For two decades, the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame was an annual event, honoring the stars of yesteryear. It was a festive dinner, completes with an awards presentation. It was always a night filled with memories and nostalgia, a yearly highly anticipated evening.
But that’s all it was. It was a dinner, a souvenir booklet, an engraved collector’s mug and not much else. Once the dinner was over, the Hall of Fame was over until the next event the following year.
Three years ago or so, there was an outreach luncheon that extended the Hall of Fame a bit, where inductees of the past came back to tell their stories of triumph to a current crop of Hudson County high school students.
But there was never a sense of permanence, a place of recognition.
Last Tuesday night, the Hudson County Plaza building, the former home of Block Drug, became the permanent location for the wall honoring the hundreds of members who have been inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame over the last 21 years.
The wall was unveiled in a special ceremony at Hudson County Plaza, with approximately 40 or so past inductees in attendance to witness the unveiling.
Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise spearheaded the move to have the inductees’ names placed on the wall in the new county facility.
“I walked into the building one day and I thought it looked too sterile,” DeGise said. “It had like toothpaste racks on it from the days when it was Block Drug. I thought it needed to look more like home, so I suggested that it would be a perfect place to honor the Hall of Famers and give it a permanent home. It’s a hell of a use for wall space.”
The new Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame wall graces the first floor entrance to the complex. It has every inductee listed from the initial group of 1991 until the last induction class last year.
“We didn’t know how many people would come,” DeGise said. “We were happy that we got about 40. A lot of the people still live in the area.”
But a lot of them are also gone. However, they now will not be forgotten, because their names will live on any time anyone enters the county complex.
DeGise credited the work of county employees William LaRosa, Meredith Lippman and Eileen Gaughan, who all had to put the time to collect all the information necessary to make the wall a reality.
The unveiling certainly was an emotional moment for many of the Hall of Famers in attendance.
“It was another great honor,” said Rich Glover, a member of the Hudson Hall of Fame Class of 1992 and the current Ferris High School grid coach. “This is home. This is where it all began for me.”
Glover is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, after a brilliant career at the University of Nebraska, where he was a two-time All-American nose guard and twice the recipient of the Outland and Lombardi Trophies as the nation’s best interior lineman.
“But seeing this here means a lot,” Glover said. “My uncle can see this, my brother can see this. It’s a great honor. It’s something I can share with my family.”
Joe Forenza, a native of Guttenberg who was a basketball standout at North Bergen High School and remains an administrator in the Guttenberg school system, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007.
“It’s a great honor to see your name up there with all the other greats,” Forenza said. “It’s an accomplishment I can share with my family and friends, seeing my name up there with all the other greats of Hudson County.”
Elnardo Webster, the Jersey City native who went on to have a great basketball career at St. Peter’s College and then the early days of the old American Basketball Association, addressed all in attendance.
“It’s something for our children and grandchildren to appreciate for a very long time,” said Webster, who was inducted in 1994. “I think I can speak for everyone here to say we really appreciate this. We’ll now forever be remembered.”
Webster’s teammate at SPC, Harry Laurie (Class of 1992), was also appreciative.
“It’s a tremendous honor to have this here to memorialize our achievements,” Laurie said. “We all came from Jersey City and we can show people this wall to remember what we did. It’s one of the biggest honors of my life.”
Charlie Brown grew up playing basketball with Laurie at Lincoln High School, then went on to carve his career as first a great player, then later a head coach at Jersey City State College. Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.
“This is unbelievable,” Brown said. “Look up at that wall and you see all those names. It’s really unbelievable. Instead of having a plaque, the names are there for everyone to see. I’m happy and proud to be a part of it.”
Matt Sinisi went from having a multi-sport career in West New York and eventually became the principal at Memorial High School before retiring a few years ago. Sinisi was inducted in 2004.
“I’m just humbled by it all,” Sinisi said. “Hudson County has always been a special place for sports and just to be mentioned with the greats of Hudson County history is amazing. I’m really glad to be a part of it.”
Leon Bailey (Class of 1999) had a storied career in track and field and still serves as a respected track official today.
“This is a lifetime treasure,” Bailey said. “It’s here forever and no one can take that away. I didn’t expect anything like this. I didn’t realize how great it would be. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever been involved with. It’s great for everyone to see.”
“Irish” Pat Murphy had a brilliant boxing career. The former top contender and North Bergen native was inducted in 2008.
“I called my brother and told him about it,” Murphy said. “I like the fact it’s there and it’s staying there. It could be there forever. It’s nice to be a part of it. I can share this with my nieces and nephews.”
DeGise said that the organization has also started a website, www.hudsoncountysportshalloffame.org, which will be filled with biographies, photos and interesting items.
It’s definitely a step in the right direction as the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame moves into its third decade of existence.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com