carolina and Kansas in the Final Four

Duke beats Arizona and Kansas beats Carolina and the national champion is Kansas.

OK, let's see how close I get

Thanks for reading

You can read more of my work at www.hudsonreporter.com, www.theobserver.com and www.dailyrecord.com