Memorable Mondays: Heartwarming stories
Welcome to MSGVarsity.com's Memorable Mondays, a summer-long series that looks back on the top players, games and moments from the past season and gazes ahead to 2012-13. As the summer goes on, we'll compile all the lists and post them here: www.msgvarsity.com/mondays. New lists will be posted every Monday.
In Week 5 of Memorable Mondays, we look at five of the best heartwarming stories from New Jersey high schools:
Freehold Borough baseball: Low-keyed and selfless almost to a fault, Jon Block shuns the spotlight like a prisoner in the midst of a jailbreak. But, if anyone deserved a moment to himself to reflect on the remarkable journey taken to reach his first 3 state final, it was the resilient and venerable Freehold Borough coach.
For 22 seasons, Blocks has been at the helm for the Colonials, operating modestly and with a degree of under appreciation despite his lengthy tenure, among the longest in the Shore Conference. His teams have always competed in an admirable fashion, taking their cues from an inspirational leader who knows a little something about putting up the good fight.
In 1994, Block was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma but battled with the same tenacity his preaches to his charges in beating it back. Cancer-free and competitive as ever, Block drove the Colonials on a magical post-season run, which included the program’s first sectional championship since 1996. A middle-of-the-road 12-12 at the start of the NJSIAA state tournament, Freehold Borough ran off six successive triumphs before bowing to Cranford, 4-1, in the Group 3 title game.
Freehold Township girls soccer: As punishing as Gabby Galanti can be when hammering a soccer ball with her left foot, it was the Freehold Township striker who worked to overcome some harsh blows.
Galanti was cheated out of playing time in both her sophomore and junior seasons due to surgeries needed to repair her knee. One of the most feared scorers in the state over her four-year career, Galanti returned to the pitch in the fall of 2011 healthy and eager to remind everyone of her finishing prowess.
The Maryland recruit played at the level which set her apart from all but a handful of her peers, putting away 18 goals and setting up nine more while driving the Patriots to a 14-2-3 mark. Her radar-sense for placing shots in the back of the net came in handy in the Shore Conference Tournament final when she delivered the lone strike in the 71st minute to lift Freehold Township past Wall, 1-0.
Rutgers Prep boys lacrosse: The half-shaved head of Bobby Ferro was almost impossible to miss along the Rutgers Prep sidelines this past season.
So was the whole-hearted enthusiasm he projected throughout each game and the full-blown inspiration that his mere presence provided.
As a player, Ferro had been a tough and talented longstick middie for the Argonauts, helping the squad to a Prep B championship as a sophomore in 2010 and playing an integral role in 24 victories over two seasons.
Ferro, though, became something far more poignant after he was diagnosed with brain cancer last autumn. The young man underwent two operations in January to remove parts of the tumor, and his ordeal came to dominate the thoughts and discussions of team-and-school mates during the winter.
A fit-looking, upbeat Ferro was a fixture at Rutgers Prep games, and so was the grand show of support that came from both teammates and rivals. T-shirts reading "Hope Brings Strength" were designed and sold at school for $10 each as a fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House in Philadelphia, where Ferro recuperated for several weeks following his surgeries.
The cause took on the speed and fury of a fast break following a Ferro stick check and ground ball. Opponents throughout Somerset County purchased the back t-shirts--which featured the "Hope" slogan, Ferro's No. 14 and a lacrosse stick in neon green on the front--and wore them during warmups or beneath their jerseys during the county tournament.
Rutgers Prep finished 9-8 and reached the quarterfinals of the SCT and the finals of the state Prep B Tournament. Ferro was unable to play, but he was prominent in the minds and hearts of all the Argonauts who could.
Ferro, incidentally, has been doing well and will attend Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., in September.
Shabazz boys basketball: The heartwarming story that took shape in West Orange last Jan. 3 was sadly prefaced by unthinkable heartache.
This was the first game Newark Shabazz was playing since the sudden death of head coach Hassan Carter two days earlier. Carter collapsed from a brain aneurysm Dec. 28 during the Bulldogs' game against Newark Vocational at the Newark Public Schools Tournament, and underwent surgery that same day. The 37-year-old died unexpectedly of an embolism in the early morning of Jan. 1.
The team was crushed by the tragedy, but also galvanized. They traveled to West Orange that Jan. 3 for a regular-season contest against the Mountaineers, and played from start to finish with a sense of camaraderie and purpose that was truly uplifting. Stepping in for Carter was DuJuan High, who was not only Carter's assistant, but longtime friend since their days together at Kean College.
Senior point guard Michael Reid had been hit particularly hard by Carter's passing, and vowed before he took the floor to dedicate his performance to Coach C. Reid was magnificent, sinking 12 of 15 from the floor and scoring 27 points in only 28 minutes to spark a 62-41 victory. Fellow senior Anthony Closs was also outstanding with 18 points, 10 rebounds and four assists.
"I just did everything for him, and I felt great," Reid said after the game. "I felt like he was still there with me. Still here watching me play."
North Bergen football: When Vin Ascolese decided despite illness to coach his grandson Vinny in his final season at North Bergen, it set the stage for one of the most heartwarming stories of 2012.
Heavy underdogs against Khalif Herbin and Montclair, the Bruins of North Bergen mounted one of the greatest upset victories of all time capturing state title number six for the Ascolese family.
A Debray Tavarez touchdown catch in double coverage with two seconds left on the clock capped the fairytale season where an up and down Bruins squad lost its final regular season game and then rode an improbable playoff run to a North 2 Group 4 title.
The lasting memory of a legendary 50-year coaching career that saw Ascolese win over 73 percent of the games he coached will be the scene at midfield of MetLife Stadium where he and grandson Vinny shared an embrace as champions.
Join us throughout the summer as "Memorable Mondays" brings you more top 5 lists:
July 30: Top five favorite venues from 2011-12
Aug. 6: Top five coaches from 2011-12
Aug. 13: Top five most memorable games from 2011-12
Aug. 20: Top five teams from 2011-12
Aug. 27: Top five teams to watch in 2012-13
Find them all at www.msgvarsity.com/mondays.