SCOREBOARD North Bergen girls’ coach Reardon battles on

Tackling cancer diagnosis with what he does best, leading the Bruins

Dan Reardon didn’t think much of having a sore throat and swollen glands last summer.
But a routine trip to the doctor turned out to be the veteran North Bergen High School girls’ basketball coach’s biggest nightmare. Reardon was diagnosed with having advanced cancer of the lymph nodes.
“I told the doctor at the time that I had to be back by Dec. 1,” said Reardon, citing the first day of basketball practice. “Before I began treatment, I had that day as a goal.”
Because of the advanced stage, Reardon had to endure extensive chemotherapy and radiation treatments for eight weeks, going for 40 straight days.
Through it all, there was no talk of retirement.
“I’m in my 41st year teaching,” said Reardon, who incredibly began his 28th year as the head coach of the Bruins, easily the longest tenure of any girls’ basketball coach in Hudson County and topped only in the basketball coaching ranks by St. Anthony legendary Hall of Famer Bob Hurley. “One of the reasons I haven’t retired is that I totally enjoy coaching.”
The doctors all advised Reardon that it wasn’t totally wise for him to go back to coaching and teaching while undergoing treatment.
But Reardon received undivided support from his wife, Kim, as well as North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco (also the assistant superintendent of schools) and Superintendent George Solter.
Kim Reardon is a school nurse in North Bergen.
“They allowed me to go back teaching part-time until I got better,” Reardon said. “That’s been a big help.”
Another source of assistance has been Betty Mendieta, the former Bruin standout who once starred for Reardon and now serves as his assistant coach.
“I’ve been able to let Betty do most of the lecturing,” Reardon said of Mendieta. “She knows what I want to do and say. We’re on the same page. We basically say the same thing.”
Reardon has never once thought of cancer stopping him. It’s only a deterrent right now. He said he feels strong enough to be able to coach. Sure, Reardon fights fatigue as well as other side effects. He jokes that he didn’t have to worry about losing his hair, because Reardon was already bald.
“I’m doing as best as I can,” Reardon said. “Kim tells me that I have to get my rest and tells me to slow down. It pays to have a nurse for a wife. She’s been tremendous through this whole thing.”
As for the Bruins, Reardon didn’t want to sway from being one of the premier programs in Hudson County, like the Bruins have been for the past quarter century under Reardon’s guidance and leadership.
There are two constants in North Bergen – the Bruins having a viable and tough girls’ basketball program and having Reardon on the sidelines. This was going to be the same this season, despite the medical obstacles.
It also helped that the Bruins have one of the top returning players in the county in 6-foot-1 senior forward Icies Hammer. The three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree is averaging 23 points and 11 rebounds per game thus far.
“She’s been dominant,” said Reardon of Hammer, who had 25 points and 15 rebounds in a loss to Lincoln last Tuesday. “She’s very tough.”
Hammer has been getting some interest from schools like St. Peter’s, Monmouth and Wagner (the school that just recently got a verbal commitment from Secaucus’ standout Julia McClure).
“Icies has been stepping outside more and hitting shots from the perimeter,” Reardon said. “Every time she does, teams don’t cover her and she’s hitting nothing but net. She really has worked hard on her perimeter game.”
Another senior standout is 5-foot-6 forward Kayla Johnson, who is the team’s top defensive player.
“She’s steady,” Reardon said. “She’s tremendous on defense. She’s a good force for us.”
Diminutive junior Jillian Jover is the point guard. She might have to stand on the Manhattan Yellow Pages to reach five feet tall, but she’s a giant with the basketball in her hands.
“She makes us go,” Reardon said. “She’s probably the best ball handler we’ve ever had. She’s just too fast with the ball that teams cannot press her.”
Senior Danielle Balbuena is the team’s shooting guard. The 5-foot-4 Balbuena has been improving with her touch from the perimeter.
“She’s getting very good at sticking the open jumper,” Reardon said.
Junior Destiny Cabrera is a newcomer to the program, but is already making her presence felt. The 5-foot-9 Cabrera is a power forward.
“She never played before, but you would never know it,” Reardon said. “She’s just very athletic and a natural rebounder.”
Sophomore Leslie Hernandez is a 5-foot-8 forward who “has a nose for the ball,” Reardon said. Freshman Kayori Hanna is a 5-foot-10 forward who also rebounds well.
“She’s proving that she can really shoot the ball as well,” Reardon said.
Although he’s still daily waging the toughest battle of his life, Reardon is staying upbeat, thanks to his basketball team and the thing he loves best – coaching that team.
“The best Christmas gift I got was being able to coach in the Union City Christmas tournament,” Reardon said of the Soaring Eagles Holiday Classic, where the Bruins won two games and only lost to state-ranked Union. “That really meant a lot.”
And it means a lot to the North Bergen athletic department and that girls’ basketball team that the affable Reardon is able to be on the sidelines. He’s an inspiration to anyone who has received the awful news of a cancer diagnosis.
Unfortunately, there have been several in North Bergen that have had to tackle cancer, coaches like Reardon and boys’ basketball coach Kevin Bianco, not to mention high school principal Paschal “Pat” Tennaro – and those who have left us like former football coach Vince Ascolese and former athletic director Randy Chave.
All fought the fight, none better than the way Reardon is handling the hideous disease right now. He’s not looking for sympathy or a glad hand. Dan Reardon just wants to continue what he’s done for practically forever, which is coach basketball. Here’s to hoping he gets to do that with that glowing smile on his face for many years to come.

Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com
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