Kevin Thompson never dreamed he would ever become a track and field standout.
A native of Jamaica, Thompson came to the United States as a 13-year-old and moved in with his family in North Bergen. He knew nothing at all about competitive track.
Daria Zivanovic Filipovic was born in Serbia who aspired to be a volleyball player, but had to stop playing volleyball when she was unable to hit the ball within the required lines on the volleyball court.
But now, the two are members of the Hudson County Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Thompson, the North Bergen great sprinter, and Zivanovic Filipovic, the state shot put champion from St. Dominic Academy, earned their status last Monday night at the annual HCTCA’s induction dinner and awards presentation at the Chandelier in Bayonne.
Thompson and Zivanovic Filipovic were inducted along with the late David Wall, a sensational distance runner in his day at both Dickinson High School and Manhattan College.
It’s hard to imagine that both Thompson and Zivanovic Filipovic are in the Hall of Fame in anything. Not that they are not deserving of the honor, because both are among the very best track and field athletes in Hudson County history. It’s because they are both so young.
Both are former Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week honorees multiple times. Both were state champions. But both are under 30 years old. When one thinks of a Hall of Famer, they conjure the image of an old-timer.
In the case of Thompson, at age 28, he’s still competing.
Thompson now resides in Ewing, N.J., after graduating from East Carolina University. He works in the fitness center at Robert Wood Johnson hospital and continues to train for a chance to run for his native Jamaica in the 2016 Olympic Games.
“I’m still determined to make it,” Thompson said.
But Thompson has had to overcome two years of injuries that forced him off the track. He suffered a severe groin injury in 2012, then hurt his back in 2013.
“I was out for a couple of years,” Thompson said. “I missed those years, but I said that I would never give up. I knew I wasn’t done. I know I can’t get those two years back, but I feel great now.”
Thompson, who is married and has a 3-year-old son Tristan, is headed to Europe to compete later this summer.
“Things are better now,” Thompson said. “I feel better than I ever have.”
And he’s constantly running after his adorable boy.
“He’s always running away from me,” Thompson laughed. “It’s a great honor to be in the Hall of Fame. It’s something I never thought I had a chance to do. But I had some great people who motivated me in high school like Coach (Yael) Martinez and Coach (Gerry) Composto. They really supported me and pushed me. They understood that I could always do better. It’s a great feeling. I feel overwhelmed that I was able to do it. It really means a lot to me. It’s been a great ride, but it’s not going to end right now.”
Zivanovic Filipovic went from St. Dominic to Cornell University, where she also competed and excelled. She also had dreams of competing in the Olympics for her native Serbia in the 2008 Olympics and was determined to do so.
“But I decided to go to school and that was the best decision I could have made,” Filipovic said to the overflow crowd. “It was a really good experience for me. I just had to keep practicing hard and enjoyed what I was doing.”
Filipovic is currently working for the Jersey City Medical Center.
Wall ran for Dickinson in the 1970s and posted times in the mile run that were unheard of at the time for local high school runners. His sister, Sheila Wall Leonardo, one of the best basketball players to ever come out of St. Anthony and later played at LaSalle, was one of the people who accepted on Dave Wall’s behalf.
There were also scholarship presentations to worthy athletes.
Legendary sportswriter Ed Grant, who has been covering track and field for an astounding 70 years, was on hand to give out the Ed Grant Scholarships to Ayanna Patterson of St. Dominic Academy and Kelly Sweeney of Bayonne.
Hall of Fame track athlete Al Bundies passed away over a decade ago, but his foundation presents a scholarship annually. Those scholarships went to handicapped athlete Stephen Koziel of Kearny and Shannon Hester of St. Dominic Academy.
Three scholarships were presented in the memory of late Jersey Journal sportswriter Mike Rowan.
Emily Mernar of St. Dominic, Julia Coppola of Kearny and Brittany Gibson of McNair Academic all received a Rowan scholarship.
Legendary track and field Hall of Famer Thornton Smith was on hand as well to present the scholarship in his name to fellow Dickinson standout Kassem Darwiche.
Finally, each athlete that received All-County recognition in at least one event was honored with a special plaque.
Hudson Catholic fabulous freshman Crystal Ortiz was the most honored female athlete, earning First Team All-County distinction in an astounding seven events in cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field. It was a historic performance for a first-year honoree.
“I’m looking forward to perhaps doing it again next year and the years after,” Ortiz said. “I’m very proud of my accomplishments. I didn’t think it was this much, but it’s a great honor and I’m really proud.”
Memorial standout distance runner Rafael Hernandez was the top honored male athlete, earning All-County in five different events over the three seasons.
“When I was working hard all summer, this is what I was thinking about,” Fernandez said. “After all the hard work I put in, this shows it pays off. This is the most important thing that ever happened to me. I just hope I can sustain this. I’m going into my last year and I’m going to make it my best year. I’m really grateful to Coach (Julio) Lopez for all he did for me.”
Track and field is now the only sport in Hudson County that takes the time to honor its top athletes with an awards banquet. The HCTCA deserves a ton of credit for keeping that tradition alive for almost 40 years. It was a great night all around.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.
You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.