HAZLET –It’s been a half century since Denny D’Andrea donned a catcher’s mask for Raritan High School.
But for the former Rocket and his teammates at the Raritan High School Athletic Hall of Fame Sunday, the memory of winning Raritan’s first state baseball championship in 1968 against Metuchen is as clear as yesterday.
“The last out of the game was a line drive to center field,” said D’Andrea, 69, of Brick, standing with his cane near a display of newspaper clippings, before the induction ceremony.
“Jimmy Mason came running in and caught it on the run, and came right in over second base –right to the pitcher’s mound! We went nuts, jumping up and down and going crazy. Nobody expected us to win,” D’Andrea said.
It was raining cats and dogs as people streamed into the Gramercy at Lakeside Manor in Hazlet at the start of the special event. But inside they found warmth, as old friends reunited with handshakes and hugs. There were 11 individuals and representatives of three state championship teams to be honored. According to Janet Citro, a former gym teacher and coach and now the secretary/treasurer of the event held every two years, 176 tickets were sold.
The RHS Athletic Hall of Fame serves to thank athletes and coaches for their contributions, as well as bring Raritan athletes back home to reconnect with their alma mater. Some haven’t gone too far, said Raritan’s athletic director, John DeGenito, who keeps the keys to the memorabilia displays at the high school. “Many of these athletes and former coaches are in the community still, and doing good work,” he said. Athletic Hall of Famers also have given back generously to the high school, in the form of scholarships, donations and cheering on the teams.
Special Olympics New Jersey bowling champ Heather O’Brien, 33, of Hazlet stood patiently as her photo was taken by the event photographer. She was being honored for her post-graduate career, having qualified for a place on the state’s team for the 2014 games and for winning so many other medals her father, Bill, says they can’t display them all.
She is a dedicated bowler with 20 years’ experience and a purple-and-pink ball that finds its target. She is a high scorer. “I can really get up there,” she said.
O’Brien is a dedicated member of the Hazlet Rockets, which formed the year she graduated, in 2006. To this day she meets every Wednesday afternoon with the same nine high school friends at Bowlero, at Airport Plaza. Being offered a place in the Hall of Fame felt great, she said. “It’s very, very special to me,” she said.
Alexa Bresnahan, 28, drove in from her new home in Fairless Hills, Pennsylvania to accept her award for basketball. She was part of a dream team under Coach Ron Poll’s leadership, graduating in 2009. Back in the day, she scored the most points in school history, with 1,695. The team made the state tournament for the first time, she said.
As she reflected upon her high school athletic career, she said there were memories of a lot of excitement, but also “a little bit of anxiousness.”
“People had high expectations of our class coming in,” she said.
On Sunday, she was looking forward to sharing the moment with her family, the Ryans of Hazlet, and greeting the man she called “Coach” whom she hadn’t seen since graduation.
Receiving an unexpected phone call from her former coach, Peter Toscano, with the news she was going to be inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame for javelin was a surprise and a delight for Valerie Carney, 29, of Hazlet. She called it a great honor, and still can’t believe her name will be engraved on the monument at the entrance to the high school sports fields.
“Who knows anything about javelin before you get to high school?” said Carney, who remembers worrying about not being especially tall or muscular like other champion javelin throwers. But under her coach’s guidance, she surprised herself and everyone else by winning three state sectionals in a row and setting a freshman record of 139.6 feet. She learned how to achieve goals by focusing on her own self, and by not comparing herself to others. “It’s a lesson I’ve definitely been able to carry through my life,” she said.
Robert Generelli, 55, worked in Hazlet schools as a teacher, coach and administrator for 20 years. Looking around at the attendees, he said he had fond memories of the seasons he spent with former players, several of whom were in the room.
“We were fortunate to be part of the schools’ first state championship in football in 2004. That was really a special moment,” said Generelli, who was inducted for his role as coach.
“But I’ll tell you what else was a special moment. In 2015, I believe it was, one of my former players –Anthony Petruzzi, he’s the head coach now – his team repeated in state champs. That was kind of neat to see one of our own lead Raritan to glory.”
The 2019 Raritan High School Athletic Hall of Fame individual inductees:
- Alexa Ryan – Basketball
- Tom Jeleniewski – Football
- Anthony Pulizzano – Soccer
- Valerie Carney- Track
- Jeff King and Dan Seidenberg – Wrestling
- Jen Curran Buirkle – XC/Track
- Heather O’Brien and Peter Merck – Post High School
- Robert Generelli – Coach
- Tom Mosher – Service Award
The 3 State Championship Teams:
- 1968 Baseball Team
- 1971 Bowling Team
- 2003/04 Wrestling Team
To learn more about the Raritan High Schoool Hall of Fame, visit the website. Souvenir bricks to be displayed at the monument are also being sold through Nov. 1.