The sports calendar year of 2010 in Hudson County brought some exciting moments, some heart-wrenching times, some once-in-a-lifetime memories and some national headlines.
Here’s a look at the Top 10 Sports Stories of the Year in Hudson County for 2010.
1-Hurley inducted into Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
It started becoming news in April in Indianapolis and was finalized in August in Springfield, Mass., and the Hudson Reporter was all over the story the outset. After three prior close calls, legendary St. Anthony High School basketball coach Bob Hurley was finally going to be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Hurley received official word at a press conference in Indianapolis at the NCAA Final Four and officially gained induction at a grand ceremony at the Hall of Fame in Springfield. Hurley became only the third boys’ high school basketball coach to ever earn the honor and the third Hudson County native to gain induction, joining Tommy Heinsohn of Union City and the late referee David Walsh of Hoboken.
Hurley’s induction speech was certainly memorable and his induction gained national headlines. It also came in a year in which a Jersey City street was named in his honor and a full-length documentary motion picture, “The Street Stops Here,” was released, a movie that followed the 2008 national championship team Hurley coached.
2-Track stars Thomas of Snyder, Glass of Prep both win NJSIAA Meet of Champions titles
It’s not every day that a county gets to crown an overall state champion in track and field. In fact, it’s genuinely a rarity.
However, Hudson County was fortunate enough to crown two overall state champions in June, when Zamir Thomas of Snyder and Najee Glass of St. Peter’s Prep both won their respective championships at the NJSIAA Meet of Champions in South Plainfield.
It was the first time in 35 years that two Hudson County athletes claimed overall state championships on the very same day.
Thomas was the champion in the 200-meter dash, while Glass earned the top honors in the 400-meter run. It also helped that the two young men, who both won the honors as underclassmen and have a chance to duplicate their titles in 2011, are good friends as well.
Glass became the first Prep track and field athlete to ever claim a state championship. He also went on to compete in the World Junior Olympic Games in Singapore in August, helping his relay team win a gold medal there.
3-State sectional titles for Friars and Marauders on same night
History was made on a fateful Wednesday evening in March when two local high school basketball teams captured their respective NJSIAA state sectional championships on the very same night on the very same floor.
First, St. Peter’s Prep came from behind to defeat Seton Hall Prep for the NJSIAA Non-Public A North sectional championship at the Rutgers Athletic Center in Piscataway, on the campus of Rutgers University. It marked the first state sectional basketball title for the Marauders since 1984.
A few hours later on the same floor at Rutgers, St. Anthony defeated Paterson Catholic to win the NJSIAA Non-Public B North sectional crown.
Both Jersey City schools defeated the teams that knocked them out of the state playoffs the previous year.
No two Hudson County teams had ever captured state sectional championships at the same location on the same evening.
4-High Tech, County Prep athletic programs eliminated
The shocking news was first announced in March and then confirmed in mid-June, when the Hudson County Schools of Technology, citing the elimination of funding from the Hudson County municipalities, announced the elimination of the long-successful athletic programs at both High Tech High School in North Bergen and County Prep in Jersey City.
The plan was initiated by the mayors of Hudson County, who believed that the athletic programs at the two schools represented a duplication of services and thought that the students who attended the two Schools of Technology should participate in athletics in their home districts.
After long debates and public hearings, along with some last-ditch possible legislation to save the two programs, the Schools of Technology officials pulled the plug in June, sending 400 or so student/athletes from the two schools scurrying to make their next move in their athletic careers.
The elimination of the programs came after a year where the High Tech softball team captured the Hudson County tournament championship and the High Tech baseball team reached its pinnacle, playing for a state sectional title before falling to Whippany Park.
The County Prep baseball team had captured a state sectional championship in 2009, so both programs had enjoyed their fair share of successes in recent years.
The elimination of the two programs certainly sent shockwaves throughout the county and the trickle-down effect of the elimination continues in terms of athletes’ eligibilities and transfers.
5-Huggins named New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year
St. Peter’s Prep has produced a litany of great high school football players over the last 25 years or so, but none ever reached the heights of standout running back Savon Huggins, who was named the New Jersey Gatorade Player of the Year, significant as the top high school football player in the state.
Huggins became the first Marauder to ever earn the title and was the first local product to receive the honor since Hoboken’s Rashard Casey received the award in 1995.
Huggins merely rushed for 1,890 yards and scored an amazing 35 touchdowns for the Marauders. He is considered to be among the top running backs in the country and is being recruited by practically every big school, with Notre Dame and Rutgers the frontrunners to secure his services.
It was a great honor for one of the greatest players to ever perform in Hudson County football.
6-Girls’ basketball legend DeFazio passes
In November, the Hudson County sports community lost a true legend, a one-of-a-kind character and giant in the coaching field, even if he stood only 5-foot-4.
Long-time girls’ basketball coach Bill DeFazio died after a nine-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 63 years old.
DeFazio holds the distinction of being the all-time leader in coaching victories in Hudson County girls’ basketball history with 576 wins at both St. Anthony and Marist. The latter school is where he coached until the end of the 2008-09 season. DeFazio also holds the distinction of being the only Hudson County coach to win state titles at two different schools. He was also inducted into several different Halls of Fame, including Hudson County, the NJSIAA, the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association, and Marist High School.
Marist had honored DeFazio in April by naming the gym floor after him, an honor he was able to share with his family and friends. It was also an honor that caught DeFazio totally by surprise.
DeFazio received a fitting farewell at a funeral Mass at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Bayonne, a ceremony highlighted by a beautiful and courageous eulogy delivered by his wife, Alice, the athletic director at New Jersey City University. The student body at Marist paid tribute prior to the mass by standing in front of the school, holding candles, as DeFazio’s hearse passed the school for a final time.
7-Lincoln football falls in NJSIAA Group I state finals
It took 29 years for a Lincoln High School football team to reach the NJSIAA championship, since the 1981 Lincoln team won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group III title. But in December, the Lions made it back to a state championship game, facing New Providence at the New Meadowlands Stadium for the North 2, Group I title. It was a remarkable climb for a Lincoln football program that was long left for dead, dormant and non-competitive for almost two decades.
But alumnus Robert Hampton took over the program five years ago and turned the Lions completely around, culminating in the Lions’ first appearance in a state title game in nearly 30 years.
Unfortunately, the Lions’ quest for the state title fell a little short, losing 21-8 in the championship game, sending New Providence’s head coach Frank Bottone off into retirement as a state champion.
But the Lions’ return to prominence earns a spot on the year’s Top 10 sports stories.
8-Prep’s Innis falls in NJSIAA 215-pound state wrestling final
St. Peter’s Prep’s Kevin Innis came so very close to earning a slice of Hudson County history when he advanced to the 215-pound championship bout in the NJSIAA state wrestling championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last March.
Innis was trying to become only the third Hudson County wrestler to ever win a state championship, joining John Bott of North Bergen and David Cordoba of Kearny.
Innis was right there, in the finals against Zach Greenwald of Paulsboro. In the third period, he held a 1-0 lead, before Greenwald gained an escape to tie the match at 1-1. Innis almost gained a takedown in the closing seconds, a move that would have given him the title, but the buzzer sounded. Greenwald then gained a takedown of Innis in overtime and secured the 3-1 win.
Innis, who would later be named the Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Year, ended his career with a 39-2 senior season and a new school record 136 career wins. He now wrestles at Boston University.
9-Dan Finn Classic showdown between Marauders, Friars a true classic
In January, the long-awaited showdown between top local hoop squads St. Peter’s Prep and St. Anthony took place at the Dan Finn Classic at the Jersey City Armory. It was believed that the game could have represented a ceremonious changing of the guard, with the upstart Marauders knocking the fabulous Friars from their loft as the area’s premier squad.
Both teams were ranked among the top five in the state prior to the game. The Marauders held a nine-point lead with 2:05 remaining, before the Friars mounted a frantic comeback and won the game in overtime. It was clearly the most exciting local game in more than 20 years and made the entire Finn Classic memorable.
10-End of an era: Dickinson football eliminated
The numbers were waning and the results were demoralizing, so the Jersey City Board of Education decided in February to end a more than 100-year-old tradition in eliminating the football program at Dickinson High School.
At one time, Dickinson was the most storied and respected program in the city. It’s where College Football Hall of Famers Ed Franco and Al Blozis once played. It was a program that was considered the state’s best in the 1930s. But citing financial reasons, the Board of Education pulled the plug on the Dickinson grid program, ending yet another long-standing tradition in Hudson County sports.
Just missed list
There were other newsworthy items that just missed cracking the Top 10 list. North Bergen softball coach Tom Eagleson became the first Hudson County softball coach to reach the prestigious 500-win plateau; Jersey City-based heavyweight boxer Tomasz Adamek continued his climb up the heavyweight ranking with four impressive wins; former St. Peter’s Prep grid standout Rashawn Jackson earned a spot on the roster of the Carolina Panthers of the NFL; former St. Peter’s Prep hockey standout Kyle Palmieri made his way to the roster of the Anaheim Ducks and scored his first NHL goal; 5-year-old Ariel Antigua of Jersey City became a national phenomenon with his baseball prowess, earning a spot on the Jimmy Kimmel show and a big feature in Sports Illustrated; former Ferris head coach Wilbur Valdez emerged as the winner of the heated and contested Union City HS football coaching position; seven Hudson County football teams earned berths in the NJSIAA state playoffs; former St. Peter’s College basketball standout Willie Haynes died after a bout with cancer at the age of 43; and former New York Giants Super Bowl hero Leonard Marshall was named the head football coach at Hudson Catholic.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.