There was a time when the Jersey City Armory was the premier athletic centerpiece in Hudson County and even northern New Jersey.
Big-time boxing events were held there, featuring legendary names like Jim Braddock, Gene Tunney, Chuck Wepner and Sonny Liston.
St. Peter’s College played its home basketball games there, welcoming all-time greats like Calvin Murphy and Larry Fogle, facing off against Peacock greats like Elnardo Webster and Harry Laurie.
The HCIAA championships were held there every year. In 1975, Hudson Catholic captured its lone county title there, beating St. Anthony, with the Hawks featuring a pair of players named Jim Spanarkel and Mike O’Koren.
There were track meets, wrestling shows, circuses, concerts, you name it. The Jersey City Armory was a place of distinction. It was where it was happening. If you were a basketball player or a track and field athlete, it’s where you wanted to be.
But then, in the late ’70s, the Armory just sort of faded into the sunset, like many old sports facilities and stadiums. It didn’t have regular use. The place became just a place for the National Guard to call home. It lost its importance as a sports palace.
However, thanks to the efforts of the Jersey City Recreation Department and some high-ranking political officials, the Jersey City Armory is enjoying a rebirth.
Wednesday, there was a grand re-opening celebration at the Armory, after nearly $4 million was spent refurbishing the facility. The Armory, complete with an impressive new indoor track and brand new basketball court, was introduced, with Acting Gov. Richard Codey on hand, along with two very influential local officials, State Senator Bernard Kenny and State Assembly Speaker Albio Sires.
Kenny and Sires provided the legislative influence to secure the necessary funding. Codey, who said that he attended several St. Peter’s College games there over the years, supported the project thoroughly.
The Armory has already hosted one track and field meet and there are several others on tap in the coming weeks. The first big basketball event will take place Jan. 22, when the Dan Finn Classic will be held there. There will be six games on that day, honoring the late St. Peter’s Prep soccer and basketball player who died tragically after being struck by a car in South Carolina in August of 2004.
Several Hudson County teams will participated in the day-long smorgasbord of hoops.
St. Peter’s Prep will face Hudson Catholic at noon, with the Bayonne girls facing Pascack Valley at 1:30. North Bergen and Marist will face off in a girls’ game at 3 p.m., followed by the Friars of St. Anthony facing Cardinal McCarrick at 4:30 p.m.
Paterson Catholic takes on Bloomfield Tech at 6:15 p.m., with St. Benedict’s Prep, coached by Jersey City’s Dan Hurley, taking on Linden at 8 p.m.
The HCIAA basketball championships will return to the Armory in February, as well as a St. Peter’s College men’s game, in a nationally-televised game on ESPN, facing an opponent to be determined in what the network is dubbing a “Bracket Buster” game prior to the NCAA Tournament.
Needless to say, the reopening of the Armory is a major accomplishment for everyone, but mainly Jersey City Recreation Director Bob Hurley (who, of course, is also the head coach at St. Anthony) and his assistant director Ed “The Faa” Ford, who pushed all the right buttons with the local legislators to see the project become a reality.
Too many times, history gets lost in the shuffle when it comes to athletics. People want to build newer and bigger buildings, thinking that newer and bigger is better. However, here’s a slice of Jersey City history that has been majestically brought back to life. Everyone involved in the rebirth of the Armory should be proud of a job well done…
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