For the 32nd straight year, the Hudson County Track Coaches Association held its All-County dinner and Hall of Fame induction Tuesday night at the Chandelier in Bayonne.
It's a grand way for all the top track athletes in the county to get together one last time and reflect on the accomplishments of the recently-completed year.
It's also a fine way for the nonprofit organization to honor some of the track standouts of the past by placing them in their already burgeoning Hall of Fame.
This year, the induction class included Thornton Smith, who was standout at Dickinson High School in the 1940s and '50s, and later at the University of Pittsburgh, and Dr. Ernest Tolentino, who was a fine runner at the now-defunct St. Michael's High School of Jersey City and later Seton Hall.
The accomplishments of Smith, who went on to coach at Ferris and later had a fine career at Raritan High School, and Tolentino, a well respected orthopedic surgeon in Jersey City, were definitely a highlight of the evening and gave the current students a little taste of how truly special the sport of track and field was in Hudson County back in the '50s and '60s.
But the night belonged to the current athletes, the ones who achieved greatness this season, like Chris Jones of Lincoln and Lauren Moore of St. Dominic Academy, both of whom earned All-County honors for seven different events.
That's an impressive array of honors for two special athletes who dedicated their recent lives to the sport of track and field.
"Last year, I came to the dinner and I saw people like Leslie Njoku and Reggie McLeod [of McNair Academic] get all those honors," Jones said. "I got three last year, but after seeing them get what they got, I wanted to be a lot like them. That motivated me to do more this year. They earned honors, one event after another. I really wanted to do the same thing this year."
Incredibly, both Jones and Moore were somewhat reluctant to begin careers in track and field. Both entered their respective schools with aspirations of being basketball players. As it turned out, they became the most honored athletes in Hudson County track and field.
Jones is headed to the University of Maine to compete in track. Moore will attend St. John's University. Maybe making the shift to track was the best thing for both fine athletes.
Moore said that she had mixed emotions about the evening.
"It's nice to get honored, but it's also kind of sad, because I'm going to miss everyone and this was the last event," Moore said. "I was really happy, because there were a couple of girls who came up to me and said that they looked up to me. That was really nice. I was actually surprised that I received so many honors. I didn't know I was All-County in so many events. I didn't realize that I did so much."
Moore said that she was glad that the HCTCA takes the time and makes the effort to have an awards dinner.
"You have so many kids who truly love the sport," Moore said. "The coaches take the time to have this dinner and honor the kids who gave their all. I truly appreciate it."
Moore was one of four seniors to receive a special scholarship as well for their contributions in track and in academics.
Moore and Tellesia Williams of McNair Academic were the recipients of the Mike Rowan Memorial Scholarship Award, named in memory of the former Jersey Journal sportswriter who dedicated his life to track and field with his 30-plus years of coverage.
Ryan Shea of Secaucus and Christine Kemp of St. Dominic Academy were the recipients of the Alfred J. Bundies Memorial Scholarship, named in memory of the longtime track and field official who also dedicated his life to the sport.
HCTCA President Stan Fryczynski, the track coach and athletic director at Secaucus High School, said that the annual awards dinner has become "a big source of pride" over the years.
"When we started giving out scholarships along with the awards, that added much more of a touch of class to the evening," Fryczynski said. "We're able to give them a little something and it's a nice send-off as they go to college. It's a great source of pride for me and for the association. It's also important that the kids know the backgrounds of Al and Mike and their importance in track and field. It's important to keep reiterating their role in the sport in Hudson County. We're able to bring the entire track community together for a special night."
St. Dominic Academy track coach and athletic director John Nagel agreed.
"It's a very nice dinner and Stan did a fantastic job as the master of ceremonies," Nagel said. "Sometimes, the sport gets overlooked as a secondary spot. But this helps to put the kid in the limelight that they should be in. Having the scholarships perpetuates the memories of Al and Mike, two really good guys who loved the sport. It's really important that we continue to have this night."
Other sports used to have awards presentations at season's end, but those dinners fell by the wayside. It's refreshing to see that the HCTCA truly cares enough to keep the tradition going after all these years. - Jim Hague