Bill Burrell is 79 years old, retired, living with his wife at the Weehawken senior citizen complex at 575 Gregory Ave. He doesn't get many chances to reflect back to his youth, when he was a standout athlete at Weehawken High School in the early 1940s.
Jim Culhane is a litigation attorney living in Brookfield, Wisconsin. He is so active with his career that he also doesn't get many opportunities to think back to the mid-'60s, when he was a standout football and baseball player in Weehawken.
But recently, Burrell and Culhane had a chance to reflect, along with four other former Weehawken athletic greats, at the Weehawken High School Athletic Hall of Fame dinner at Schuetzen Park in North Bergen.
Jim Culhane, John Kennelly, Leonard Auletto, Donna Handel, Bill Burrell, and Lou Ferullo were inducted into the Weehawken High School Hall of Fame on Friday, June 21.
Councilman Lou Ferullo was inducted as a contributor, the first such honoree in the eight-year history of the school's Hall of Fame.
The night also featured the awards presentation for the Class of 2002 athletes who earned varsity letters over the past year. Victor Barone was presented with the Lester Purvere Award as the school's outstanding male athlete, while Yuny Lee was given the Ernest J. Demontreaux Award as the school's top female athlete.
As for the inductees, Burrell was a standout basketball and baseball player, a key performer on Coach Les Pervere's 1942 state championship basketball team.
"I was the captain of that team," Burrell said. "I did what I was supposed to do, which was rebound the ball. I did my job. We had other guys, like Walter Johnson and Eddie Schwob, who were better scorers. But winning the state championship was a team effort."
Burrell said that he was shocked when he was informed by Weehawken Athletic Director Richard Terpak that he was being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
"I thought maybe he was joking with me at first," Burrell said. "It is a great honor and I'm thrilled to be in there with the other inductees. A night like that certainly makes you remember a lot of the fond memories I have. It got the ball rolling. Some of those times I'd already forgotten. It was great that they came back to me."
Culhane was also a two-sport captain, a member of the 1964 Weehawken baseball team that captured the HCIAA North Hudson championship, coming from eight runs down to defeat Holy Family, 9-8, thanks to Culhane's incredible three-homer, seven RBI day.
He later went on to play football at the University of Vermont.
Culhane made it a point to return to Weehawken for the induction ceremony.
"I told people that this is the biggest honor I have ever received or will ever receive in my life," Culhane said. "I went to school and played with some very fine athletes. To get this honor is beyond what I could have imagined. I was also pleased to be inducted with John Kennelly, who was one of my teammates. I got to see classmates I haven't seen since 1964. It brought back a lot of memories. I sat in the same seat in the gym when I learned that John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I definitely did some reflecting."
Added Culhane, "I think it was all because we had some great teachers and coaches at the school. They made a big influence on my life. Those were the best years of my life."
The other Hall of Fame inductees also had impressive resumes. Auletto (Class of 1959) was a standout soccer, baseball and basketball player who earned All-County honors in baseball. Kennelly (Class of 1964, like Culhane) was a fine football player, but earned his mark as an All-County baseball player who eventually signed a professional contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Donna Handel (Class of 1984) was a 1,000-point scorer in basketball, earning All-BCSL and All-County honors from the Jersey Journal and Hudson Dispatch and was an All-BCSL performer as a softball player. She was also a past recipient of the Demontreaux Award as the school's best female athlete.
Councilman Ferullo was honored for his work with the Weehawken High School Booster Club, for his dedication as a recreation baseball and basketball coach and for helping to resurrect the youth football program in 1993.
While stars of yesteryear were being remembered and honored, the current top athletes were also acknowledged. Barone, who played basketball and football and will attend St. Peter's College in the fall, said that the award "totally caught me by surprise."
"I didn't expect to get the award," said Barone, whose father, Chuck, is the township's recreation director. "It's a great honor. We have some great athletes in the school. I was really shocked. I'm glad to get it, because my sister, Lori, got it in 1994, so I wanted to show her up a little."
Lee, who played tennis, softball and was a member of the school's marching band, was equally surprised.
"I thought my classmates were more deserving than me," Lee said. "I didn't expect this at all. My parents loved the fact that I got it. I guess it's a pay-off for all the hard work I put in for four years."
Lee will attend the University of Connecticut in the fall, majoring in accounting. Barone will major in criminal justice, with the hope of becoming a California highway patrolman someday. Ponch and Jon, look out.