From hoop star to fire chief Union City's Inauen inducted into Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame
by Jim Hague Reporter staff writer
Mar 15, 2005 | 438 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Eric Inauen was a youngster growing up in his native Union City in the 1950s, he was always fortunate to find something to keep his mind occupied and away from getting into trouble. That something was usually basketball.

"I was always playing basketball in the schoolyard, usually the schoolyard at Washington School," said Inauen, currently a deputy chief in the North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue. "Basketball was a daily thing for all of us back then. And I wouldn't have wanted to grow up anywhere else in the world. Union City was great back then. There was always something going on."

Inauen went from the schoolyards of Washington to the hardwood of Union Hill, where he quickly became one of the best basketball players in the storied history of the Hiller program.

Last Thursday, Inauen earned his place among the greats in Hudson County sports history, when he was inducted into the Hudson County Sports Hall of Fame. Inauen was among 16 inductees into the 15th Annual class during the induction ceremonies at the Casino in the Park in Jersey City.

Inauen was a standout basketball player at Union Hill from 1962 through 1965, where he earned All-Hudson County honors twice (1964 and 1965), averaging 16 points and 12 rebounds per game as a junior, following that up with a 20-point and 15-rebound per game average as a junior for the Hillers.

While at Union Hill, Inauen played for fellow Hudson County Hall of Famer Robert Kanaby, who is now the executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations in Indianapolis.

"I was just an average guy, but then Don Altamare (who was the Union Hill junior varsity coach at the time) showed me some things and I was able to play varsity," Inauen said. "I had the greatest coaching all throughout my career. They all really helped me."

Inauen said that he particularly recalls one game against Memorial.

"We were down 16 points with 4:30 left and we came roaring back to win the game," Inauen said. "It was probably one of the greatest games I ever played in. They were undefeated at the time. I felt like I was king of the world that night."

Inauen was also a standout in track and field at Union Hill, having earned All-Hudson County honors in the high jump. Upon graduation from Union Hill in 1965, Inauen went on to play basketball at Assumption College, which was a popular breeding ground for Hudson County talented basketball players, like fellow Hall of Famers Fred Barakat, the late Joe O'Brien, Jim Boylan (who played there before moving on to Marquette), as well as Boylan's brother, Mike, Tom O'Connor and Sergio DeBari.

"I think it was Fred Barakat (who is currently the director of officials for the Atlantic Coast Conference) who recommended me to Assumption College," Inauen said. "They offered me a scholarship without ever seeing me play. I guess they took a chance on me because I was from Union City. Who wouldn't want to play college basketball at the same school with so many others from the area? I really was a lucky guy."

In fact, when Inauen went to Assumption, he played on the same team with O'Connor and DeBari and was coached by O'Brien, who later became the executive director of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.

During Inauen's career at Assumption, he scored 1,153 points and earned NCAA Division II All-America honors during his senior year. He was named the All-New England Player of the Year by United Press International in 1969 and was the ECAC Division II Player of the Year as well, leading Assumption to the NCAA Division II tournament.

"I wouldn't trade anything," Inauen said.

Inauen had the chance to play for two national teams after graduating from Assumption.

"There's no bigger thrill than to play for a team and having USA across your chest," Inauen said. "How lucky can you be to represent the United States while playing basketball?"

Inauen then returned home to his native Union City and became a firefighter, where he still remains, working his way through the ranks to where he serves as a deputy chief now.

Inauen basically works out of the firehouse on 29th Street and Central Avenue and oversees about 78 NHRFR firefighters.

"I'm kind of like the head coach here," he laughed.

Inauen was asked if his comrades knew just how talented of an athlete he was during his heyday.

"It's a long time ago," Inauen said. "I don't like to talk about it much. We get a lot of good athletes in the regional. When word got out (about being inducted), a few of them made some comments, but most were very congratulatory. It's a tremendous honor. When you think of all the great athletes and all the great schools in Hudson County, it's amazing. This is like icing on the cake for me."

Inauen was asked if receiving an award like a Hall of Fame induction caused him to reflect and go back to his younger days.

"Sure, who wouldn't want to go back?" Inauen said. "I always want to go back. Back then, my jumping ability was a gift. Now, if I try to do anything, I get back pain."

Inauen, who currently resides in Toms River, has never walked away from the sport that he loves.

"The game has been great to me and I always wanted to do something to give back," Inauen said.

So he was one of the founders of the Toms River Recreation Youth Basketball League, which started with humble beginnings with 380 boys, but now has 1,800 boys and girls, all run by volunteers. Inauen was a past president of the league and still serves on the Board of Directors.

This year, Inauen took over a new role in the league - coaching a girls' team.

"I never coached girls before, but I'm having a ball with them," Inauen said. "They listen to me. It's turning out good. I love staying involved. I'm really still enjoying it."

Inauen said that earning the Hall of Fame induction helped him to put everything into perspective.

"I look at everything and I just realize how lucky I was," Inauen said. "I wouldn't change a single thing in my life."
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