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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Perhaps the classiest move ever in HS swimming

Here's another reason for me to be proud of my high school alma mater, and it's not the fact that St. Peter's Prep won its fourth straight Hudson County basketball championship yesterday by defeating Marist _ although that is a great feat for coach Mike Kelly's team.

No, my beaming pride of being a son from Grand and Warren comes from the Marauders' swim team, which obviously has had to endure its fair share of pain and sorrow this season.

A few weeks ago, a beloved member of the Prep swim team, a vibrant, energetic and socially active young man named B.J. Giannone, competed in a swim meet at St. Peter's College, got out of the pool, collapsed and later died. No warning, no signs of distress. He just walked over to his coach and collapsed. B.J., headed to Virginia Tech in the fall, was only 18 years old.

I wrote in my column in the Hudson Reporter how the Prep has had to endure tragedy so many times over the years, more than any other school I know. But somehow, Prep men always rise above their tragedies and carry on, gaining their strength from being part of that great institution on Grand and Warren in downtown Jersey City.

Yesterday, the Marauder swim team competed in the Hudson County championships in Bayonne and gave their fallen teammate the greatest tribute that I've ever heard of.

When the time came for the relay team that Giannone was part of to take to the pool yesterday, there was a plan in place. The relay team would only have three members swim their leg, with the third leg, Giannone's usual leg, was left vacant. The lane was empty. It was decided that the relay would use Giannone's average time as its barometer for the race.

Once it was determined that Giannone would have finished the leg of the relay, then the fourth swimmer went into the pool. But for that one leg of the relay, B.J.'s leg, the lane was empty.

When onlookers realized what was happening, there wasn't a dry eye in the house. I got teary-eyed last night learning of what took place, especially since I was told B.J.'s parents were in attendance. I can't imagine how I would have felt if I actually witnessed it.

Bravo to the Prep swim team for honoring their friend and teammate one more time. It's certainly a tribute that will last a lifetime in this reporter's eyes.

Friday night, I had to cover the unfortunate incident that was surrounding the Holy Family University men's basketball team, after the head coach John O'Connor attacked one of his players during a rebounding drill in practice last month, knocking the player to the floor and then kicking him when he was on the floor.

The incident was actually videotaped, like all of the Tigers' practices were, but this incident somehow got out, was posted on YouTube and all hell broke loose.

It became a national story, with the coach and the player Matt Kravchuk, appearing with George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" last week. Stephanopoulos actually implored O'Connor to apologize to Kravchuk on national television, an apology that Kravchuk did not accept.

Whoever thought that it was a good idea for O'Connor to appear on national television should have their head examined, because it only made a totally horrific situation get entirely worse.

Anyway, the day after O'Connor appeared on the show, he resigned. The team had one game to play and it was against Felician College Friday night. Sure, enough, one phone call from AP and there I was, right in the middle of the mess.

I had to write a story about the mood and setting about the game. I called a school spokesman, asking permission to speak to players or administrators. That request was denied. I then asked the spokesman a series of questions. Each question was answered the same way, "No comment." Then why did they need a spokesman to offer "No comment."

I did interview some parents at the game and after the game, I spoke to the interim coach Brian Duross, who got his team prepared to play very hard, actually hold a lead in the second half, but eventually lost by a 79-71 margin.

Duross also wouldn't speak of O'Connor's plight, only to say that the team played "with the intensity instilled in them by Coach O'Connor."

Now after a 27-year career in this business _ including a five-year stint at being a college spokesman (sports information director) at St. Peter's College _ there are ways of issuing the equivalent of a "no comment," without saying the actual words. This way, the school doesn't look like it did something wrong, like the people at Holy Family did in this instance.

Something like: "Our basketball team has endured a very trying situation and we're trying to get through it the best way we can. We're disappointed that this incident has gained so much attention."

Bingo. Statement made and nothing was actually revealed and no one's privacy was damaged in the process. But Holy Family officials decided that "no comment" was more prudent over and over again. The school was also in the wrong for not doing anything about the situation until the player filed criminal charges against the coach, three weeks after the incident took place.

Sure, a tiny Catholic school in Philadelphia never had to handle a controversy as widespread as this one before, but there were better ways than digging the bunker hole and hiding out, hoping it would all go away. Anyway you look at it, it was a sad situation and not an easy one to cover as a reporter.

Interesting article in the Newark Star-Ledger about former St. Peter's Prep grid standout
Will Hill and his very interesting Twitter page (now disabled) talking about his marijuana use, about the way he treats women, about having random sex all the time.

Hill has decided to sacrifice his final year at Florida to enter the NFL Draft, but there's a major reason why. He has to pay child support and a lot of it, considering he's fathered three children with three different women over the past two years. He's well on his way to becoming the next Antonio Cromartie.

When he was in high school, Hill was clearly the best player that level I've ever seen. But his life started to unravel when his father started to parade him around, even collecting a pay check for him from a local sports training facility when Hill signed his national letter of intent to Florida, instead of doing it at the school that put him on the map.

And now, after this latest revelation -- there's an entire webpage dedicated to Hill's indescretion and apparent drug use -- he expects to actually get drafted? Who's going to take a chance on this?

While there are cases of pride from the school that has "Pride and Glory" in its creed, this disgrace is not one of those reasons to be proud.

The Prep swim team? Pride and glory beyond comprehension. The Prep basketball team? Four in a row with kids like Kevin Walker, Keith Lumpkin and Chase Fluellen being part of all four. That's pride and glory. Najee Glass winning the Meet of Champions 400-meter dash gold medal yesterday? Another reason for pride and glory at Grand and Warren.

But this clown? He's giving our proud school a very bad name once again. Good riddance.
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1 comment:

  1. The coach was wrong no doubt but the player and the coach going on Good Morning America what a joke the school the parents and coach should of been able to handle this between them without getting lawyers involved that is the problem today.