Sires, Mastorelli enjoy place with Hudson Hall of Fame WNY mayor and assembly speaker, UC deputy mayor honored for athletic greatness
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Feb 07, 2003 | 1657 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Long before Albio Sires dreamed of an illustrious career in politics, he had a successful career in athletics. In fact, it was through sports that the Cuban-born Sires gained enough confidence to eventually become one of the state's most powerful men as the State Assembly Speaker.

"I actually picked up a basketball as a way of making friends," Sires said. "As I got better in basketball, the more friends I had. It's a lot like getting elected. As I got elected, the more friends I got."

Sires had a lot of friends on hand last Thursday night, when he was inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame. Sires was among 18 inductees who earned their place among the greats of yesteryear at the 13th annual induction dinner, held for the first time at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City.

Sires wasn't the only North Hudson politician who earned induction at the dinner. Union City Deputy Mayor Nicholas "Whizzer" Mastorelli also gained induction during the ceremonies that drew a record attendance of more than 500.

Approximately 120 of those in attendance were there especially to honor Mastorelli, more than any other inductee.

Sires credited his athletic background in helping him gain an edge on other youngsters growing up in West New York.

"Basketball was a vehicle for me to get an education," Sires said. "My coaches and teachers taught me the values of hard work. I remember my first varsity game [at Memorial High School] and I was as nervous as hell. My father wanted to know how come my teammates didn't pass me the ball every time."

Sires developed a deadly outside jump shot during his playing career for Memorial, from 1967 through 1970, eventually becoming the all-time leading scorer in the history of the school with 1,200 points, a record that was eventually broken by fellow Hudson County Hall of Famer Jackie Gilloon.

During his high school career, Sires led Memorial to the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV championship in 1970, before they lost to East Orange in the state semifinals. Sires had an amazing run in the state playoffs, averaging 35 points per game and scoring 44 points playing Emerson and 40 playing North Bergen earlier that year. Sires was also the most valuable player of the Cliffside Park Christmas Tournament that year.

Sires earned All-Hudson County honors, All-Group IV and Second Team All-State honors that season, averaging almost 25 points per game.

"Those were great times," Sires said. "I couldn't wait to play North Bergen. I couldn't wait to face Union Hill. There was an excitement before every game. People would stop you on the street and ask you about the game. Everyone had an interest."

After graduating from Memorial, Sires went on to play for four years at St. Peter's College, playing under the legendary Don Kennedy and then the late Bernie Ockene.

After graduation from SPC, Sires became a teacher and coach, teaching ESL and Spanish at Memorial High School. Sires was also the freshman coach for six years and the junior varsity coach for two years, leading the Tigers to two HCIAA freshman championships.

Sires was also an assistant varsity coach at St. Joseph of the Palisades, where he served under fellow Hall of Famer Sam DePiano and was on the same staff as Hall of Famer Bruce Sabatini.

Sires began his career in public service in 1985, when he worked for the State Department of Community Affairs. In 1987, Sires began his own title insurance business, but was elected into office as a West New York commissioner and appointed as mayor in 1995. He won the State Assembly seat in 1999 and was tabbed as the State Assembly Speaker in 2001.

Mastorelli wanted to make sure that his induction was all about athletics and not about politics.

"This means more to me than anything else," Mastorelli said. "I've earned other honors before, but this is special because it was because of what I accomplished athletically. I've won honors, MVPs in this league and that league. But to be honored here, at home, is what matters most."

Mastorelli officially became known as "the Whizzer" when he was a fleet-footed basketball and baseball player at Emerson High School in Union City from 1942 through 1945. Upon graduation from Emerson, Mastorelli headed north to Champlain Junior College and then, the University of Vermont, where he was a standout baseball and basketball player.

"I was a late bloomer," Mastorelli said. "I never let my height bother me. I knew that if you were good enough, you can play anywhere. I was a testament to that."

In fact, Mastorelli was so respected at both schools that he eventually gained induction into both colleges' athletic halls of fame.

After graduation, Mastorelli played both professional basketball in the old National Basketball League, the forerunner to the current NBA. In those days, Mastorelli averaged close to 30 points per game. Mastorelli also played professional baseball in Canada for nearly nine years.

Mastorelli eventually returned to his native Union City, where he became one of the most respected baseball umpires, calling the balls and strikes in such games as the Army-Navy game, the College World Series in Omaha, and he was also behind the plate in more than 10 Hudson County championship games.

"Whizzer" was also a very influential proponent of the Hudson County Build Better Boys Baseball League, where he served as director and commissioner for more than 20 years.

Mastorelli was also known for helping several athletes gain scholarships to college because of his vast knowledge of college coaches all over the country.

"I'd be a millionaire today if I was an agent," Mastorelli laughed. "I was just as proud in sending those kids to college as I was doing anything else."

Mastorelli, now 74, said that he was touched by the overwhelming outpouring of support.

"It brought back some great memories," Mastorelli said. "There were so many people there who made me think of the great times I had. The names that are in the Hall of Fame are all great people. I am very proud to be a part of it."

Sires said that he was impressed with the evening's festivities. "Hudson County needs to have events like this," Sires said. "It's good to show people from Hudson County that there were so many who got something better out of their lives through sports. This is beautiful for me. This is home."

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