Author Archives: Mike Smith

About Mike Smith

Mike Smith has been with Hometown Media Group since 2007, serving as the company’s Sports Editor. Mike has been commended for his work by the New York Press Association, winning awards in 2008 for “Best Sports Feature” and again in 2009 as part of a team that put together “The Game,” a breakdown of the Harrison-Rye football rivalry, which won for “Best Special Section.” His weekly column, “Live Mike,” offers his unique insights into a broad range of topics in the sports world. He resides in Eastchester, N.Y. and spends most of his free time serving as the player-manager for a competitive men’s baseball team in New York City. Reach Mike at 914-653-1000 x22 or sports@hometwn.com; follow him on Twitter @LiveMike_Sports.

Head coach Francesco Notaristefano talks to his players during a Sept. 2 practice. The second-year head coach is confident the Huguenots are on the right track.

Huguenots prepare for 2014

Head coach Francesco Notaristefano talks to his players during a Sept. 2 practice. The second-year head coach is confident the Huguenots are on the right track.

Head coach Francesco Notaristefano talks to his players during a Sept. 2 practice. The second-year head coach is confident the Huguenots are on the right track.

By MIKE SMITH
After a down year in 2013, the New Rochelle Huguenots are looking to bounce back this season with a host of players returning to the pitch. But even with his team gearing up for the regular season, second-year head coach Francesco Notaristefano is working hard on laying the foundation for continued success for the Huguenots.

“The thing we’re trying to get is that consistency,” Notaristefano said. “You look at the other top teams in our league and they’ve all had coaches who have been there for a few years. We think our girls believe that we are in this for the long haul.”

Last year, in Notaristefano’s first year at the helm of the program, the Huguenots took their lumps, going 3-12-1 on the season, but the team garnered praise from opposing coaches, who viewed the New Rochelle program as an up-and-comer.

A New Rochelle goalie makes a stop on Sept. 2.

A New Rochelle goalie makes a stop on Sept. 2.

“Even in games we lost last year, we’d have coaches come up and say how focused and disciplined we were,” Notaristefano said. “Even for a younger team.”

This year, the Huguenots expect to build on last year’s progress, but were dealt a blow in the offseason when returning star Selin Selman was injured, prematurely ending her season. Though Selman was the team’s leading scorer last year, Notaristefano expects a handful of girls to step up to help put points on the board.

A New Rochelle player works on a ball control drill on Sept. 2. The Huguenots opened up the season on Sept. 3 against Port Chester. Photos/Bobby Begun

A New Rochelle player works on a ball control drill on Sept. 2. The Huguenots opened up the season on Sept. 3 against Port Chester. Photos/Bobby Begun

“We realize that every time we put a ball in the net, it has touched a number of different feet before it gets to that point,” the head coach said. “So we’re not a team that relies on one player for our success; it’s a team effort.”

Selman has still been a valuable member of the team in the preseason as she and fellow captain Heather Manley have worked hard to bring this young Huguenot team together.

“They’re two of the best captains I’ve ever had the pleasure of coaching,” Notaristefano said. “And Heather is such a vocal leader; she is a huge help to have on the field.”

Despite his team’s relative youth this year, Notaristefano believes his girls have the talent to compete, even in a tough league with the likes of Scarsdale, White Plains and Mamaroneck on the schedule.

“We’re going to try to possess the ball and control the tempo of the games ourselves,” he said. “You can talk about age, but once you’re on the field, that doesn’t matter.”

Huguenot players compete at practice at Albert Leonard Middle School. According to head coach Francesco Notaristefano, New Rochelle will emphasize controlling the tempo his year.

Huguenot players compete at practice at Albert Leonard Middle School. According to head coach Francesco Notaristefano, New Rochelle will emphasize controlling the tempo his year.

The Huguenots open the season on Sept. 3 against Port Chester, after press time.

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
tuckahoefootball3

Tuckahoe High School football coach: We don’t even have mouthpieces

tuckahoefootball3

David Carraturo was among the many angry speakers that expressed their frustration with the school district during the Aug. 25 school board meeting. Photos/MIke Smith

By CHRIS EBERHART and MIKE SMITH
Parents and administrators clashed at a crowded Aug. 25 Board of Education meeting in the Tuckahoe High School Library amid claims the school has mishandled preparation for the upcoming football season.

Basic equipment like footballs and mouth guards weren’t ordered until the middle of this week, longtime coaches weren’t reappointed, narrowly reappointed or reappointed late, and volunteer coaches were done away with at the start of the season.

Tuckahoe Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi said by mid-July the school district wasn’t sure if there would be enough players to field a team, so the district delayed in purchasing equipment and hiring a third coach.

But Tuckahoe football head coach John D’Arco, Sr., 62, said he told athletic director Rod Mergardt he had a team by the week of July 22 and, a week or two before that, he told Mergardt what equipment he would need for the
coming season.

Tuckahoe Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi, left, said the school district didn’t know if there would be a football team this year, so second assistant coach Bill Magner wasn’t reappointed until the Aug. 25 meeting, and Board of Education president Julio Urbina, right, said the school board isn’t involved in ordering equipment.

Tuckahoe Superintendent Dr. Barbara Nuzzi, left, said the school district didn’t know if there would be a football team this year, so second assistant coach Bill Magner wasn’t reappointed until the Aug. 25 meeting, and Board of Education president Julio Urbina, right, said the school board isn’t involved in ordering equipment.

“All summer, I kept in touch with [Mergardt]. Every week, I gave him the numbers for how many men came out. The week of July 22, our attendance was up to 17 or 18 players. I had commitments from four or five other players, and I said we’re going to have a football team,” D’Arco said. “I made that known to him.”

Under Section I rules, football teams must have a total of at least 16 eligible players in order to compete.

Financially, the school district allocated $29,000 in the 2014-2015 budget to athletic equipment and athletic materials and supplies, approximately $4,000 to $5,000 of which goes toward football.

The $29,000 is approximately a $5,500 increase from last year’s budget.

Despite the allocated money, Mergardt never placed an order for the equipment, but refused to tell anyone why.

D’Arco said he borrowed mouth guards and footballs from other schools and used leftover medical supplies from last year coupled with whatever medical materials he had in his house to put together a makeshift medical kit.

Mergardt and Nuzzi said after the Aug. 25 meeting the equipment had already been ordered, but four purchase orders, obtained by the Review, totaling $3,205.28 for equipment such as footballs, mouth guards, helmets, girdles and medical supplies were dated Aug. 27.

Tuckahoe head football coach John D’Arco, Sr. tells the Board of Education his team went through the first week of practice with only one assistant coach and borrowed footballs and mouth guards. Photo/Mike Smtih

Tuckahoe head football coach John D’Arco, Sr. tells the Board of Education his team went through the first week of practice with only one assistant coach and borrowed footballs and mouth guards. Photo/Mike Smtih

Tension between the supporters of the football program and the school administration has built since early June, when John D’Arco, Jr., 33, the head coach’s son and the team’s defensive coordinator, was not reappointed to the position he has held since 2002.

Then came the July 1 Board of Education meeting at which a 3 to 2 vote reappointed D’Arco, Sr. to the position he has held since 1999.

During his time at the helm of Tuckahoe’s football program, D’Arco, Sr. has led the Tigers to eight Section I titles and two state championships—the last of which came in 2010.

School board president Julio Urbina and new school board member Stephen Pagnotta were the votes against retaining D’Arco, Sr. Urbina declined to comment when asked why he voted no, and Pagnotta was on vacation and could not be reached for comment as of press time.

Among the parents expressing support for D’Arco, Sr. and his son was John Reichelt, the husband of board member Cathy Reichelt and father of a player on the football team.

“How is it that a coach that has taken us to the states numerous times, has taken children who didn’t know how to throw a football and made them MVPs, and we’re having second thoughts about whether we’re going to bring him and his son back to coach our kids,” Reichelt said. “It goes without saying that [D’Arco, Sr.] should be the coach.”

Offensive coordinator Pat Gallo was also appointed to his position during the July 1 meeting, leaving him as the only assistant on Tuckahoe’s staff.

At the Aug. 25 school board meeting, assistant coach Bill Magner was also re-appointed to his post, but there are those concerned this late addition, which came after one full week of double sessions, may have put the Tigers behind the eight ball in terms of their preparation for the upcoming season.

For the first week of the preseason, Tuckahoe was the only football program in Section I without at least two assistant coaches.

“We’ve done this together for 15 years, Pat Gallo and I,” D’Arco said. “So, luckily, we were able to get away with it, we scripted practices to get the most out of our offense, defense and special teams. But there was definitely a lot of pressure on us; there was a strain because we didn’t have a third coach.”

Nuzzi said the delay in reappointing Magner, which has to be approved by a majority vote of the school board, was because the school district “didn’t have the numbers.”

“But we do now,” she said.

Volunteer coaches were done away with this year because of “complaints about the volunteer coaches,” according to school board member Michael Collins, although there’s no official policy in place barring volunteers from coaching, according to board members.

“The board accepted a recommendation [to not have volunteer coaches] from the athletic director, and we expect the coaches to abide by it,” Collins said.

When asked why volunteer coaches were no longer utilized, Nuzzi said, “we decided it was in the best interest of the district not to have volunteers.”

Board member Michelle Liscio proposed adding a discussion about the volunteer coaches to next week’s agenda to vote on formalizing a policy.

Anthony Pinto, a father of one of the football players, called the Tuckahoe school district a “theater of the absurd.”

“I find it despicable that you tried to dummy down this program and undermine it this year,” Pinto said to the superintendent and the Board of Education. “It’s juvenile to try to take down this program and hurt these kids.”

At the beginning of the meeting, Liscio voiced her dismay at the administration’s handling of the football program.

“This is not how the athletic program should be run,” Liscio said. “I’m very disappointed, and I’ve expressed that.”

After the meeting, Urbina told the Review, “The community needs to understand, [the school board] is not involved in this kind of stuff. [Ordering equipment] is operational and the school runs it, in this case the athletic director. We set policy.”

Nuzzi said after the meeting she was glad to see there were so many people passionate about athletics and she appreciates the participation, though she would not answer why D’Arco, Jr., was not reappointed.

CONTACT: christopher@hometwn.com,                sports@hometwn.com

 

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: Leveling the playing field

Members of Tuckahoe’s varsity football team gather at a school board meeting on Aug. 25 to await a decision regarding the future of the program. Photo/Mike Smith

Members of Tuckahoe’s varsity football team gather at a school board meeting on Aug. 25 to await a decision regarding the future of the program. Photo/Mike Smith

As a sportswriter, I’m a big fan of a good fight. In many ways, my very livelihood depends on my ability to describe head-to-head confrontations, whether they take place in the boxing ring, in the hockey rink or on the football field.

But when I am forced to watch these battles move past the boundaries of competitive play, that’s when my job gets infinitely less enjoyable.

On Monday night, my colleague Chris Eberhart and I went to a school board meeting in Tuckahoe at which community members, incensed at the board’s perceived lack of support for its football and cheerleading programs, took the floor and vocalized their displeasure with the way athletics were being handled by the district.

The facts of the case aren’t really up for dispute. The Tuckahoe varsity football team—the reigning Section I champs in Class D—spent over a week practicing without new equipment, including mouthpieces and footballs. A team that had 25 players on the roster had just two coaches overseeing the operation, an almost unheard of player-to-coach ratio among Section I programs.

The reasons for these delays are somewhat murkier. The school claimed that, without a proper headcount for the football program, it was unable to order equipment or appoint additional coaches to assist with the day-to-day operations. Some parents, on the other hand, felt the actions of the board were part of a larger problem, a systematic attempt to undermine the Tigers’ football program and its longtime coach, John D’Arco, Sr.

The enmity at the meeting wasn’t far off from the on-field hostility of a Rye-Harrison football game, but instead of bone-crushing hits and wicked open-field tackles, barbs were hurled, accusations were leveled and motives were questioned.

In the end, an assistant coach was re-appointed to help out with the team and assurances were made the needed equipment would be ordered shortly, but I’d be hard pressed to find a true winner in this
scenario.

Members of the football team spent the night, not poring over playbooks or recuperating from the day’s grueling double-session, but standing by in the high school library as decisions were made regarding the future of their season and the Tuckahoe program in general.

It undoubtedly opened the players’ eyes to the fact that, regardless of the reason for the delays in the allocation of resources, their football season wouldn’t only be determined by what they were able to accomplish on the gridiron, but also by the battles being waged behind the curtain, far away from the crowds that turn out to cheer them most Saturday afternoons.

It’s a cruel and unfair world sometimes. Our student athletes will find that out soon enough on their own, but they’ve got enough to contend with right now balancing the demands of their academic, social and athletic endeavors. They’ve got one day a week to take the field, don their jerseys and know they’re playing with every member of the community behind them.

Every high school athlete, regardless of his or her sport, deserves the feeling of being part of something bigger, the feeling they have an entire town behind them, rooting for their success.

It would be a shame if they felt that earning that support was just another uphill struggle.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 
Panther players run through an agility drill during the preseason.

Panthers set for title defense

 

Head coach Nick Ianello gazes out over the practice field on Aug. 25. Ianello says his returning players are eager to get the taste of last year’s state title game loss out of their mouths.

Head coach Nick Ianello gazes out over the practice field on Aug. 25. Ianello says his returning players are eager to get the taste of last year’s state title game loss out of their mouths.

By MIKE SMITH
Replacing a team that made it to the state championship game just one year ago might be a tough act to follow, but this year’s Rye Neck Panthers have just one goal on their mind as the season begins; getting back in the win column after a heartbreaking loss in Syracuse.

But with some key returnees in the mix, the Black Hats might find themselves in a position to do more than that and perhaps compete for second straight Class C crown.

In 2013, Rye Neck’s state title hopes were dashed by an impressive goal line stand by eventual winners Chenago Forks as the Panthers fell 28-27 in the title game.

Coming into this year, head coach Nick Ianello said, the Rye Neck returners are eager to shake the feeling of that
last defeat.

“Everyone’s anxious,” he said. “Everyone wants to come out, erase that bad taste we have in our mouths and get our first win.”

Panther players run through an agility drill during the preseason.

Panther players run through an agility drill during the preseason.

Looking at Rye Neck’s returning players, it doesn’t appear as though winning will be too much of a problem for the Panthers. The team brings back 2013’s leading rusher, Dom Brescia, who will once again lead the charge, but he will be joined by Jake Sevean, who got a chance to shine in the playoffs last year. Ianello said Sevean will be asked to contribute in a variety of ways this year and the Panthers will do their best to get him the ball.

“He’s going to do a little bit of everything for us,” Ianello said. “We could split him out wide, have him take snaps in the Wildcat, he’s going to do a lot for us.”

Under center this year is Mamaroneck transfer Danny Gottlieb, who will take over for Tom Pipolo as the team’s quarterback. Gottlieb grew up playing alongside his new teammates, but now is back in the Rye Neck fold in his
senior year.

The Panthers have a number of key defensive returnees as well, most notably linebacker Pedro Cueto and cornerback Chris Richart, whose three interceptions got him named defensive MVP of last year’s Section I final game.

Rye Neck runs wind sprints during an Aug. 25 preseason session. The Panthers come into the season with high expectations.

Rye Neck runs wind sprints during an Aug. 25 preseason session. The Panthers come into the season with high expectations.

“Chris is our leader on both sides of the field,” Ianello said of the senior. “Defensively, he’s just tremendous.”

Other players, including  defensive backs Jack Evans and Nick D’Errico are expected to step in and take their place in a defensive unit that has established itself as a dominant unit for the past few years.

The Panthers open up on Sept. 6, on the road against a solid Valhalla team.

“It’s not going to be easy; Valhalla should be good this year; they’ve got a new coach,” Ianello said. “But the expectations for us are high this year, just like always.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

A Rye Neck player hits a blocking sled during a practice. Rye Neck opens up with Haldane on Sept. 6. Photos/Bobby Begun

A Rye Neck player hits a blocking sled during a practice. Rye Neck opens up with Haldane on Sept. 6. Photos/Bobby Begun

 
A Tiger heaves a pass on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

Tigers retool for 2014

A Tiger heaves a pass on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

A Tiger heaves a pass on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

By MIKE SMITH
The numbers might be low for Tuckahoe this year, but the expectations, unsurprisingly, aren’t.

As a shorthanded and understaffed Tigers team prepares for the 2014 football season, it will be relying on a battle-tested senior class looking to capture yet another Class D championship for the school’s trophy case.

With 11 seniors on this year’s roster, many of whom played a part in the team’s 2012 state title run, the Tigers could emerge as section champs once again.

“The numbers are a little low compared to other years,” head coach John D’Arco, Sr. said. “But, so far, practices have been going extremely well, and we’re counting on some younger guys to fill in and learn our system at the varsity level.”

The Tigers have no shortage of talent in the backfield, with bruising power-runner Enoch Penney-Larea leading the way and transfer student Christian Pinto in the mix. But what might be most confusing for defenses is that all of Tuckahoe’s backs‑‑but most likely Chris Corrado and Anthony Castracucco‑‑will be handling the snaps from center in a modified version of the old Wing-T offense. Max Cutrupi and James Oliverio will also play integral roles on the outside as well.

A Tuckahoe player throws a pass on Aug. 25. The Tigers plan to have several players receive snaps this year, something the team hopes will confound opposing defenses.

A Tuckahoe player throws a pass on Aug. 25. The Tigers plan to have several players receive snaps this year, something the team hopes will confound opposing defenses.

“We’re pretty balanced and pretty well-situated in the backfield,” D’Arco said. “[Corrado and Castracucco] will take the majority of the snaps, but we can give the ball to Enoch or Pinto too; we have a lot of versatility.”

With fewer numbers, the coaching staff has had to adapt its practice routines to better fit the personnel. By “cutting the field in half,” so to speak, D’Arco‑‑along with longtime assistant Pat Gallo and newly re-appointed assistant Bill Magner‑‑have been able to maximize the efficiency of practice reps.

“The way we’ve scripted the practices, we can get away with it,” D’Arco said. “We can run plays to the right or the left and then take the guys on the other side who might be starters on defense and run the plays against them to make it meaningful for us.”

Ultimately, no matter how talented this team Tiger team is, it’s success will come down to the ability to stay healthy and keep its key contributors on the field.

“If you look at a big program like New Rochelle, they start the season with 40, 42 guys, so if they lose seven, and go down to 35, they can overcome that,” D’Arco said. “If we’re only starting with 25 and we lose even a few guys, we’re in trouble.”

Head coach John D’Arco, Sr. tosses the ball to a player on Aug. 25. D’Arco said keeping his squad health will be extremely important this season.

Head coach John D’Arco, Sr. tosses the ball to a player on Aug. 25. D’Arco said keeping his squad health will be extremely important this season.

 

Tuckahoe opens up the 2014 season on Sept. 6 when the team takes on Valhalla.

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

Tuckahoe runs a play during a preseason practice on Aug. 25. With lower enrollment in the program than usual, the Tigers have been running half-line plays to get more reps.

Tuckahoe runs a play during a preseason practice on Aug. 25. With lower enrollment in the program than usual, the Tigers have been running half-line plays to get more reps.

 
Harrison players run through a warm-up drill on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

Huskies eye Panas opener

First-year head coach Dom Zanot works with his players during a preseason practice on Aug. 25. Zanot has been part of the Huskies program for the better part of a decade.

First-year head coach Dom Zanot works with his players during a preseason practice on Aug. 25. Zanot has been part of the Huskies program for the better part of a decade.

By MIKE SMITH
With a first-year head coach and quite a bit to prove, the Harrison Huskies find themselves heading into 2014 playing an unfamiliar role, underdogs.

But with a talented group of returners—and a sizeable chip on their shoulders—the Huskies are eager to show they belong with the top teams in Class A.

According to senior lineman Steven Forrest, the Huskies are itching for the chance to prove their doubters wrong this year.

“We see it as a strength,” Forrest said. “In practice, guys have already been using this to our advantage, and we’re ready to go out and show that we can play with anybody.”

A Harrison player catches a pass during a preseason practice. Huskies players have said this year’s offense figures to be more up-tempo this year.

A Harrison player catches a pass during a preseason practice. Huskies players have said this year’s offense figures to be more up-tempo this year.

It would seem the Huskies are well-stocked with seasoned veterans this year. In addition to Forrest, Harrison will rely on a host of other standouts to lead them back to the playoffs this year.

Senior Joe Nannariello will be under center for the Huskies this year, and the backfield contains no shortage of star power with returners like Rashan Gilmore and fullback/linebacker Drew Estes, who will play Division I football next year for Bryant University.

Other key returners, like James Carducci, Christian LoDolce and Mike Salvatori, will all be building blocks for head coach Dom Zanot, who is working to put his own touches on the program he inherited this summer.

“Those are just the seniors,” Zanot said. “We have a few juniors who are going to play big roles this year as well.”

Although Zanot said much of the Harrison playbook will remain the same this year, he and his coaching staff are looking to add a few wrinkles that should keep opposing teams guessing.

“I think we’re quicker, we put the ball in the air more,” running back Mike Salvatori said. “We’re trying to utilize the speed of our skill players and not only run the triple option this year.”

Harrison players run through a warm-up drill on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

Harrison players run through a warm-up drill on Aug. 25. Photos/Bobby Begun

“We’ve switched up our style a bit,” Forrest said. “We’re a little more run-and-gun, but it’s still the same guys out there.”

Throughout the first week of preseason, the Huskies have been working on fine-tuning their new style, and while the players have said there are still adjustments to be made, things are looking up for the Harrison squad.

“This first week of practice, we’ve just been focusing on trying to get better each day,” Forrest said. “So far, I think we’ve been doing that.”

Those looking forward to Harrison’s biggest game of the year won’t have to wait long, as the Huskies take on their rivals from Rye on Sept. 13, but Salvatori was adamant no matter how big “The Game” looms over the schedule, Harrison is squarely focused on the task at hand, a week-one matchup against Walter Panas.

“Of course everyone is looking at the Rye game,” he said. “We’d love to beat Rye, make the playoffs, win a Section I title, but we’re just focused on taking it one game at a time.”

Harrison runs a play during an Aug. 25 practice. The Huskies have a host of talented returning players this year.

Harrison runs a play during an Aug. 25 practice. The Huskies have a host of talented returning players this year.

As for Zanot, the first-year coach has been heartened by his team’s effort in the early going of preseason and hopes that his team’s willingness to mix it up will show through in the season opener on Sept. 6.

“So far, our kids have been enthusiastically running into people,” he said. “We just need to make sure we’re running into the right people.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
NOT TO BAD

Column: Growing up on the field

It may have taken Sports Editor Mike Smith a while to grow out of being a sore loser, but he regrets not having a more positive mindset when he played high school sports. Contributed photo

It may have taken Sports Editor Mike Smith a while to grow out of being a sore loser, but he regrets not having a more positive mindset when he played high school sports. Contributed photo

Regret is sadly just another part of getting older. It’s an oft-repeated lament of those who find themselves—like I do—getting up in years that they wish they knew, in their youths, how special their formative years could truly be.

One of the unique aspects of my job is that I get the chance to watch our area’s student-athletes come up through youth programs and embark on their high school sports careers, growing and maturing along the way. Each August, as a new group of seniors prepares for its last year of high school, I can’t help but think if I could go back and do it all again, there’s a lot I would have done differently.

I’m not talking about your standard sports regret. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have thrown that illegal block against Mamaroneck that got a touchdown called back and eventually lost us the game. I also probably wouldn’t have grooved a 3-1 fastball to Greeley’s six hitter my senior year that’s probably still soaring somewhere over Canada at this point. And I definitely wouldn’t have loaded up on a McDonald’s breakfast the day before my first-ever varsity football double-session. I can’t help but feel that my regurgitated Hot Cake/Egg McMuffin combo on our practice field was at least partially responsible for Scarsdale High School building a new turf facility.

But overall, my biggest regret is probably that I never really had fun.

I was a handful in high school. I probably still owe Scarsdale upwards of $200  for the countless sporting equipment—mostly helmets—I destroyed when I was having a bad day. To me, winning was everything, and playing for teams that didn’t win a whole lot, I had an awful lot of opportunity to showcase some deplorable sportsmanship.

Losses—like the one my clip led to against Mamaroneck—would weigh on me for days. My friends and family would have to suffer through my foul moods when things didn’t break in our favor.

I was a bad sport and an even worse teammate.

I don’t know when it changed for me, when I just began to enjoy myself out there. Maybe it was going to college and finding out, for the first time, that I really wasn’t all that good. But, no matter how it happened, I was finally able to put things in perspective, finally able to enjoy the sports I’d been playing since the third grade.

Maybe I was a late bloomer in that regard, but at least I finally grew out of my childish competitive streak.

On Sunday, my men’s baseball season came to an end with another crushing loss, this time just one win away from a New York City title that has eluded my squad for the last eight years.

I’d be lying if I said the thought of smashing my helmet on the ground didn’t at least cross my mind and I’m sure that some of my teammates—at least those who remember me from the bad old days—were half expecting some sort of outburst.

But I took a deep breath, remembered we were out there to have a good time and joined my teammates for a few cold beers, some good hot wings and a bunch of laughs about the season we just shared.

Winning is important, sure, but sports are meant to be fun. Looking back on my high school days now, I don’t regret any of the missteps, any of the errors or any of the losses. I just wish it hadn’t taken me so long to learn from them.

 

Follow Mike on Twitter, 

@LiveMike_Sports

 

WFAN All-Stars hit home run

On Aug. 13, Flower Park in New Rochelle played host to the third annual WFAN Celebrity Softball Game, hosted by New Rochelle grad and current WFAN radio host Craig Carton.

Carton’s team, including his co-host, Jets great Boomer Esiason, former Mets closer John Franco and retired Yankees like Jim Leyritz, Willie Randolph and Cecil Fielder, took the field against a host of local softballers led by College of New Rochelle Athletic Director Harold Crocker.

Proceeds from the game–including those of a 50/50 raffle–were donated to the New Rochelle Parks and Recreation Gift Fund.

-Reporting by Mike Smith

Bryant Cruz, right, trains with trainer Ryan O’Leary. On Aug. 13, Cruz won his 12th professional fight to remain undefeated. Photo/Bobby Begun

Cruz remains undefeated

 

 

Bryant Cruz, right, trains with trainer Ryan O’Leary. On Aug. 13, Cruz won his 12th professional fight to remain undefeated. Photo/Bobby Begun By MIKE SMITH
On Aug. 13, Bryant “Pee Wee” Cruz kept his perfect record intact, winning a majority decision over wild slugger Jose Morales at B.B. Kings in New York City. With the win, Cruz improved to 12-0 in his professional boxing career.

Although the fight was one of Cruz’s toughest to date, it proved to be just another stepping stone as Cruz continues his quest to bring a world title to Westchester.

Morales (7-5), an unpredictable ring veteran, confounded Pee Wee somewhat in the early rounds with his style, turning the fight into an ugly slugfest, but Cruz was able to find his footing mid-fight to stave off the challenge.

According to two of the judges, Cruz won by a handy margin, while the third scored the fight a draw.

“If we’re fighting a hard-punching guy who’s a classic boxer, Pee Wee has no trouble walking those guys down,” Cruz’s trainer Ryan O’Leary said. “But his last two opponents, Morales and Osnel Charles, have been awkward, wild fighters and we need to see that and adjust if he wants to move into the top echelon of fighters.”

Though O’Leary admits Cruz wasn’t at his sharpest on Wednesday, he said, ultimately, Cruz’s amateur background, his willingness to adapt and his general skill in the ring were still able to show through.

“I wasn’t happy with the first couple of rounds,” O’Leary said. “But once Pee Wee started boxing, the other guy couldn’t really do much in there.”

Cruz’s latest win has likely vaulted him up a level in the super featherweight division. His next bout will be a big one; an Oct. 10 card that will be televised as part of Showtime’s Next Generation series.

Although O’Leary doesn’t feel the broadcast or the stage will be too big for Cruz, he said his next opponent is almost guaranteed to be an undefeated fighter who is ranked higher than the Port Chester native.

“The next opponent, we’re looking between about four guys, is going to be a monster,” he said. “No matter who it winds up being, they’re all big punchers, but more classic boxers, the types of guys Pee Wee does better against.”

O’Leary feels Cruz—being a New York fighter—will have an advantage against his next foe simply because of the class of fighter Pee Wee is used to seeing in the ring.

“These guys might have the glossy records, the knockout percentage; but fighting in New York, that’s as tough a competition as you’re going to find,” he said. “These guys; they’re from Delaware, they’re from Cincy. I’m not saying they’re not coming from good boxing clubs, but even just the sparring, they don’t get that same type
of competition.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com

 
Sophomore quarterback Clayton Turner throws a pass at preseason camp on Aug.15. After being injured at the start of the season last year, Turner was under center for the Mustangs during their 
six-game win streak.

Mustangs ready for opener

Sophomore quarterback Clayton Turner throws a pass at preseason camp on Aug.15. After being injured at the start of the season last year, Turner was under center for the Mustangs during their  six-game win streak.

Sophomore quarterback Clayton Turner throws a pass at preseason camp on Aug.15. After being injured at the start of the season last year, Turner was under center for the Mustangs during their
six-game win streak.

By MIKE SMITH
The Monroe Mustangs kicked off their preseason last week, inviting members of the media to catch a glimpse of the local football team before the regular season kicks off in earnest in 2014.

Now in just its third year of existence, the Mustangs, led by head coach Terry Karg, have seemingly turned a corner, finishing the 2013 campaign with a 7-3 record and finishing the season on a six-game win streak.

“I think that win streak did a few things for us,” Karg said. “It helped to showcase the sophomore class and the guys we sent to other NCAA schools, and I think it gave us some confidence; you could tell by the way the guys came into our winter strength training sessions.”

Head Coach Terry Karg, right, runs a quarterback drill on Aug. 15. In two seasons as the Mustangs’ coach, Karg has turned the New Rochelle team into a winner.

Head Coach Terry Karg, right, runs a quarterback drill on Aug. 15. In two seasons as the Mustangs’ coach, Karg has turned the New Rochelle team into a winner.

Although roster turnover is a major factor in two-year institutions like Monroe, Karg believes the team retains enough talent from last year’s freshman class to form a strong veteran core.

“Last season, I felt that we were a good defensive football team,” Karg said. “But I think we showed signs last year that the offense was coming together. We return some key guys that I think we will be more confident on the offensive side this year.”

The Mustangs return quarterback Clayton Turner, a 6’4’’ signal caller from Atlanta, wideout Jaquan Spann and leading rusher Robert Jackson, a New Jersey native who was instrumental in the team’s win streak at the end of last season. In each of the Mustangs’ final six games, Jackson rushed for, more than 100 yards and his late-season efforts were enough to make him the third most prolific back in the
conference.

A Mustangs ball carrier participates in a drill on Aug. 15. The Mustangs are riding high coming into the 2014 season.

A Mustangs ball carrier participates in a drill on Aug. 15. The Mustangs are riding high coming into the 2014 season.

“He did a great job for us last year, rushing for about 800 yards,” Karg said. “If he had been playing the whole year, he might have been the top rusher in the conference.”

Defensively, the team will call on some key returnees, including defensive tackle Elijah Young and cornerback/return man Leo Lorenzo. Karg believes Shaquille Watkin—a 280-pound defensive tackle who redshirted last year—will emerge as a force up front.

The Mustangs open their season on Aug. 30 when they travel to take on Valley Forge. According to Karg, although expectations for the Mustangs are high this year, the team isn’t focused on long term goals, but instead will do its best to prepare for each game on the schedule.

Monroe linemen go head-to-head on Aug. 15. Photos/Mike Smith

Monroe linemen go head-to-head on Aug. 15. Photos/Mike Smith

“We are just focused on that first game, we can’t afford to look past or underestimate anybody, so we are getting ready for Valley Forge,” Karg said. “We play a tough schedule, there are some tough teams in our league, and we know we’re not going to fly under the radar this year.”

CONTACT: sports@hometwn.com