Memorable Mondays: Top 5 Venues
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 6 of Memorable Mondays, we look at five of the best places to watch a game in New Jersey:
Shabazz gymnasium: While opponents who have to venture into the Dog House may beg to defer, those who come in from the chill to just catch a girls hoops game at Shabazz are greeted with an instant sense of warmth.
There are the familiar faces, loyal and dieahard Bulldog fans, who haven’t missed a game since proud alum Vanessa Watson took over the reins 30 years ago. And, just in case you were unclear of their allegiance, all of them are decked out in some combination of black and gold. Scan the crowd, and chances are you are going to count at least five or six versions of a Shabazz varsity jacket, each proudly honoring one of the Bulldogs’ nine state championship squads.
Pride. It has a powerful presence inside the Dog House. And, it’s just not about the program. No, Shabazz is also keen to civic pride. Get settled into your seat in the refurbished facility, take off your jacket and then get intoxicated by the driving beat of The Bricks, provided by one of the many local deejays invited to spin at a home game while providing some rousing entertainment for those in attendance. While their styles may vary, the end games are all the same, closing with George Clinton’s Atomic Dog to signal another Shabazz victory.
But, what completes the experience is what everyone really comes to see. The product is first rate, always has been, but it’s gone to another level over the last 11 years, a span in which Shabazz has competed in nine state finals and won four NJSIAA Tournament of Champions titles.
The list of girls basketball royalty that’s called the court home is endless. Matee Ajavaon, Greedy Williams, Iasia Hemingway, Jania Sims, Aliyyah Handford, Jynae Judson and Jada Jefferson are just a few of the amazing athletes who have treated Newark fans, who are among the most devout followers anywhere, with a level of play that’s been genuinely admired, applauded and appreciated.
And, you want to talk homecourt advantage? It’s been so long since Shabazz has dropped a home game, no one associated with the program can definitively remember the last setback the Bulldogs absorbed inside the Dog House.
Mount St. Mary's field: If you want to watch a girls soccer match in a state-of-the-art facility, you have to head to Mount St. Mary in Watchung.
Angels of Victory Field is unique for its beautiful setting, surrounded by a picturesque campus that is cut into the base of the Watchung Mountain. The field turf surface provides conditions that allow contests to be played in just about any weather.
But that’s not what sets this place apart. What does is the stadium itself. This is not your typical high-school soccer field by any stretch. Fans are treated to stadium seating that sits well above the field on the opposite side of the team benches. As a result, observers are given a bird’s eye view over the pitch and can track how a play unfolds.
Mount St. Mary’ supporters have had plenty to cheer about in recent years. The program has thrived under coach John Campbell and developed a number of quality performers including sisters Alex and Andie Fontanetta and Rhea Barghash.
And, those who have had the good fortune to play for Mount St. Mary in recent years have been provided the opportunity to compete under first-class atmosphere. Angels of Victory Field, which also accommodates field hockey, lacrosse and track, was recognized as a Distinguished Sports Facility by the American Builders Association in 2009 according to the school’s website.
Mennen Ice Arena: Few arenas have seen the thrilling action and last-second finishes that Mennen Arena in Morristown has over the past couple of years and it was our choice for the top hockey venue for high school hockey in New Jersey.
Home to the championships for the Charette, Haas, Halvorsen and Mennen Divisions, the 2,500 seat arena sees tons of fans and top players from some of the top high schools in the state of New Jersey.
Public powerhouse Randolph calls Mennen home and last season enjoyed a run through the Public A playoffs leading up to their title victory at the Prudential Center. The Rams came up just short of a Mennen Conference title when Billy Nichols scored one of the great clutch goals in the history of the tournament to snatch the win for Morris Knolls.
Knolls alum Bobby Jones and Morristown upended the Golden Eagles in a Public A semifinal at Mennen in front of a packed house. The Maroons would come up short against Randolph in the state tourney, but captured the Halvorsen Cup with a win over West Morris Central at Mennen.
Early in the season MSG Varsity had the pleasure of livecasting a rivalry showdown from Mennen when Parsippany defeated Parsippany Hills, 5-4, on the strength of a spectacular hat trick by Dan Bellafiore.
One thing is for sure: on cold winter nights there is no better place in the Garden State to watch great high school puck.
Dunn Center: The state's largest public high school probably ought to have a gymnasium that reflects its enormous student population and position in one of New Jersey's most important urban hubs.
Elizabeth definitely has that with the Thomas G. Dunn Sports Center.
At many high schools throughout the Garden State, the gym entrance is only recognizable to those who have been there previously. A first-time visitor often must be directed to the correct entrance by a passing student or make an educated guess based on parked car volume--though that might just be an evening event in the cafeteria.
The broad-shouldered Dunn Center, on the other hand, is easy to spot from Route 1, just as you pass South Street heading southbound and begin to climb the elevated section of the busy highway. It proclaims itself in big, bold letters --"Thomas G. Dunn Sports Center"--and does not architecturally attempt to disguise itself as something other than an athletic arena that seats over 3,000.
Convenient parking is at a premium around Dunn, though tales of creative car jockeying in the Pearl Street lot, secret nooks by the nearby hospital and long jogs along icy streets are also part of its charm. Plus, what's going on inside is almost always worth the hassle.
It was just three years ago that 2012 NBA Rookie of the Year Kyrie Irving wowed the Dunn crowd with 29 points and nine assists to lead St. Patrick past Elizabeth, 89-72, for the Union County Tournament crown. Al Harrington of St. Patrick had some spectacular games here in the late 1990s. Waliyy (The Main Event) Dixon was a jaw-dropping performer for Linden seven, eight years earlier. St. Anthony had a 66-game winning streak snapped by Rice at the 1997 Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless Classic, which has been going strong at Dunn for the past 18 years.
The Elizabeth Minutemen also have realized had their fair share of glory on Pearl Street, including this past season when coach Chris Balent's junior-dominated lineup put together a 12-2 home record and finished 22-7 overall.
Newark Schools Stadium: Shabazz Stadium on Newark's South Side is a fantastic football venue replete with ample seating, the provocative Obalagi Baraka on the PA system and the hip-shaking Bulldog marching band on hand for your musical and visual entertainment.
Nearby Untermann Field, home of the Weequahic Indians, is a much older and quainter venue than Shabazz, but a Friday night grid game there is just as enjoyable. The fans are knowledgeable, the brand of football often invigorating and that Indian band can sometimes give Shabazz a solid run for their money.
But as popular and well-established as they, both Brick City venues were forced to take a back seat to newly renovated Newark Schools Stadium during the 2011 season.
It had been almost five years since the original Schools Stadium--and awesome horseshoe structure with its grand arched façade and seating for some 15,000--had been condemned and later razed to make way for the new field. And when Barringer's long-awaited home was finally unveiled last September, it was clear to all that one former Newark gem had been successfully replaced by another. The seating capacity may have been considerably lower (about 5,500) than what was once held by the Old Lady of Bloomfield Avenue, but every other aspect of this project was decidedly easy on the eyes--all 11,000 of them if the place is ever filled.
The new Schools Stadium harkens back to its glorious past with the gleaming white arched façade and clock tower that greet passerby along Bloomfield Avenue. The FieldTurf playing surface, state-of-the-art locker rooms and other amenities offer appealing options to the modern-day athlete and fan.
Barringer finished only 1-6 at its well-appointed home, yet was undoubtedly imbued with a new sense of pride and self-esteem that could well pay dividends in coming seasons.
Join us throughout the summer as "Memorable Mondays" brings you more top 5 lists:
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.