Incredibly, the first decade of the new millennium is drawing to a close. It’s hard to fathom that it’s been a full 10 years since everyone was frantic and in panic about Y2K.
However, as the calendar turns to the beginning of a new decade, it’s time once again to look back at the local sports stories that grabbed the headlines for the year of 2009. It’s the annual Hudson Reporter Top 10 Sports Stories of the past year.
1. Boxing great Arturo Gatti dies at the age of 36
The sports world was rocked in mid-July when it was learned that boxing great Arturo Gatti, who called Hudson County home for most of his life, was found dead in a hotel room in Brazil. The two-time world champion, who retired from boxing in 2007, was first believed to have been murdered by his wife. Brazilian officials later revealed that Gatti had committed suicide, a report that was highly refuted by many of Gatti’s closest friends and colleagues.
Arturo Gatti lived in Jersey City and Hoboken.
2. PGA Tour comes to Jersey City with Barclays Invitational
For the first time ever, the Professional Golf Association held an event in Jersey City, the Barclays Invitational tournament, which was held at the new Liberty National Golf Club near Liberty State Park in the last weekend in August.
All of golf’s top professionals, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, participated in the week-long event, eventually won by underdog Heath Slocum, who defeated greats like Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, and Woods by one stroke. The Barclays also raised more than $100,000 for local Hudson County charities. The tournament brought more than 100,000 golf enthusiasts to Jersey City, despite being played in rainy weather for most of the week.
3. The demise of the HCIAA
Since 1929, all of Hudson County’s high school athletics were governed by one body, the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association. It was a league that was a close-knit operation, rich in tradition and history. If you were lucky enough to win an HCIAA title, then you were recognized as the true Hudson County champion. It had survived many changes and alterations over the decades, but the HCIAA was always the major lexicon in high school sports.
However, due to a major realignment instituted by the state’s governing body, the NJSIAA, the HCIAA was dismantled in 2009, with the new fangled North Jersey Tri-County Conference established in its place. The demise of the HCIAA was just another of the long-lasting traditions in Hudson County sports that have gone by the wayside in recent years.
4. St. Peter’s Prep wins the ‘triple crown’ one last time
In the final year of the HCIAA, St. Peter’s Prep in Jersey City was able to capture all three major championships, namely football, basketball, and baseball. The football championship was almost an afterthought, considering that the Marauders captured the final nine straight HCIAA titles.
But the basketball win was important, because it was the first time that the Prep won consecutive county titles since 1963, and the baseball win was momentous, because it marked the end of not only the HCIAA era, but the end of an era with Hudson County Hall of Famer Joe Urbanovich as head coach.
5. High Tech repeats as NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I softball champs
For almost two decades, Hudson County was without a state championship in softball. Many local teams would make their respective state playoff brackets, only to fall short of the ultimate goal. North Bergen had been the last team to win a state sectional crown, having won the Group IV title in 1987.
Hoboken broke the local drought by winning the North Jersey Section 2, Group I crown in 2007, but in 2009, High Tech High School of North Bergen went one step further, becoming the first Hudson County softball team to ever repeat as state champs.
Led by All-State pitcher Erica Colon, a two-time Hudson Reporter Player of the Year, the Lasercats made history by winning their second straight crown, defeating Hoboken 3-1 in the sectional title game.
6. St. Peter’s College plays sunrise basketball game
When ESPN announced its plans to televise the “24 Hours of College Basketball” marathon in November, there weren’t any teams to fill the improbable and unlikely 6 a.m. tipoff slot, until St. Peter’s College head coach John Dunne recommended that the Peacocks fill the slot, facing state rival Monmouth at SPC’s Yanitelli Center.
As it turned out, the attention that came with playing on national television in the first-ever 6 a.m. starting time was a huge lift for the Peacocks. They enjoyed a huge student turnout, an all-night pep rally capped with a pre-game breakfast, and a huge 58-34 victory in the game.
It was a wonderful event for a basketball program that hasn’t had a lot to cheer about in recent years.
7. Three Hudson shot put competitors head to outdoor Meet of Champions
It may have gone unnoticed in some circles, but not here. When the NJSIAA outdoor track Meet of Champions was held in South Plainfield last June, three of the qualifying competitors in the shot put event, namely Betim Bujari of Secaucus, Samard Walker-Butler of Lincoln, and Ruaidhri Walsh of Hudson Catholic, all hailed from Hudson County, marking the first time that three local participants had reached the Meet of Champions in the same meet. Walker-Butler was the only one to earn a medal, finishing seventh overall, but still, having three locals all competing in the same event among the state’s elite is beyond impressive and definitely newsworthy.
8. National letter of intent day sees 11 local football players sign on to college scholarships
Hudson County has always been a hotbed for talented football players going on to the college ranks. But last February, there were 11 grid standouts from three different schools who all signed national letters of intent to play college football on scholarships, setting an all-time single day record.
Five players from St. Peter’s Prep, namely Nyshier Oliver (Tennessee), Greg Kohles (Princeton), Khalil Wilkes (Stanford), Kenny Smith (Rhode Island) and Sean Pearson (Temple); four from Hudson Catholic, namely Jason Hendricks (Pittsburgh), Oliver McCall (Maine), Kadeem Williams (Albany) and Brian Eatman (Rhode Island); and two from Hoboken, namely Bernardo Nunez (Pittsburgh) and Isaac Holmes (Rutgers); all signed their letters on the same day. It was a recruiting coup for the area and a scholarship bonanza never before seen.
9. Nivins gets drafted by the Dallas Mavericks
It had been over a decade since a Hudson County native was selected in the NBA Draft, but Jersey City native and former St. Anthony standout Ahmad Nivins broke that streak when the former St. Joseph’s University great and Atlantic 10 Player of the Year was taken by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round of the NBA Draft in June.
While the 6-9 Nivins was not on the Mavericks’ roster, he remains property of the team as he plays in the European League in Spain.
It was still a huge thrill to have Nivins’ name read among the draft elite, becoming the first Hudson County performer since Roshown McLeod in 1998 to be selected in the draft.
10. Secaucus heads to Giants Stadium for state football championship for first time
Although the magical journey ended in defeat at the hands of Cedar Grove, the Secaucus football team accomplished something that no other Patriot team had done before, namely go to nearby Giants Stadium for the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state championship game.
Secaucus was the school closest to Giants Stadium in geographical distance, yet had never traveled the mile or so to the stadium to play in a state title game. With Giants Stadium set to be razed in a few months, it was only fitting that the Patriots got a chance to play there before it comes down. The only thing missing was a victory. But it was still a magical journey.
There were other stories worthy of inclusion to the Top 10 that just fell a little short. Here are a few of those stories:
Sister Mary Alan Barczewski, a.k.a. Sister Alan, the motherly stern figure who ran the St. Anthony athletic program for almost 30 years, died after a long battle with cancer. St. Joseph of the Palisades, a long-time athletic powerhouse in West New York, closed. Secaucus’ girls’ soccer team went to the state finals for the first time. Hudson Catholic welcomed girls into the school and their brand new volleyball team not only qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs, but the Hawks won a first-round game. Secaucus residents Bobby Roesing and Kevin Innis (who wrestles for St. Peter’s Prep) both won medals at the NJSIAA state wrestling tournament; County Prep won its first-ever NJSIAA state sectional baseball title; Jersey City’s Tomasz Adamek made the ultimate climb in the boxing ranks, becoming the IBF cruiserweight world champion; Union City High School’s new athletic facility, which sits on the roof of the new school, opened to rave reviews; and St. Peter’s Prep won a gold medal at the prestigious Penn Relays Carnival.
All in all, it was an outstanding year in local sports, a great way to close out the first decade of the new millennium.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.