John Barone stood at the microphone after receiving his award for being inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame last Thursday night at the Casino-in-the-Park in Jersey City. The former Hoboken basketball star and later North Bergen head basketball coach pondered for a second about what receiving the award really meant to him.
“Being here with friends that I made in sports,” Barone told the audience of approximately 500 people. “That’s what life is all about. I’ve made new friends here tonight and sports can do that for you. I’ve made so many friends through sports and a lot of those friends are here tonight.”
Barone went on to thank a host of different people, including the evening’s Master of Ceremonies, legendary North Bergen head football coach Vince Ascolese.
“When you have good role models, it goes a long way,” Barone said. “Having Vinnie has a friend is worth more than any award I can receive.”
Barone was one of 19 different sports greats that gained induction into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame. It was the 19th Annual Hall of Fame dinner, an organization that continues to grow and grow over the years and shows no sign of letting up. There are countless other Hudson County sports legends to honor, so each year, there’s another dinner, another group of worthy inductees and another night for memories and acclaim.
For many of the inductees, it had been years since they heard applause and cheering that was associated with their achievements.
Legendary boxing figure Emile Griffith, who was a six-time world champion in either the middleweight or the welterweight divisions, rose to receive his award and earned a heartfelt standing ovation.
Griffith lived a good portion of his life in Weehawken and Jersey City and spent many a day and night in Jack Miller’s Pub in Jersey City, greeting everyone with a wide smile and a glad handshake. While Griffith now suffers somewhat from what has been deemed pugilistic dementia, he was still overjoyed enough to hear the roar of the crowd once again.
When Griffith received his award as being a new member of the Hall of Fame, it was definitely the most emotional scene of the evening.
The sport of boxing was well represented, because long-time Jersey City resident and former light-heavyweight title contender Jimmy Dupree also received induction. It’s not often when you have two boxing legends like Griffith and Dupree together on the same card.
Probably the biggest applause of the night came when famed distance runner Tommy Downes, currently the track and field coach at County Prep in Jersey City, went up to the podium to receive his award.
Downes went from Hudson Catholic High School to eventually Manhattan College and later became one of the nation’s premier marathon runners.
“There’s not a better place in the world to live than Hudson County,” Downes said. “I’m so blessed to be inducted with all these great athletes. It makes me proud to be a Hudson County resident. I always knew that hard work would get me to where I wanted to go.”
And where Downes usually was going was running the streets of Hudson County, endlessly pounding the pavement on Kennedy Boulevard in pursuit of a dream.
“If you have a dream,” Downes said, “then put some work into it and you’ll do it.”
Another highlight of the evening was the induction of two brothers from the Greenville section of Jersey City, Ken and Bill Frank, who went on to both becoming highly successful high school baseball coaches in Toms River.
Ken Frank went on to become the coach at Toms River South, where he’s accumulated 684 career victories, second among active New Jersey high school coaches, trailing only Memorial’s Tony Ferrainolo, a fellow Hudson County Hall of Famer. Bill Frank coaches at Toms River East, where he has won 450 career games. Combined, the Frank brothers have won 14 NJSIAA state sectional titles and five overall state crowns.
They became only the second pair of brothers to gain induction at the same time.
“There’s not a day that goes by where we don’t talk about Jersey City and Hudson County,” said Bill Frank, the younger brother by six years. “We use a lot of what we learned here. I have a lot of memories from my time here and we still have our roots here. I was fortunate to have an older brother who was my idol and my whole life, all I wanted to do was be like him.”
“When we were kids growing up in Greenville, we played games like stick ball, box ball and stoop ball,” Ken Frank said. “If I said those things to my kids in Toms River, they would look at me crazy. Just remember that you can take the kid out of Jersey City, but you can never take Jersey City out of the kid.”
Others to gain induction include North Bergen baseball standout Eddie Connors (currently a captain in the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue); Guttenberg native Ted Klaube, who was a standout football player at North Bergen High and later the University of Maryland; track and field legends Al Adams and Thornton Smith of Jersey City; former Secaucus baseball standout Jeff Bittiger, who pitched for four years in the major leagues; Paul Conway, Connie Gallagher and Alex Stencel of Bayonne; Krissy Kutt and Alice Burgos from Harrison, Michael Rusek, Sr. from Kearny and the late Harry Massey from Jersey City.
Massey was a standout athlete in the early 1960s at Lincoln High School in football, baseball and track and later became one of the first African-American head football coaches in Hudson County history. Massey, who died in 2001, was also a two-term member of the Hudson County Board of Chosen Freeholders.
His daughter, former Ferris High and NJIT basketball standout SchrKya, accepted the award, along with her brother, Harry Massey, Jr.
“Anyone I run into, people always have positive things to say about my father,” SchrKya Massey said. “He definitely was a legend here and he was a great man.”
It was an evening of greatness, an evening for memories, nostalgia, for seeing old friends and for realizing truly just how incredible the legacy of Hudson County sports truly is.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.