Rich Hansen, the Hall of Fame football coach and athletic director at St. Peter’s Prep, was asked how he could best describe the 2012 high school football season.
“Without a doubt, it’s been the most mentally trying year,” Hansen said. “It’s been mentally exhausting.”
There’s no question that Hansen, his staff, and his team have gone through a lot over the last four months.
First, there was the controversy in late September, when Kearny decided it would rather take a forfeit loss than face the Marauders, in fear that the Kearny players would get injured if they played a game against the state-ranked Marauders.
“That was an ill-advised decision,” Hansen said.
However, the decision was a last-minute one, when Kearny administrators called Hansen at 1 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 21, six hours before the scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff. Hansen scrambled to find a last-minute opponent for that week, but to no avail. The Marauders received an unwelcomed forfeit victory and they were prohibited from playing one of nine regular-season contests.
But perhaps no Hudson County school felt the wrath of Hurricane Sandy more than St. Peter’s Prep, located in downtown Jersey City.
“Sandy was just something we had no control over,” Hansen said. “Everyone on the East Coast was kept up to speed on the storm, but you could never predict the full impact of it. We were literally in uncharted waters.”
St. Peter’s Prep was devastated by the ravaging flood waters.
“We had about five and a half feet of water in our locker room,” Hansen said. “The weight room was destroyed. The practice field unraveled.”
To combat the flood waters, the city of Jersey City opened up the sewers in the downtown area.
“But it sent an incredible surge rolling down Grand Street,” Hansen said. “It was like rolling rapids.”
The school was closed for eight days. Even when the school re-opened, it could only handle a split schedule.
“Our first concern was the safety of our students, and thank God, everyone was safe,” Hansen said. “A lot of people lost power, but no one was hurt. We were fortunate.”
But the aftermath was incredible.
“Between the salt water and the sewer water, we had to get rid of everything, because we couldn’t take the chance with contamination,” Hansen said. “We had to remove the walls and the floors were ripped up. The lockers were all taken out. All the electrical equipment in the athletic offices was ruined. Every electrical appliance, like washers and driers and refrigerators, were all thrown out. The wrestling mats were thrown out. It was unbelievable.”
And Hansen tried to keep his football team together without a place to practice. A game against Dover High School in Delaware was canceled and declared by the NJSIAA as a tie. It meant that the Marauders lost another regular season game, but that was not all they lost.
“We had a crisis management company here,” Hansen said. “They were here seven days a week. The FieldTurf people came in and spent four days restoring and refurbishing the field and they did a fabulous job.”
Hansen tried to tally up all the different losses.
“The more we got into it, the devastation became larger,” Hansen said. “We went to Caven Point [Cochrane Field] for a few days and Gateway for another. The city of Jersey City and the Board of Education helped us out.”
Hansen worked diligently on getting wrestling mats so the wrestling team could begin practice.
But there was the Marauders’ NJSIAA Non-Public Group 4 first round game against Seton Hall Prep to worry about.
“I think after two weeks, we needed to get back to some sort of normalcy,” Hansen said. “The kids have all had tremendous attitudes. They’ve been so resilient.”
Mind you, St. Peter’s Prep is no longer just a neighborhood school, drawing its students now from all over New Jersey.
“So with no mass transit, it made things tough for kids,” Hansen said. “We had parents who got together to carpool kids in. It was disheartening and upsetting, but the kids all wanted to be back. I learned a lot about our kids and our football family. I was really concerned about just getting a game. I was worried about rust.”
As it turned out, the Marauders responded well and defeated Seton Hall Prep, 48-7, to advance to the state sectional semifinals this weekend against Paramus Catholic.
“I’ve learned that a situation like this either beats you down or shines you up,” Hansen said. “Well, we’ve all gotten through this together. We’re now in full preparation mode for Paramus Catholic. We don’t have our weight room and don’t have our locker room, but we have a weight room and we have a locker room. We’ve gone back to our old ways for now. It’s inconvenient, sure, but it’s not going to play into our performance on the field.”
Hansen realizes that the storm was a costly one. It will take hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace or refurbish what was lost.
“But everyone was safe,” Hansen said. “We’re all healthy. It is what it is. Sometimes, life is how you deal with adversity. It was a great teaching moment for all of us.”
And the battle-weary and emotionally worn out Marauders have to try to tackle the state’s premier player, Jabrill Peppers, this weekend.
“We’ve gone back to basics,” Hansen said. “I think our kids either consciously or subconsciously have used this as a mantra; that we’re getting better from everything we’ve been through. It continues this weekend.”
Wouldn’t it only be fitting if these Marauders get a chance to go to MetLife Stadium and face either Don Bosco Prep or Bergen Catholic for the overall state championship next weekend? It would be a just reward for all they’ve been through in a year that can only be described as an odyssey.
“It’s been exhausting for all of us,” Hansen said. “I give my staff a lot of credit, because they’ve been through an awful lot over the last few weeks.”
Much like a lot of others who are still recovering from the horrors of Hurricane Sandy.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.