Life-Long Friends Work Hard For State Title
Sep 15, 2018Posted by james

Declan McDermott and Brian Reda grew up one block from each other. They were restless kids forever chasing a bouncing ball and playing all kinds of sports. Since kindergarten, they always have been on the same teams. Each knows the other’s game. They seem to have that inner connection found in twins.

Declan and Brian made Pleasantville High School in Westchester County a perennial winner in boys’ lacrosse with four consecutive Section 1 titles and then a state championship. According to their coach, the boys were serious about winning since they stepped on the field as freshmen. Their drive and motivation were endless. They were focused first on a sectional title and then their single-minded determination carried their teammates and the program to a new level.

This past season, Pleasantville was 21-1. Winning the championship was a great way to end their high school days. Both boys were named U.S. Lacrosse High School All-Americans each of the last two seasons. They also are local all-stars and co-players of the year.

Brian was the leading scorer in the Lower Hudson Valley this season, finishing with 81 goals and 41 assists. He is the program’s all-time leading scorer with 278 goals and 120 assists. A left-handed attackman with a quick release, he’s headed to Fairfield University.

Declan is an energetic midfielder who had an impact on both ends of the field. Heading to Georgetown University, he finished the season with 55 goals and 47 assists, and he is the second-leading scorer in the school’s history with 177 goals and 116 assists.

During the first few years, both players looked toward older classmates for guidance on and off the field. This past season, the younger players looked up to them. The influence that this duo had on the next generation of Pleasantville lacrosse players likely will be revealed on the field during the next handful of seasons.

Slugger Finds His Fields Of Dreams
Sep 02, 2018Posted by james

Carlos Cruz was the leading slugger on his Queens College baseball team. He then played professional ball in England. Though he never made the leap to the major leagues, Carlos found a way to remain involved in the game.

When Carlos was at college, he sold one of his gloves to a teammate for $100. With that money, he purchased additional gloves. He customized the gloves by adding extra padding and other features, and then he sold these gloves to friends. Carlos landed a human resources position at a large Long Island company when he returned from England. At the same time, he built his small baseball glove business through word of mouth. He created his own brand and sold uniforms along with the gloves. Soon after, he added wooden bats.

Carlos is from Panama City. When he arrived in Queens at 13, he was a good player and starred as a catcher for Newtown High School in Elmhurst. Now, he is starring in his business that is located in a Bronx industrial building.

From the start, Carlos understood that he could not compete with the marketing and production of larger companies. His plan was to make inroads locally through solid customer service. To accomplish this, he has relied on family. His sister helps with the bats. His wife designs uniforms. His nephews help with deliveries.

The seed for this success and for family support was planted years ago. Carlos’ mother struggled financially but she found $39.99 to purchase a glove for him at a Caldor store so he could play the game he loved. Back then as a player and now as a business owner, Carlos found his two fields of dreams.

With Vision, Football Is Just His Latest Triumph
Aug 17, 2018Posted by james

Jake Olson was born with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer of the retina. It destroyed his sight. It took his left eye at 10 months. At age 12, he lost sight in his right eye.

While he slowly lost his sight, Jake realized that his battle actually had “vision.” Jake had a choice. The cancer could have changed him, or he could attack life and live it on his terms. He chose the latter.

Jake became a scratch golfer. He traveled the country as a motivational speaker, delivering his first speech to Wells Fargo employees when he was 12 years old. Jake then opened a business with his college roommate, receiving special NCAA dispensation that allowed him to make money as a motivational speaker and also play college football.

Yes! That’s right! Jake played college football.

At an early age, Jack learned to confront adversity and fight. He always explains that a person must seize control and not allow life to dictate the terms. It becomes second nature. The bonus clause is that this outlook is therapeutic for Jack and for those who are close to him and the many others who hear his story.

So, do you really think snapping a football during a college game was difficult for Jake?

He began long-snapping while playing high school football in Los Angeles. His accomplishment at USC last season, when he became the first blind long snapper in college football history, captured the world through social media.

According to close acquaintances, Jake “sees” things differently than most people. For him, there is “vision” in blindness.

Jim


A Basketball Star’s Message Of Self-Assertiveness
Aug 02, 2018Posted by james

My longtime friend and teammate Vinny Sombratto and I were watching the Nassau County high school lacrosse championships a few months ago. We talked a lot about the games, the players and the overall competition of Long Island high school lacrosse. Then, out of the blue, we started talking about professional basketball.

Well, I guess that was on me! I had wondered out loud who would be considered among the top five and then the top 10 professional basketball players of all time. Vinny and I bounced around names such as Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, John Havlicek and Jerry West. Not one New York Knick was mentioned.

Soon after, a Knick player did come to mind. It wasn’t for his game, which was very good, but for what he has done since the end of his professional career. Dick Barnett won two championships with the Knicks and his number 12 jersey can be found in the Madison Square Garden rafters. He’s 81 now and he has dedicated his life to speaking with children about the importance of education and, in his words, “the limitless dimensions of human possibilities.”

After basketball, Dick earned his doctorate, opening doors that otherwise may not have opened for him. He had to adapt to new situations. A person, according to Dick, must be able to get along with people by making the adjustments necessary to function in a multicultural society.

Dick understood that there is much more to life than sports and that a sports career can and will end quickly at any level. With the arena in his rear view mirror, Dick understood that the sports sheath of protection eventually would unravel and that adjustments were necessary to face new challenges. It was time to join the rest of America and become as vulnerable to life’s daily give and take as the rest of the population.

Dick’s communication with children is not a clinic. He defines the interaction as a humanitarian effort to talk with young people about some of the issues that affect everyone. They talk about their dreams, education, economic circumstances and living a better life. Dick often refers to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he tells the children that to live a dream a person must reach down into the inner chambers of the soul to find the ink and pen of self-assertiveness.

While Dick Barnett may not be mentioned in a conversation about professional basketball’s elite players, his message to our children about self-assertiveness ranks number one!

Sports Opened His Door To The World Of Art
Jul 15, 2018Posted by james

Mort Kunstler lives on Long Island’s north shore. He’s made his professional mark in life as an artist of American history.

Mort began drawing before the age of three. He has sketched cowboys and other characters of the Wild West. He then painted book jackets and cover art for men’s adventure magazines before moving into an advertising career to create movie posters that included The Hindenburg, The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 and The Poseidon Adventure. Mort also painted historical scenes for National Geographic and other magazines before he emerged as one of the most prominent painters of American history.

A few years ago, Mort decided to retire. He was 89 at that time. But, one more project required his touch. It was a Civil War scene. The image combined the war with sports, specifically baseball, which has been a significant part of Mort’s life since childhood.

Mort grew up in Brooklyn and his uncle often brought him to Ebbets Field. He painted images of the players from the 1940-1942 teams, and the players signed his creations. At about this same time, sports began to open the doors of opportunity for this artist.

Mort first attended Brooklyn College, playing football in the fall, basketball in the winter and running track in the spring. He also was a regional star in the hurdles and javelin while also a diver on the swim team. He was the first four-letter man in the school’s history. Mort then attended UCLA on a basketball scholarship but he returned to New York before graduation after his father became ill. When he could not enter Pratt Institute due to poor high school grades, Mort’s Brooklyn College basketball coach spoke with the Pratt coach. Mort was admitted to study art.

While Mort played many different sports, he always truly loved baseball. He always wished that he had played it more often than just in pickup games during his younger days in Brooklyn. He did find a way, though, to memorialize his affection for the game in his final work of art.

Mort completed The National Game: White House, November 1862 more than a year ago. He initially thought that the setting for the Civil War-era baseball game should be a Union prison camp with Confederate prisoners playing against their Yankee guards. But, as he began the extensive research that he has incorporated into each of his historical paintings, Mort discovered a book that described soldiers who were bivouacked in Washington and played the game on the White House lawn. In his painting, with the White House in the distance, Mort features pretty women in beautiful gowns and kids who are enjoying the game. The scene suggests a life of normalcy during a hectic and cruel time in our country’s history.

No doubt that Mort probably placed himself within the historical context of the painting. Maybe he is one of the players, or maybe he is the young boy enjoying the game he has always loved.

Lacrosse Awards All Around Long Island
Jul 01, 2018Posted by james

May and June are the months of final exams as students (and teachers) count the days until school is out for the summer. It is also the time for spring sports championship games, athletic and academic award celebrations and that step toward the next challenge.

The Section VIII Nassau County high school boys’ lacrosse championships again were held at Hofstra University. Following each of the three matches, I presented my Leadership Award to six young men who are definitive leaders on and off the field.

I was proud to present the awards to the following scholar-athletes:

·         Cold Spring Harbor High School senior defender Nolan Hinphy.

· Garden City High School senior midfielder Matt Granville.

· Manhasset High School senior defender James Amorosana.

· Massapequa High School senior defender Brian Lenaghan.

· Syosset High School senior defender Thomas Markou.

· Wantagh High School senior attacker Thomas Rohan.

Each award recipient reflects the tenacity, honesty, commitment and positive attitude required in Nassau lacrosse. Each player also possesses the ability to inspire teammates and others in the classroom and their communities. These young men are on their way to bigger and better successes in lacrosse, in school and in life.

Soon after these games concluded, my alma mater, Half Hollows High School East, announced that senior defender Mike Gomez was honored with the school’s annual Outstanding Player Award named in my honor for a boys’ lacrosse player. Mike played varsity lacrosse for five years. His defensive efforts set the tone for the team. He rarely made a mistake and always covered the leading players on opposing teams. During his senior season, Mike scored 11 goals and nine assists and recovered 80 ground balls. He was an Under-Armour Top 44 Senior Game Selection and a Suffolk County Honorable Mention All-American. Mike will play lacrosse at Johns Hopkins University.

Finally, at the end of June, awards were presented to the Hempstead PAL team that I have supported as a leading benefactor for a number of years. Congratulations for a fun season for these fourth, fifth and sixth grade players who recorded a 7-1 record. Until March, more than half the players never had picked up a lacrosse stick. Congratulations also go out to Coach Alan Hodish, his assistant coaches and the PAL personnel and the police department. My special congratulations salute Josh Garrett, who received the team award named in my honor for “his strong work ethic and improvement made throughout the lacrosse season.”

Another great lacrosse season has been recorded on Long Island!

Double Trouble On Local Lacrosse Fields
Jun 16, 2018Posted by james

A defender was all over Jamison Embury. Quickly, Jamison scooped the loose ball near the crease and threaded a pass over two other opponents to Hunter Embury for a goal that made the highlight reel. It’s a reel that is filled with numerous outstanding plays by this twin brother combination for Yorktown High School in Westchester County.

The duo and their intuitive plays are not unique to Yorktown. Across the Lower Hudson Valley, at least 18 sets of twin brothers currently play on the same school lacrosse teams. Nearly a third of the twin teammates have signed or received offers to play Division I lacrosse.

In Westchester, Rye, Iona Prep, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley, Hendrick Hudson and other schools have twins on the teams. Farther north, twins plays for Mahopac. Across the new Tappan Zee Bridge, twins play for Nyack and Nanuet. For anyone looking for more trouble, Harrison High School features two sets of twins as does John Jay High School. Then, there could have been a triple threat at Clarkstown South in Rockland. While the brothers play lacrosse, their sister decided to run track.

We’ve often heard the stories about twins who think alike, sound alike and finish each other’s sentences. Now, imagine all the trouble all these twins have been creating for opponents on the lacrosse field!

Among the many advantages of having a twin play the same sport is that a player always is around a teammate who is willing to share the enjoyment and strategy of the game. Plus, when there isn’t anything to do, twins who play lacrosse usually agree to just go outside and have a catch.

As each of these high school twin teammates develops, several sets will continue to play together in college. Others will pursue separate game plans. Whether together or apart, these sets of twins have connections that will guide them for life on and off the field.

Congratulations To NYC’s 2017 High School Football Standouts
Jun 02, 2018Posted by james

The New York City high school football player of the year is….Matt Valecce!

Matt played for Fordham Preparatory High School in The Bronx. At six-feet, five-inches and 205 pounds, Fordham’s quarterback led New York State in passing this past season, collecting 3,333 yards on 226 completions and a 64 percent completion percentage. Matt recorded 41 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. A year earlier, Matt threw for 2,416 yards and 27 touchdowns with only three interceptions. He finished his high school career ranked second all-time in the state for passing yards (10,027) and third all-time in touchdown passes (112).

The Whitmore Group sponsors the New York City Player of the Year Award presented by the local chapter of the National Football Foundation & College Hall of Fame. I was honored to present this year’s award to a fine young man. Matt is more than just a football all-star. He finished high school with a 4.28 GPA (on a 4.0 scale) and he accepted a full athletic scholarship to play for Boston College. He is going places on and off the field.

Along with Matt, 10 other outstanding New York City high school football players were honored at the sixth annual “Elite Eleven” Scholar-Athlete Award Dinner hosted by the foundation. Each year, the event is managed by Marc T. Hudak, who is chairman of the local NFF chapter and a partner and member of Whitmore’s management committee. The awards recognize the players for their performance on the field, in the classroom and as leaders in their communities. The award criteria is 40 percent based on GPA and academic achievement, 40 percent based on football ability and achievement, and 20 percent based on leadership, school and community involvement.

I extend my congratulations to each of the “Elite Eleven” 2017 scholar-athletes:

BROOKLYN

Christian Minaya (committed to Southern Connecticut State) – New Utrecht High School, Coach Alan Balkan

QUEENS

Joseph Alvarado (school intentions undecided) – John Adams High School, Coach Seth Zuckerman

Michael Taylor (committed to Villanova University) – Holy Cross High School, Coach Tim Smith

STATEN ISLAND

Quincey Barnes (committed to Western Connecticut State) – Curtis High School, Coach Peter Gambardella

John Buscini (committed to College of Staten Island) – St. Joseph’s by the Sea High School, Coach Michael Corona

Shakim Douglas (committed to U.S. Naval Academy) – St. Peter’s Boys High School, Coach Mark DeCristoforo

Nicolas Macri (committed to Binghamton University) – McKee Staten Island Tech High School, Coach Anthony Ciadella

THE BRONX

Elijah Jones (committed to Boston College) – Cardinal Hayes High School, Coach CJ O’Neil

Danny Sanchez (committed to Stony Brook University) – Lehman Campus High School, Coach Chris DiTullio

Joseph Petti (committed to U.S. Naval Academy) – Fordham Preparatory High School, Coach Peter Gorynski

Matt Valecce (committed to Boston College) – Fordham Preparatory High School, Coach Peter Gorynski

A Coach’s Advice Leads To Medical Career
May 15, 2018Posted by james

Nicholas Testa was a professional baseball player but the name won’t be familiar to you. He played just one inning of one game on the major league level with the San Francisco Giants during 1958. He never came to bat. Nicholas then played one season in Japan.

Jeff Gilbert remembers Nick. Not as a player but as a college coach. The greatest game of Jeff’s baseball career occurred on April 1, 1969. He was the starting pitcher for the Lehman College freshman baseball team. The opposing team was from C.W. Post.

Jeff got through the first inning, giving up a hit and walk. In the second inning, Post knocked seven consecutive line drive hits off him. That’s when Lehman’s coach, Nick Testa, walked to the mound.

“Son,” said Nick, “what is your index? Jeff answered 3.9. Nick then asked another question. “What is your ERA?” Jeff answered about nine. Nick responded: “When your index is near four and your ERA is more than double your index, it is best that you go home and stick to your studies.”

Jeff never pitched again. Instead, he studied and became a doctor. Then, he reconnected with his coach 10 years later.

Jeff was 27 when he became friends with Mickey Rivers of the New York Yankees. Mickey invited Jeff into the clubhouse one day during the 1979 season. Despite all the noise in the crowded locker room, a familiar voice filtered through to Jeff’s ears. About 15 feet away was Nick Testa. He was working for the Yankees as a batting practice pitcher.

Jeff approached Nick as he was pulling on his socks and offered to shake his hand, calling him Mr. Testa and indicating they had not seen each other in years. Nick asked, “Do I know you?”

Jeff reminded him of the mound conversation a decade earlier. Nick quickly recalled the discussion and then wanted to know why he was in the Yankees clubhouse. At first, Jeff tweaked his old coach a bit by telling him that he had been called up from the minors to pitch that night’s game. Then, he quickly added that he was joking, that he was a physician and a friend of the team’s centerfielder.

For the next 34 years, Nick always claimed credit for Jeff’s career as a doctor. In a way, according to Jeff, Nick was right.

Striking Ahead Of The Competition
May 01, 2018Posted by james

He recently completed one of the best seasons in the history of New York State high school bowling. As a junior, Nick Perrone recorded the highest average, broke a tournament record and was named the top bowler at the state’s public high school tournament. Next on Nick’s checklist – establish dominance. He wants to be consistent and prove to everyone that the first three years were not a fluke.

Nick finished this past season with a 234.94 average. This topped all high school state bowlers for the second straight season. He also finished first at the state tournament among his section’s individual bowlers.

But, with three years of increasing success, Nick still hears the skeptics, because he is a two-handed bowler—a delivery shunned by many old-school bowlers. His numbers, though, repeatedly have dampened the naysayers.

Two-handed bowling is a style that has developed within the last few years, and it has become a common choice for young bowlers looking to gain more power in their stroke. Some of the top bowlers in the country, including Walter Ray Williams, Jr. (47 professional titles), and 2014 Professional Bowlers Association rookie of the year Marshall Kent, have experimented with the two-handed delivery.

As for Nick, he plans to build upon his success. Already, he has set loftier goals for his senior year. At the top of his list are a league title for his high school and an unprecedented 240 average for himself. Hard work, he feels, will get him there.

According to Nick, the key to the next level is honing the essential skills of high-level bowling. This includes regular practice, remaining informed about the latest ball technology, and closely monitoring lane oil patterns and breakdowns that affect the ball as it travels toward the pins.

Another key skill that Nick is seeking to improve is his understanding of the competition. Other solid players are chasing him. By studying them, Nick feels he will be pushed ahead to break the next boundary.