There was a time in the late 1970s into the decade of the 1980s that Ferris High School’s boys’ basketball team ranked among the very best teams in the entire state of New Jersey.
There was only one problem with that statement. There was another Jersey City program that was also among the very best in the state, namely St. Anthony.
The rivalry between the Bulldogs and the Friars was about as fierce and as vicious as it came. The two teams didn’t like each other much. The players protected their respective school and team with such fervor and intensity that it made the games seem almost secondary.
The buildup, the drama surrounding the times that the two teams faced each other – with some years featuring three games between the two archrivals – almost brought the games to a fever pitch never seen before in Hudson County annals and certainly not after.
The dislike between the two schools led to St. Anthony eventually requesting to be let out of their agreement with the Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic Association in 1986 (just for boys’ basketball, mind you) and it was a request that was granted, thereby ending the heated rivalry.
St. Anthony received independent status for the 1988-89 season and that was the year that the Friars won the mythical national championship with a team that is considered to be the best team ever assembled in New Jersey high school basketball history.
The head coach of those Ferris teams was the legendary Tom Favia, one of the most successful head coaches in the history of Jersey City, Hudson County and New Jersey state basketball.
Favia died Sept. 28 at the age of 87. He suffered a fall three weeks prior and never recovered from the injuries sustained in the fall.
Favia, who also had a highly successful career as the president of the Jersey City Education Association (the teachers’ union) for 23 years before retiring in 2012, was the head coach of the Ferris Bulldogs for 25 years (1966 though 1991), winning more than 600 games, collecting six HCIAA championships and five NJSIAA state sectional titles.
Although there was no love lost between Favia and the legendary St. Anthony Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley, the long-time St. Anthony coach took the time to praise the long-time Ferris coach.
“There was no hiding the fact that there was a heated rivalry between Ferris and St. Anthony,” Hurley said. “But Coach Favia made me a better coach. There’s nothing like being challenged, especially in your own backyard. It would be an understatement to say that there was a bitter rivalry, but Coach Favia helped me to be a better coach.”
Give Hurley credit for heaping praise on the deceased coach.
Favia retired as the head coach of the Bulldogs in 1991, turning the reins of the program over to Favia’s long-time assistant Tony Holm.
Favia retired as the all-time leader in coaching victories among Jersey City public school teams and was eventually inducted into the Hudson County Athletic Hall of Fame.
Coach Favia had three children, daughter Suzanne and sons Tom and Jeff. Favia’s two sons never played for their father, having attended St. Peter’s Prep and played basketball there. It meant that twice a year, the coach’s sons had to go against their father.
“It was very hard playing against him,” said Jeff Favia, the owner of several restaurants and establishments in Jersey City and Hoboken over the last 20 years and current owner/operator of Grove Square restaurant on Newark Avenue in Jersey City. “Even though I played at Prep, I was always loyal to Ferris. It was in our blood. I never wanted to compete against Dad, but when you’re playing, the competitive nature takes over. Just those games were not enjoyable for me and my brother.”
Jeff Favia was asked how he thought his father should be remembered.
“My Dad was more than an idol,” Favia said. “He was more than someone I looked up to. He was everything to me. He was my idol. I wanted to be like him in every way. He wasn’t just a teacher or a coach. He was that way with everyone. He was like a parent or guardian for every one of his players. And it was never for himself. He lived such an exemplary life. He made you want to be like him.”
Jeff said that his father was dedicated to one person – his wife of 57 years, Olympia, who died in 2015.
“I never met anyone who could compare to my Dad,” Jeff Favia said. “He could really coach any sport. I truly believe that. He professed teamwork and camaraderie. He inspired kids to be the best they could be. It was never about wins and losses. Take away all the wins, take away all the contract negotiations. He was all about commitment with integrity. That’s how you’d measure Tom Favia. He was a leader and motivated others to be leaders and better people. He had a way to get other people involved and people followed him.”
Former St. Mary’s of Jersey City head coach Tom Lalicato, who locked horns with Favia several times over the years, also praised Favia for his incredible life and coaching career.
“He was a giant,” Lalicato said. “He dominated the landscape in Jersey City basketball for a long time and he did it with such a unique style. He filled the room with his presence. He really had charisma, a touch and a flair. He was the measuring stick. You wanted to beat Tom Favia. He was a tremendous competitor. He stressed the kids play at the highest level. I had a good rapport with him.”
“He had an amazing life,” Jeff Favia said. “A few years ago, I was sitting with him right after he announced he was retiring. I said, ‘Dad, you’ve had some life.’ And he said, ‘You’re right.’”
It was an amazing life. Rest in peace, Coach. I’ll cherish the long conversations over the years…
Congrats to three Hudson County legends for their induction into the NJSIAA Hall of Fame. Bill Raftery and Jim Spanarkel, two basketball icons who are now known more for their work as college basketball analysts, were selected by a panel of administrators, coaches and sportswriters (present company included there) to be inducted in the annual luncheon Monday, Dec. 3.
Also gaining induction is Al Blozis, the great Dickinson football player and track and field standout who played college football at Georgetown, earning All-America honors in both football and track and field. He was drafted by the New York Giants and signed a contract with the club for two years (1942 and 1943) as an offensive lineman.
Blozis enlisted into the U.S. Army during World War II and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. On January 31, 1945, just months before the war would end, Blozis and his platoon journeyed into the Vosges Mountains in France.
When two men went into the mountains on a mission but didn’t return, Blozis went to look for the two men. Blozis didn’t return. The two men returned back to their troop, but Blozis was never found. He was declared deceased in April of 1945 and remains were buried in the Lorraine American Cemetery and Memorial in France.
Blozis now gets his proper due with the state athletic association’s Hall of Fame. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com