We bade farewell to a legendary institution, watched a local runner reach never-before-attainable heights, and saw a basketball team rise to state prominence for the first time in almost 50 years.
All in all, we had another year to remember in Hudson County sports, so let’s take a closer look at The Hudson Reporter’s Top 10 Sports Stories for 2017.
1-St. Anthony closes its doors forever
In June, it was the end of an era, a sad send-off in an incredible year of farewells.
St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, which housed the most storied and honored high school basketball team in the nation’s history, closed its doors forever.
It ended an era that saw the fabulous Friars win an astounding 28 NJSIAA state championships, including 13 Tournament of Champions titles and eight undefeated seasons.
There were a few last-minute pleas for help from the school’s legendary Hall of Fame coach and school president Bob Hurley, but the pledge pitches fell on deaf ears and the school became history like many other Catholic schools in Hudson County before it.
So the basketball season ended in March with a loss to Hudson Catholic in the NJSIAA Non-Public B North title game and the school’s end came in June at the end of the school year.
It’s almost too unfathomable to believe that a basketball season has begun and Hurley is not coaching somewhere after a brilliant 45-year head coaching career. It’s almost too surreal to think of Jersey City without St. Anthony High School, but it has been that way now since the school closed last June.
The school’s closing and end of a basketball institution make it the No. 1 Sports Story of the Year.
2-McNair’s Nasser competes in national championships
It was a year of firsts for McNair Academic senior cross country runner Fahd Nasser.
First, Nasser captured the Hudson County Track Coaches Association championship, breaking the course record at Bayonne County Park in the process. Then Nasser won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship in Greystone Park in Morris Plains.
Then Nasser became the first-ever runner in McNair’s rich history to capture an overall Group I state championship by winning the overall Group I title at Holmdel Park. With that performance, Nasser became the first Jersey City athlete to ever win an overall Group state title in cross country.
A week later, Nasser finished third at the overall NJSIAA Meet of Champions, the highest place finish by a Hudson County runner in 40 years.
Nasser then competed in the Foot Locker Northeast Region championships and placed ninth, earning a spot at the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego. Nasser became the first-ever Hudson County cross country runner to qualify for the national championships.
Finally, in December, Nasser placed 18th in the entire nation at the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego, capping what was a brilliant campaign, perhaps the best single season ever enjoyed by a Hudson County harrier and the No. 2 slot in The Hudson Reporter’s Top Sports Stories of 2017.
3-Hudson Catholic wins record sixth straight county title; wins first NJSIAA title since 1976
It was a year to remember for the Hudson Catholic boys’ basketball program, as the Hawks won their record-setting sixth Hudson County Tournament championship in a row, then a few weeks later, added the NJSIAA Non-Public B North sectional title, the Hawks’ first since 1976. Hudson Catholic, led by New Jersey State Gatorade Player of the Year and Hudson Reporter Player of the Year Jahvon Quinerly, defeated St. Anthony to win the state sectional crown, the first time a Hawk team had defeated the Friars in the last seven tries. Quinerly had 25 points in the state sectional title game at Rutgers, making it a memorable night. As it turned out, it was the last game in Friars’ history and the last game in legendary coach Bob Hurley’s career.
4-Marist announces closing, then announces re-opening
It was a strange series of circumstances involving Marist High School and the school’s athletic programs from late March through June.
First, in March, school officials announced that the school was officially closing at the end of the year. The announcement of the closure of the Bayonne-based fixture on Kennedy Boulevard had followed a series of fundraising events from January on aimed at keeping it open.
The announcement also came on the heels of the Lady Royal Knights having a sensational basketball season, winning 24 games and losing just twice -- once in the Hudson County Tournament finale to Secaucus, and the other time to Saddle River Day in the NJSIAA Non-Public B North semifinals.
But in an about-face, Marist school officials decided in early June that the school would remain open and continued with business as usual. This announcement came after several student athletes put in their paperwork to transfer to other schools.
The closing and then re-opening in a span of six weeks was a little befuddling.
5-‘Chuck’ opens to rave reviews
In April, the major motion picture “Chuck,” based on the life of Bayonne boxing hero Chuck Wepner, opened to rave reviews nationwide. The movie starred “Ray Donovan” television star Liev Schreiber in the title role and featured stars Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Elisabeth Moss, Jim Gaffigan and Michael Rapaport.
The real-life Wepner, now 78 years old, spoke openly about the movie and even relived the days of actually climbing into the ring with a real life grizzly bear. Wepner actually tried to box with the bear in a south Jersey nightclub.
6-St. Peter’s Prep wins first-ever NJSIAA state outdoor track title
Led by the incredible prowess of sprinter Masaki Aerts, who won two individual gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter dashes, the St. Peter’s Prep outdoor track and field team captured the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship last June. It marked the first time ever that Prep won a state title in track and field.
7-Union City’s Galis gets inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
It was an amazing year for Union City’s own Nick Galis, who in September was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., joining such local legends as Tom Heinsohn, Bob Hurley, Dave Walsh and Pat Kennedy as members. While Hurley was inducted as a coach seven years ago and Walsh and Kennedy earned their place in Springfield as basketball officials decades ago, Galis joins fellow Union City native Heinsohn as the only Hudson County natives elected as players. Heinsohn is also inducted as a player as well.
Galis played at Union Hill and later Seton Hall before going to Greece where he was known as “the Michael Jordan of Greece,” and where he earned the Greek Pro League’s Most Valuable Player five times.
8-McNair Academic wins overall NJSIAA Group I state boys’ indoor track title
The McNair Academic track and field program, highlighted by the incredible performance of Nasser during the 2017 cross country season, enjoyed a historic moment last February when the Cougars captured the overall NJSIAA Group I state boys’ indoor track championship. Led by the since graduated star Haig Rickerby and Nasser, the Cougars became the first Jersey City school to ever capture an overall Group state championship. In similar fashion, the Cougar girls won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I title in November, the first time that the school captured a state sectional title in cross country. But the boys capturing the overall Group I title during the indoor season was monumental.
9-Prep grad Fitzpatrick earns Bednarik and Thorpe awards; All-America for third time
The accolades continue to pour in for St. Peter’s Prep graduate Minkah Fitzpatrick, the current University of Alabama defensive back. In December, Fitzpatrick was named as the recipient of the prestigious Chuck Bednarik and Jim Thorpe Awards as the top overall defensive player and the top defensive back in the nation. Fitzpatrick was also named as an Associated Press All-America honoree for the third straight year as the Crimson Tide prepare to face Clemson in the national semifinals on New Year’s Day. Fitzpatrick is expected to be the first defensive player selected in this year’s National Football League draft.
10-St. Peter’s University captures CIT championship
It was definitely March Madness coming to Harvard on the Boulevard, when the St. Peter’s University men’s basketball team managed to win the CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship in March.
The CIT is designed for the smaller mid-major schools who do not get selected to participate in the NCAA Tournament, but would love to get the chance to play again in a smaller tourney. The Peacocks entered the CIT on a major high, having won seven of their last eight games, with the only loss coming to Iona in the semifinals of the MAAC Tournament. The Peacocks, led by stellar head coach John Dunne, rolled past Albany, Texas State, Furman (at home before more than 2,000 fans at Yanitelli Center) and then at Texas A&M/Corpus Christi, 62-61, to win the CIT title, the school’s first-ever postseason championship.
Just missed list
There were other newsworthy stories that were featured in the pages of the Hudson Reporter, but just missed being in the top 10 stories. There were unfortunately countless deaths to report, like former Jersey City Recreation director Joan Earls, former St. Anthony basketball star Rich Wejnert, former Dickinson and Marist head boys basketball coach Bill “Red” Drennan, former Union Hill All-State football standout and long-time Union City police officer Mark Zeitounian, former football scouting guru Dennis McCarthy, former St. Peter’s Prep and Temple football star Kee-Ayre Griffin, former Hoboken softball coach Carmine Ronga, former North Bergen wrestling standout and long-time North Bergen police officer Alex Vasquez, former Marist basketball star Neil Rosa, former Hudson Catholic baseball coach and athletic director Tom Gentile and the most tragic, former Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Most Valuable Player at St. Peter’s Prep and Babson College player Dan Cooney.
There were the 1,000-point scoring exploits of Ferris’ Isiah Dasher and Secaucus’ Lindsey Mack, who both reached the same milestone at the schools where their respective fathers--Andre Dasher and Ken Mack--scored 1,000 points during their careers. There was the remarkable turnaround of the North Bergen boys’ basketball team from seven wins to 20 wins; there was the heroics of Lincoln football player Jai’el Bethea, who raced into his burning building to save his mother and siblings, as well as others who lived in his Jersey City home; there was the Secaucus basketball team winning the Hudson County Tournament in girls’ basketball for the second time in three years.
There was the retirement of Hoboken football coach Lou Taglieri, who left after 12 years coaching at his alma mater with four NJSIAA state championships and a 95-38 career record; there was the Memorial baseball team winning the Hudson County Tournament title for the first time since 2008; there was the Hudson Catholic girls’ softball team winning the county crown for the first time ever; there was the poignant saga of St. Peter’s Prep baseball standout Paul Cuccinelli and his brave brother Colin; there was the signing of local products Kenny Roder and Gianni Zayas on the same professional baseball team, the Sussex County Miners.
There was Washington Park Little League’s All-Stars winning the District 7 and Section 2 championships all the way to the state championship; there was the Roberto Clemente Little League senior softball team winning the same District 7 and Section 2 crowns to the state championship.
There was St. Anthony legendary Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley receiving an ESPY Award at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, among the other elite sports heroes; there was the Lincoln High School boys’ basketball team winning the prestigious Hamilton Park summer league, the first public school to ever win the league title; and there was the Secaucus boys’ soccer team winning the North Jersey Interscholastic League championship, the first-ever soccer championship for the school.
All in all, it was a great year in Hudson County sports. Here’s to hoping that we have more such stories to report and write about in 2018.