Student-athletes from Weehawken High School and 11 other Hudson County high schools came to the Hank Gallo Community Room in Lincoln Park in Jersey City on Monday to hear members of the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame speak to them, including former athletes who are now renowned politicians and coaches.
The Hall of Fame since 1990 has seen inducted many notable athletes from Hudson County who have distinguished themselves in various sports over the years.
Those who spoke included U.S. Congressman Albio Sires (D-13th Dist.), legendary North Bergen High School football coach Vince Ascolese, Dickinson High School football coach Rich Glover, New Jersey City University athletic director Alice DeFazio, and former FBI agent and onetime security director for Major League Baseball Ed Petersen.
The guest speakers at Monday’s event spoke of how they used athletics as a tool to achieve in life, and of having other career goals when aspirations to become a professional athlete were not a reality. Also, they discussed their careers as star athletes.
The event was organized by longtime Hudson Reporter staff writer Jim Hague as a prelude to the annual Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony that will take place on March 27 at Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City.
“I wanted to give the kids of today a sense of the incredible [sports] history of Hudson County,” Hague said. “I wanted to do something more than have a dinner.”
Hague said there are plans to hold this event in the future at least once if not twice a year.
What the kids thought
Natacha Jaramillo is a Weehawken High School senior and a three-sport athlete at the school. She was impressed with the level of athletic greatness that came from the area.
“I learned all about the different athletic and personal achievements these people have and I found that to be really amazing,” Jaramillo said. “It definitely impressed me, not just for sports, but for school work and everyday life. It was an honor to be there. It feels great to know that there are people from the area who achieved greatness.”
Angelo Corredor was the other Weehawken student to participate in the event.
“I got a lot out of it,” said Corredor, a junior. “I learned that when someone tells you that you can’t do something, you have to be optimistic and still try. It inspired me to do better. I was happy to hear the stories and happy to be there.”
Matt Delavega, a senior at St. Joseph of the Palisades High School in West New York who plays soccer, swimming, and tennis, said it was “pretty cool” to hear the stories from the speakers. He is planning to attend St. Peter’s College where he will join the swimming team and pursue a degree in education.
Chris Jones, a senior at Lincoln High School in Jersey City, is a state indoor track champion who has not chosen a college yet but plans to teach physical education and run track.
“Hearing them speak about their life experiences is great, and I hope I can become as successful as they are and one day [get] in the Hall of Fame.”
Athletics as a steppingstone
Ascolese has won 340 games in his 45 years of coaching high school football both at Hoboken High School and at North Bergen High School. He has spent the last 34 years at the latter.
Pacing around the room, Ascolese colorfully recalled growing up in Jersey City and putting off college. After graduating from high school in 1957, he had a short career as a longshoreman.
“My father said, ‘If you don’t go to school, you’ll be on that corner 20 years from now’…and he was so true, so true. That’s when my high school coach came to me and said I should go to college.”
Congressman Sires, a former star basketball player at Memorial High School in West New York in the late 1960s who went on to earn a basketball scholarship to St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, spoke of looking ahead after college.
“I was not good enough to be a pro, but I had to make a living,” Sires said. “I became a teacher; I became a coach for a while and then opened up my own business, which I had for 22 years. After that, I went into politics because I loved working with the community.”
Sires continued, “I finished my four years of college because I had to look beyond.”
Glover, a star football player at Snyder High School in Jersey City, went on to a stellar collegiate career at the University of Nebraska in the early 1970s. While there, he was an All-American lineman and then he spent three years in the NFL playing for the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles.
“NFL stands for National Football League, that’s right, but what it really stands for is ‘Not for Long,'” Glover said. “But the one thing I have that they could never take away from me was my degree. And I got my degree in education since I wanted to be a teacher and a coach.”
DeFazio was a renowned basketball player in the 1970s at St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City and at Montclair State College (now Montclair State University) before becoming a women’s basketball coach on the high school and college level.
She spoke of how sports impacted on her life.
“I went on an airplane for the first time because of basketball; I went all over the country,” DeFazio said. “And at the time, I didn’t really appreciate it, but in retrospect it put me in the position I am today.”
Petersen was a basketball player at North Bergen High School and Jersey City State College (now New Jersey City University) in the 1960s before a long career in law enforcement and in private security. But he said he would have not attended college or gone on to the FBI and beyond if it wasn’t for the role of sports in his life.
“I didn’t even apply to one college because so many of my friends weren’t going to school in those days,” Petersen said. “My high school basketball coach Matty Sabello called the coach of Jersey City State and told him to give me an opportunity to play for him.”
Weehawken High School athletic director Rich Terpak was glad to be there as well. Terpak went to Jersey City State College with Petersen, so it was like a reunion of sorts.
“I think it was worthwhile for me to hear their stories,” Terpak said. “It’s worthwhile to hear Vinnie [Ascolese] tell any story, but it was interesting to hear about the people I didn’t know and the aspects of their life. I never met Rich Glover before, but I learned a lot about him. I think whenever a kid gets an opportunity to learn about how others achieve, it’s a great thing. I just wish more schools were there.”
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