Want to learn how to set a pick, double-leg an opponent, or do a pirouette?
If you are a North Bergen youngster, all you have to do is go to the Recreation Center. That’s where more than a 1,000 children, grade school to high school age, engage in fun and competition each fall and winter through basketball, wrestling, and dance programs.
Registration is of course required, and there is a general fee for most programs that covers the whole season.
Free throws and fouls
The flagship indoor season program is basketball, with more than 800 participants each year. Signups begin on Oct. 15.
Boys from 5 to 16 (unless on high school squad) play in three competitive divisions; 8-10, 11-13, and 14-16. Five to seven year olds get coed clinic instruction.
Practice starts mid-November, and then 34 teams will battle from late November until Feb. 28 during the 10-game schedule. The season culminates with Championship Night on March 1, when three finals are played.
“Plus, there are all-star teams, and traveling all-stars,” said Joanne Sogluizzo, supervisor of recreation.
“You want children to be involved in different activities.” – Mayor Nicholas Sacco
Officials say the program teaches fundamental basketball techniques, team play, and readies the youth for the next levels of play.
“A few people went on to be all county and got scholarships to major colleges,” said John Cellini, athletics supervisor. Among their alumni are those who played for the Puerto Rican national team, in European League basketball, and one, Betty Mendietta, who teaches physical education at North Bergen High School and formerly coached basketball there.
High flying and hard tapping
The 140 high steppers of the dance program began practicing their craft on Sept. 30. A popular program for girls, boys are invited to join, and have. The curriculum consists of instruction in jazz, taps, and ballet.
“The kids love it,” said John Prato, recreation aide. “When you think about it, if they have to go for private lessons it’s $200 to $300. We sell out.”
“There’s always a waiting list, which we don’t like to do, but there are only so many hours and so many days,” said Cellini.
The program is held four nights a week, Monday through Thursday, from about 45 minutes to a little over an hour. Friday is used as a “catch-up day,” to make up for time lost for a holiday or snow day.
“It’s one of our longer seasons,” said Prato. “It goes from Sept. 30 to June, when they have a recital at the high school.”
Even though there are a lot of practices and many months of training, the young girls come interested and stay motivated. When they perform at year’s end, all of their hard work is realized.
“Each dancer has a dance routine that they perform on stage,” said Sogluizzo, one they have selected out of 20 routines, and practiced for months.
The program still has openings for certain classes. Those interested are asked to call the Recreation Office at (201) 861-9601 or visit the website www.northbergen.org.
Half nelsons and front headlocks
The North Bergen recreational wrestling program takes a back seat to none. Seventy five strong last year, officials see another good turnout for the upcoming season.
One of the most successful wrestlers in state history, Anthony Giraldo of Guttenberg, is a graduate.
“Giraldo came though our program,” said Cellini. “He got a Rutgers scholarship before his senior year in high school.”
Like with other township sports programs, alumni benefit from the training in their youth, and go on to bigger and better things. Like John Bott, a heavyweight wrestler for North Bergen and one-time head coach, who went on to college. He’s now a math teacher at the high school.
Many who left the program return.
“There are four or five of the coaches that are dedicated to the sport,” said Cellini. “They actually came through our program and are giving back.”
Starting at young ages
The township has a diverse year-round recreation schedule, also including football, baseball, softball, soccer, and even music and theater. The football season got off to a rousing start with its parade last month, and the soccer program is readying for another 800-participant roster in the spring. The programs include children of very tender ages.
“We start them at 5 years old and then go up to 13, as long as they are still in grammar school,” said Jay Sticco, recreation aide. “North Bergen has one of the better programs, whether it’s recreation or high school.
“You want children to be involved in different activities, that’s why we have some different ones,” said Mayor Nicholas Sacco. “The more involvement, the better off the children are. They work with other children. It’s social, it's exercise, it keeps them from getting into trouble.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.