But the longtime North Bergen resident believes that none of it would have been possible without his participation in high school athletics, or in particular, the dedication of his basketball coach at North Bergen High School, the late Matty Sabello.
"Basketball was my life back then," Petersen said. "Growing up, I didn't know anything else. I wasn't that much of a student and I even had people tell me that I wasn't meant for college. But Matty made a call for me to Ollie Gelston, who was the coach at Jersey City State College. Matty told me to go down to the school and fill out an application right away, so I did. All I wanted to do was play basketball."
Petersen was one of three North Bergen High School graduates who were inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame at the 16th annual induction dinner last Thursday night at the Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City.
Petersen and fellow North Bergen native Gene Pagnozzi represented North Bergen High School's early days when the school first opened in 1962. Rick Capozzi, the third of the North Bergen residents to earn induction last Thursday, represented a time when North Bergen High was already established and already considered among the best athletic schools in the state.
However, all three have their place in the legacy that is North Bergen athletics.
Wrote to J. Edgar Hoover After Petersen's fine career at Jersey City State, he became an FBI agent, also through the connections he gained playing basketball.
"As crazy as it may seem, if it wasn't for the game of basketball and my roots of Hudson County and North Bergen, I never had a shot to become an FBI agent," Petersen said. "I was playing with the New York Athletic Club team after college and the team had three FBI agents on it. Without playing on that team, I never would have learned the contacts I needed. So basketball got me to college, after I was told college was not meant for me. I played in college and then became an FBI agent through basketball as well. I always wanted to be an FBI agent, so it was like a dream come true."
In fact, Petersen wanted to be an agent so much that, as a teenager, he once wrote a letter to then-FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, expressing his interest in becoming an agent.
"Hoover wrote back to me and sent me the requirements that were needed to become an FBI agent," Petersen said. "But it never would have happened if not for playing basketball."
Had to leave Petersen was first a student/athlete at Emerson High School in Union City, but then had to transfer to North Bergen when it opened in 1961.
"I hated to leave Emerson," Petersen said. "Going to North Bergen was very traumatic for me. But when I got to North Bergen, I saw all the others who I went to school with now at North Bergen. There was the excitement of going to a new school."
Petersen played football, basketball, and ran track at North Bergen. He was a wide receiver for the Bruins' first-ever football team and owns the distinction of catching the first pass for North Bergen under the tutelage of the legendary Joe Coviello in a win over St. Cecelia's of Englewood.
But it was as a basketball player that Petersen gained his most acclaim. He earned All-County honors that senior year at North Bergen, averaging 17 points per game, which was good for second in the HCIAA North in scoring. "Although I played football and ran track, basketball was my life," Petersen said. "I was able to play for some of the best coaches ever at both schools, guys like Pep Novotny, Harry Brooks and Hank Morano at Emerson and guys like Joe Coviello and Matty Sabello at North Bergen. How lucky was I?"
At Jersey City State, Petersen averaged nearly 21 points per game, earning All-New Jersey Athletic Conference honors. He led the Gothic Knights to two NJAC titles and his team in 1964 went to the NAIA National Championships, a tournament that also had the Grambling team that featured Willis Reed and Lucious Jackson.
After graduation, Petersen remained with the FBI for 27 years, working in a variety of roles, including kidnapping and extortion cases.
After retiring from the FBI in 1996, Petersen took a job as the director of security for Major League Baseball and remained there for four years.
"I went to Cuba with the Baltimore Orioles and Caracas, Venezuela with the Cubs," Petersen said. "I was with Team USA for the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia where I worked with Tommy Lasorda. It was a great job."
Now, 60, Petersen currently does security consulting work with his own firm, Buckley Petersen Global. Married for 40 years to wife Joanie, the Petersens have five children, Ed, Brendan, Darren, Christy and Jeannie - all five of whom went on to play basketball in high school and college.
Petersen was one of the initial members of the North Bergen High School Basketball Hall of Fame and is also a member of the Jersey City State College Hall of Fame, earning induction in 1985.
"It was so special for me to be inducted with such long-time friends like Gene Pagnozzi and Jack Stephans," Petersen said. "Hudson County has a rich tradition in sports and it is always a part of all of us. We weren't rich as kids. We just wanted to play sports, and little did we know that we were creating memories that would last a lifetime."
Pagnozzi Pagnozzi was a historic football player, earning his place as North Bergen's first true gridiron star, then going on to have a fine college career and later earning his place as one of Hudson County's most successful football coaches.
Pagnozzi was a two-sport standout at North Bergen High, when the school first opened in 1962. He was a fine baseball player, but earned a better reputation on the gridiron, where he became North Bergen's first-ever All-State honoree, playing for the legendary Coviello, who was a charter member of the Hudson County Hall of Fame.
"Back then, I never realized how big of a town North Bergen was," Pagnozzi said. "I just assumed I would go to Memorial, because I was from 85th Street. I used to go to all the Memorial games to watch. But when North Bergen High School opened, we had kids coming from all over. The first day of practice was like an All-Star team. I knew all the names from reading the newspapers. It was a little intimidating, going to a new school, coached by a legend. But we were all excited about playing for a new school. I was happy to help build the North Bergen tradition."
During his senior year in 1964, Pagnozzi was named the Hudson County Lineman of the Year, leading the Bruins to the HCIAA title game, where the Bruins defeated St. Joseph of the Palisades in the title game.
Pagnozzi was also named to the New York Daily News All-Metropolitan team and was First Team All-State from the Newark Star-Ledger.
Upon graduation from North Bergen, Pagnozzi earned a scholarship to Southwest Louisiana State, but transferred back home after one year to Montclair State, where he eventually played for another coaching legend, Clary Anderson.
Pagnozzi was a standout defensive tackle for three years at Montclair State, earning All-New Jersey Athletic Conference twice.
Pagnozzi became a teacher and coach in the West New York school system in 1970. He first joined the coaching staff at Memorial, working under head coach Jack McDonald for nine years. In 1979, Pagnozzi joined the coaching staff at Fordham University as an assistant under Stephans, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame along with Pagnozzi.
"I had a lot of influences in my life, but none bigger than Jack Stephans," Pagnozzi said. "I was fortunate to have limited ability, but I always had the ability to compete. Jack helped to teach me about self esteem and sacrifice. He's always been my Hall of Famer and I'm glad he's here tonight to enter the Hall of Fame with me."
From 1982 through 1986, Pagnozzi was the head coach at Paramus Catholic High School and in 1990, he returned to his Hudson County roots to become the head coach at Marist High School in Bayonne, where he posted a 67-26-1 record in his nine years there.
During his tenure at Marist, Pagnozzi won three HCIAA American Division championships, made eight straight NJSIAA Parochial B state playoff appearances and won the Parochial B state crown in 1994 by defeating Camden Catholic in the final game at Giants Stadium. The Royal Knights made four appearances in the state finals under Pagnozzi's tutelage.
In 2003, Pagnozzi was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Football Coaches Hall of Fame. He is currently the vice-principal at Memorial High School, where he works closely with another of Thursday's inductees, Memorial principal Matt Sinisi.
Capozzi A native of Italy who came to North Bergen at the age of 8, Capozzi certainly left his mark as a three-sport standout at North Bergen High School (1976 through 1979), leaving a legacy of greatness in all three sports he participated in, namely football, wrestling and track and field.
In football, Capozzi was a great running back, earning First Team All-State in 1978 by the Newark Star-Ledger, as well as All-Hudson County by both the Jersey Journal and the Hudson Dispatch and All-Metropolitan by the New York Daily News. Capozzi rushed for 1,500 yards and scored 17 touchdowns for the Bruins, who were named the No. 1 team in New Jersey that year by the Star-Ledger. Capozzi was also named the Back of the Year by the Fifth Quarter Club and was selected to play in two All-Star games, including the prestigious North-South game.
Capozzi was also a fine wrestler for the Bruins, winning the NJSIAA District 16 championship at 188 pounds in 1979, and was a fine sprinter on the track team, winning the HCIAA championship in the 100-yard dash. He also earned a medal at the Penn Relays in the 4X400 run.
After graduating from North Bergen, Capozzi went to Southern Connecticut State University, where he played football for two years, then turned his concentration towards power lifting competitions. In just his second year of power lifting, Capozzi earned a national ranking.
"Coming into this country at an early age, sports was always the thing that captured me and kept me motivated," Capozzi said. "It gave me the confidence to become a success in the business world."
At one time, Capozzi was the regional president for Wachovia Securities, where he was responsible for 900 employees and more than $27 billion in assets. He is currently the managing director in charge of business development at Merrill Lynch and lectures around the world.
"I think of all the coaches I had in North Bergen, who gave me the winning attitude, but always made sure that I remained humble at all times," Capozzi said. "I owe so much to the coaches of North Bergen, who did so much for me. As a small Italian kid, I don't know what I might have done without the coaches."
Capozzi's high school coach, Vince Ascolese, stood along side as Capozzi received his award. Ascolese, a member of the Hall of Fame himself, has served as the Master of Ceremonies for the induction dinner for many years.
All three North Bergen honorees were presented with special proclamations from North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco prior to the induction ceremonies.
Others inducted Others to gain induction include current coaches Joe Urbanovich of St. Peter's Prep, Mike Hogan of Ferris, and John Nagel of St. Dominic Academy. See unioncityreporter.com, jerseycityreporter.com, and hobokenreporter.com for other stories about the inductees.
A list of other inductees: · Serge DeBari, a player at St. Peter's Prep and Assumption College · Dr. Ernest Tolentino, former track star and famed Jersey City orthopedic surgeon · Liane Sullivan-Rae, former St. Dominic Academy track great · Gene Wettstone, legendary gymnast and coach from West New York · Jack Stephans, Memorial football great and long-time coach · Matt Sinisi, Memorial football standout and current school principal · Stanley "Sandy" Sanger, Emerson basketball star, currently superintendent of schools in Union City. · George Maguire, Hoboken native who went on to play at the University of Oklahoma · Franklin Walker, former Ferris standout athlete, Lincoln football coach and current assistant superintendent in Jersey City schools · The late Tom Shipman, a two-time All-State performer in football · Kevin Hoey, a four-sport All-State honoree at Harrison High School. · The late Arthur Barber, Sr., a long-time soccer coach at Harrison · The late Shannon twins, Joe and "Red" from Jersey City, who became the first pair of identical twins to play major league baseball · Tom Baxter of Bayonne, who led his teams to state championships as a player and as a coach · John Hnath of Jersey City, who earned the Marty Seglio Memorial Community Service Award for his dedication to track and field.