Union City legend Mastorelli passes away

Long-time sports, political fixture helped many get college scholarships

Nick Mastorelli, known better by the popular nickname “Whizzer” he held for more than seven decades, died last week in the Castle Hill Care Facility in his native Union City.
His true age was never revealed, but through family members, it is believed that Mastorelli was 89 years old at the time of his demise.
Mastorelli lived a storied life, most of it spent in his beloved Union City, where he once served as the deputy mayor and was also president of the Emerson High School Alumni Association and Athletic Hall of Fame.
Mastorelli held a variety of positions in Union City, including coach in the town’s recreation department in all three major sports, as well as an umpire in baseball.
Before he started working, Mastorelli was a phenomenal athlete in his own right, despite standing only 5-foot-6 and weighing 140 pounds.
In fact, in 1945, “Whizzer” Mastorelli played four sports at Emerson High School. He was a standout in track, football, baseball and basketball at Emerson.
“I was in Roosevelt Stadium almost every day,” Mastorelli said. “We had nothing back then, except sports.”
Mastorelli spent two years in the Air Force after completing Emerson High School.
In 1949, he was selected to play baseball in the Atlantic Coast Baseball League in Burlington, Vt., a team that was coached by legendary Montclair State head coach Clary Anderson.
“I fell in love with New England,” Mastorelli said in a 2012 interview. “At the time, the Emerson athletic director was George Manfredi [a standout baseball player at NYU, who later pitched in the New York Yankees’ organization] and he was like the father I never had. He sent a lot of Jersey City kids to Champlain Junior College in Vermont. So I went there to play baseball and basketball.”
Mastorelli spent two years at Champlain, then went on to the nearby University of Vermont in 1950, where he was a Little All-American in basketball, as one of the nation’s top players under 6-feet.
Mastorelli also continued to play baseball, even playing minor league baseball in Canada for a stint under the pseudonym of Nick Aversa, because he wanted to keep his amateur status at the University of Vermont.
However, someone recognized Mastorelli, reported him to school officials and Mastorelli was done with college sports.
Mastorelli got the nickname that would remain with him for life because of his fleet feet.
“There was a football player back then named [Byron] “Whizzer” White [who later went on to become a member of the United States Supreme Court],” Mastorelli said. “People said that I ran like him, that I had the wheels like ‘Whizzer’ White. The nickname stuck. After a while, after I got older, I didn’t mind. It was my name. All anyone would call me was ‘Whizzer.’”
“Whizzer” never lost his love for Vermont. He became a scout for his alma mater, sending nearly 60 kids from Hudson County to the school.
Ron Hertel was one of those kids. Back in 1961, Hertel was a football player at Emerson, when Mastorelli approached him about going to Vermont.
“I knew him a little bit from my coach, [long-time Emerson High School grid coach] Pep Novotny, but I wasn’t really close to him at the time,” Hertel recalled. “He stopped me and said, ‘Hey, Ronnie, do you want to go to college?’ I said, ‘Where?’ He said, ‘The University of Vermont.’ I didn’t even know where Vermont was. I was geographically challenged. I was a young kid from Union City. None of us knew where Vermont was.”
Hertel and Emerson teammate Frank Foerester were the first two that Mastorelli sent to Vermont.
“I was such a young kid,” Hertel said. “It was remarkable. It’s like something out of a storybook.”
Foerester’s first association with Mastorelli goes back even further.
“My first encounter with ‘Whizzer’ was when I was playing Little League ball,” Foerester said. “He was good friends with Pep Novotny. These guys were like mentors to us. He was also my coach for Build Better Boys baseball and we did very well as a team. I had a number of scholarship offers, but once ‘Whizzer’ mentioned Vermont to me, I was interested. As soon as I went there, it was so different from where I grew up [13th and Bergenline]. I had a lot of offers, but ‘Whizzer’ directed me to the right one. When I was a freshman in college, my father passed away, but ‘Whizzer’ stayed on me and made sure I finished school. He was like a substitute father for me. He’s been the favorite person in my life.”
Bill Librera was a solid basketball star from Union City and then headed to Burlington. He later went on to become the Commissioner of Education for the state of New Jersey. Foerester became an attorney, now living in Texas. Hertel had a great job with Wells Fargo Investors in Boston.
“I guess I did it for about 15 years,” Mastorelli said. “It wasn’t an official thing. I didn’t get paid. A lot of them could have gone anywhere else, but I guess they listened to me.”
There were times that the entire starting five of the Catamounts’ basketball team were courtesy of Mastorelli. Another year, the whole offensive line were Mastorelli products.
Bob Fazio, the former assistant superintendent of schools in Union City, a basketball legend in his own right, was saddened by the passing of his former Biddy basketball coach. Mastorelli coached the Union City team, featuring Fazio, that won the Biddy national championship in 1968.
“He was such a great role model to all of us,” Fazio said. “He was an icon. He took me under his wing when I was younger and we remained close from that time. He showed me the ropes and taught me how to be an honest man and do the right things. He was like a father figure to me. After my Dad passed away 18 years ago, Whizzer was like my Dad.
Added Fazio, “Whizzer was Union City and stayed Union City. He was such a character. I know he cared about me. I’ll miss him. There’s something about the men from that era. They were all very instrumental. Although I was much taller, I always looked up to him. He truly cared about the community. There will never be another like him.”
Ed Peterson is another basketball legend who was helped by Mastorelli and became long-time friends. In fact, Fazio, Peterson and Mastorelli are all inductees in the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I saw him a couple of times over the summer and the last time three weeks ago,” said Peterson, who had a long career with the FBI and later worked top security for Major League Baseball and the NFL. “He was special because he was so willing to help others. It’s tough to match his loyalty. Having him as a friend has been a blessing. He’s part of a vanishing breed. He was such a positive influence on so many. You don’t see that often today. He was simply a legend.”
Added Peterson, “What he did with the scholarships to Vermont or what he did with the Emerson Hall of Fame. When you stop and think of all the kids he helped and he did that all by himself for years. I loved his spirit and his generosity. He was a member of five Halls of Fame. He was a guy who had so much loyalty. They don’t make guys like him anymore.”
Mastorelli is survived by his wife and three children. His son, Nick, Jr., nicknamed “Little Whizzer,” died a few years ago. Funeral arrangements were handled by Clerici Funeral Home of Union City last Saturday.

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