SCOREBOARD 07-12-2009 Kuzirian named Reporter Male Athlete of YearMemorial three-sport star fourth from school to receive honor

It was the summer of 2007 when Michael Kuzirian was faced with the toughest decision of his young life.
At the time, Kuzirian had just completed his sophomore year at Palisades Park High School in nearby Bergen County, where he was competing in athletics and doing well as a student. But Kuzirian wasn’t happy with the recognition he was receiving as an athlete at the school.
“I really wasn’t happy there,” Kuzirian said. “I wasn’t getting noticed there. The athletic teams were weak and I felt like I wasn’t learning anything in school.”
So Kuzirian’s father, Craig, a long-time teacher and former girls’ basketball coach at Memorial High School, gave his son something to think about. Because both of Kuzirian’s parents, Craig and Ileana, were employees of the West New York Board of Education, Michael was able to attend Memorial even though they didn’t reside in West New York.
“My father was the one who put the idea into my head,” Michael Kuzirian said. “I never thought of it before. I was willing to take a chance and go for it. I was going to go to Memorial. I thought it would be good for me.”
Kuzirian didn’t worry about having to fit in at a school with a predominantly Hispanic student population, because there was a little known fact about him.
“I’m 50 percent Cuban,” Kuzirian said. “My mother is Cuban. You can’t tell that I am and not a lot of people know that I am, but I am.”
So Kuzirian decided to join his parents and head to Memorial.
As it turned out, it was the best decision he ever made.
Kuzirian more than fit in with his new surroundings. In fact, he made them his own. He played three sports – soccer, basketball and baseball – just like at Palisades Park High, but at Memorial, a bigger school with a rich athletic tradition, Kuzirian definitely made his mark and made his presence felt.
Kuzirian instantly became a starter on the Memorial soccer team and as a forward, Kuzirian helped to lead the Tigers to the HCIAA Coviello championship in 2007. As a senior in 2008, Kuzirian had 14 goals and six assists, earning All-County honors, as the Tigers went to the HCIAA Coviello finals, falling to North Bergen.
Kuzirian also played basketball for two years for the Tigers, starting at point guard. As a senior, the undersized Kuzirian averaged eight points and six assists per game.
But it was on the baseball field where Kuzirian made his biggest contributions. As a junior in 2008, Kuzirian was the Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player, winning 10 games on the mound, including the HCIAA Coviello championship game over Bayonne, while batting .360. In 2009, Kuzirian was once again one of the best hurlers in Hudson County, winning nine games and earning All-Area honors for a second straight season.
For his incredible contributions in three varsity sports, Kuzirian has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Male Athlete of the Year for the scholastic sports campaign of 2008-09.
The award has been given annually since 1992 to the top Hudson County athlete who competes in more than one varsity sport.
Kuzirian is the fourth Memorial athlete and third male to receive the year-end award, joining Jonathan Robinson (2000), Bryan Durango (2002) and Mercedes Nunez (2004), all great Memorial athletes in their own right.
Kuzirian said that he was concerned about making the transfer to Memorial two years ago.
“It was different, a different environment,” Kuzirian said. “I didn’t know if I would fit in, but I eventually got used to it. It was a chance to meet new people, a different experience for me. I think it helped me that my father coached here.”
If there was one sport where Kuzirian worried about whether he could make it, it was with the Tigers’ storied baseball program and the legendary head coach Tony Ferrainolo.
“I didn’t know Coach Ferrainolo before, just through my father to say ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye,’ ” Kuzirian said. “The first couple of practices in baseball, I was upset. I went home and told my Dad, ‘I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can play here.’ It was tough. I was worried whether I would get a chance.”
Ferrainolo, the current leader in New Jersey baseball career victories, remembered seeing the slightly built Kuzirian for the first time.
“Seeing him for the first time, I wondered if he could become a pitcher for us,” Ferrainolo said. “He’s definitely not the biggest kid in the world. I had to convince myself that this was a kid who could help us.”
Kuzirian more than helped.
“As it turned out, he was the one who pitched against all of the big teams,” Ferrainolo said. “He just emerged from the rest as our best pitcher and was amazing. For his size and his weight (approximately 5-foot-7 and 150 pounds), he was pound-for-pound one of the best players we ever had. He definitely helped us and was a big plus.”
Ferrainolo also liked Kuzirian’s approach to playing.
“He always wanted the ball to pitch in the big games,” Ferrainolo said. “He faced Bayonne five times over the last two years and beat them all five times. He also expects so much of himself. He’s such a competitor and he truly believes he can compete with anybody, despite his size.”
Kuzirian also found the going with the Memorial soccer team a little difficult at first.
“It was probably the hardest one for me, because of the way they play,” Kuzirian said. “They play a different style than what I was used to playing. It was very different and I guess I wasn’t ready for that. It wasn’t easy to fit in with their style. But Coach [Alberto] de los Reyes had faith in me. He said that I looked like I could play. Even though I had to prove myself, I got used to the style and I was able to fit in.”
“I could see that Michael was a very good team player,” de los Reyes said. “When Michael came to us, he wasn’t a good technical player. Most of our players come from South America and Central America and they learned to play a different way than what is taught here. Michael quickly adapted well to their style and became part of the program. I didn’t know how skillful of a player he would become, but he was very athletic and gave his best. He definitely contributed a lot to our team and eventually became a team leader.”
Kuzirian never had a problem in basketball, because head coach Ryan Raparelli and Kuzirian formed a special relationship. When Raparelli was a player, he also was an undersized point guard, so he could immediately relate to Kuzirian.
“He had to keep his body working so he could play three sports,” Raparelli said. “I know it wasn’t easy for him. But he always was in the right frame of mind. I think that helped him to compete. I know he always wanted to be the last one on the floor working. His hard work and dedication will be missed. He played with a chip on his shoulder and wasn’t going to back down to anyone. He gave his all every single day.”
“Coach Raparelli and I had a very close and good relationship,” Kuzirian said. “He would tell me how I should play and considered himself when he said it, because he played the same way. I just wasn’t going to be second to anyone. I left it all out there.”
Everyone agreed that it takes a special breed of person to even participate in three varsity sports. But to make the impact that Kuzirian made?
“It takes a special kind of student/athlete and takes a lot of effort to play three sports,” de los Reyes said. “Michael always gave his best and he was a credit to our athletic program.”
“It’s a big accomplishment for someone to do so well in three sports,” Ferrainolo said. “No one could dissuade him from playing all three. We went out every day and enjoyed playing all three.”
“We were very fortunate to have him,” Raparelli said. “I just wish we had him for all four years. It was fun to watch him play all the sports. And we definitely need more like him.”
Kuzirian will now take his athletic prowess to Rutgers-Newark, where he definitely will play baseball and is considering playing soccer.
“Baseball is my favorite sport,” Kuzirian said. “I just love it. I’ll think about playing soccer, but I’m not sure yet. But I’m definitely playing baseball. I can’t wait for the next challenge. I wish I could get out there already. I’m going to work on getting bigger and stronger.”
As for coming to Memorial?
“I was very fortunate to make the decision I made,” Kuzirian said. “I wish I did it earlier. This was such a huge honor for me and I never thought anything like it could happen. I was at a small school at Palisades Park and I come to a bigger school and this happens. It’s amazing. I was fortunate to play on county championship teams in soccer and baseball. I was able to do some things that people don’t get to achieve.”
Added Kuzirian, “It really means a lot to me. When people look at me, they see a small kid and think I can’t do anything in sports. Sometimes, people ask me what sport do I play and when I tell them, they laugh. They don’t believe me. I guess my hard work paid off. “
It paid off with being named the top male athlete in Hudson County.

Jim Hague can be reached at

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