Gail Marquis has a unique way of handling of driving through Jersey City traffic.
“When someone cuts me off when I’m driving on Kennedy Boulevard, I don’t flip them the bird,” Marquis told a room filled with Hudson County’s top student-athletes Tuesday afternoon. “I just say back, ‘Hey, I’m an Olympian.’ ”
Marquis was one of four guest speakers at the third annual Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame’s Outreach Luncheon, an event that enables current high school students the opportunity to meet and greet some of the Hall of Fame inductees of the past.
Jersey City resident Marquis, inducted into the Hudson Hall of Fame two years ago, was a basketball standout during her playing days at Queens College and was a member of the 1976 United States Olympic women’s basketball team that won the silver medal in the Montreal Olympics. It was the first time ever that the United States had a women’s basketball team in the Olympics.
Marquis brought her medal to the luncheon Tuesday and allowed the student/athletes in attendance the opportunity to touch and see the medal.
“There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t remember this,” Marquis said, displaying the Olympic medal to the student/athletes. “I’m so very proud of this every single day. When I learned I made the team, I couldn’t believe it. I had everything red, white, and blue. Even my underwear was red, white and blue. After all, it was the bicentennial year.”
Marquis also told the teenagers that she was just recently inducted into the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, becoming only the second female inducted into that Hall and the first African-American.
“I’m a product of New York City, but I live here in Jersey City,” said Marquis, who was a respected basketball referee for many years and also did television commentary on the MSG Network and NBA-TV for WNBA games. “This is the place to be.”
Marquis told the student/athletes that they needed three things to succeed in life.
“Desire, determination and discipline,” Marquis said. “The three Ds. I always wanted to be the best I could be and that stays with me today.”
Another of the guest speakers was former Hofstra football coach Joe Gardi, a native of Harrison who was inducted into the Hudson Hall of Fame in 1993.
Gardi spoke of the sense of pride he felt last Sunday watching the Super Bowl, seeing his son, David, lead the New Orleans Saints onto the field as one of the NFL’s liaisons and watching his former player, Marques Colston, make catch after catch during the Saints’ victory.
“I had goose bumps,” Gardi said. “I told David to tell Marques that I was proud of him, that I was proud that he’s getting $23 million, but that he’s not my favorite player. I’m known for my brutal honesty. I was happy for him that the Saints won. It was a great day. My deepest and fondest memories are of Harrison and Hudson County. I always specified to say that I was from Harrison and from Hudson County. I take great pride in that. Hopefully, 50 years from now, you’ll feel the same way.”
Jersey City native Charlie Brown, the long-time head basketball coach at New Jersey City University, talked about always being able to beat the odds.
“When I first went to Lincoln High School, I was 5-foot and weighed 102 pounds,” said Brown, who was the first African-American to coach a team in Hudson County high school history. “I was always told that I couldn’t do it. I was always told that I was too small, that I could make the team. You always need other people who keep you going and encourage you.”
Brown recalled the late John Stallworth as someone who pushed him to become a better player and later a coach. Stallworth would then later serve as one of Brown’s assistants when he became a coach.
“I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but John encouraged me to be a coach,” Brown said. “He knew I would be a good coach. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The key to my success was hard work, being in the right place and being able to communicate with youngsters. I also had the blessing of God, because with some of the things I went through, someone had to be looking out for me. If you’re people of good character and you’re likeable, you can be successful for the person you are.”
Union City native Gerry Bellotti, a former standout athlete at now-defunct St. Joseph of the Palisades and Villanova University who helped to put the St. Peter’s Prep athletic program back on the map, started his presentation with 11 rules that the students will not learn in high school, like “if you think your teacher is tough, wait until you get a boss.” The rules came from Microsoft chairman Bill Gates.
“I would encourage you to be a leader who is HIP,” Bellotti said. “This means to have honesty, integrity and perseverance. And above all, lead to make a difference in society.”
Needless to say, the messages hit home with the youngsters in attendance.
“It was actually amazing,” said North Bergen senior football standout John Stark, who recently declared his intentions to play football at prestigious Franklin & Marshall College in the fall. “It was great hearing stories like this. It’s good to know that people who are successful from our county. I had no idea how many great people there are from Hudson County.”
Peter Sikorski of McNair Academic had the all-time list of Hall of Fame inductees in his hand and then pulled out the Blackberry to Google some of the names. He came across the name of Togo Palazzi, because he liked the name. Then Sikorski was blown away, finding out that Palazzi, from Union City, was the MVP of the 1954 National Invitation Tournament while playing for Holy Cross and later played for the Boston Celtics for seven seasons.
“I looked him up because his name was different,” Sikorski said. “It was really an eye-opening experience.”
“What they said, I took to heart,” said fellow McNair student Autumn Stiles. “It was an amazing experience to have. It was inspiring.”
“They all used athletics to better their education,” fellow McNair student Darnell Barnes said. “I appreciate that. And they’re all successful.”
“You can always take what you learn in sports to your personal life,” said another McNair student Alicia Rivas. “I play three sports [volleyball, basketball and softball] and what I learned can help me out in sports and in life. That’s the message I got.”
And hopefully, it was a message well received. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.