Long Island’s Mosaic Of Champions

June 14, 2010

It was a gold rush weekend for Long Island high school sports, the most eventful and manic three days of the entire school year. That’s because state champions were crowned in baseball, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, Federation boys golf, girls golf, softball and track and field.

There were fantastical individual efforts. West Islip senior Nicky Galasso, the nation’s No. 1 lacrosse player, finished his career with yet another state Class A championship as the Lions beat Fairport, 13-5. The game, played before the home crowd at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium, saw Galasso score once and add six assists. The point total gave Galasso 500 in his high school career, breaking a 33-year-old Long Island record.

There were memorable group efforts. Look no further than the runners from Garden City. Senior Emily Menges ran the anchor leg for two winning relay teams at the state Federation track and field championships in Vestal. The foursome of Taylor Hennig, Katie O’Neill, Emma Gallagher and Menges won the 4 x 800-meter relay in 8 minutes, 49.88 seconds, a new state record. Just 40 minutes later, the Trojans 4 x 400 relay of Jenna DeAngelo, Michelle Rotondo, Catherine Cafaro and Menges also won.

And in some cases the venue itself was the star, such as Bethpage Black hosting the state Federation golf championship on Sunday. Sorry, Long Island. Upstate Brewster’s Mike Miller won his third Federation title.

Then you had the Long Island sweep in girls lacrosse, with Farmingdale (Class A), Garden City (B) and Shoreham-Wading River (C) each crowned champs. It also marked Garden City’s fifth title in a row – remarkable by any measure.

There were once-in-a-generation teams putting it all together to win. Lindenhurst baseball, riding a 21-game winning streak and its first county title since 1963, battered Guilderland, 15-2, to win the program’s first state Class AA title in Binghamton. Senior first baseman Jon McGibbon, who signed with Clemson and was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in the 29th round, went 3-for-4 with two RBI.

Let’s not forget the coaches. Great community feeder programs certainly help high school teams achieve. But nothing compares to having a passionate and knowledgeable coach in place. There is no greater marker for success.

Jim McGowan (profiled in Long Island Pulse magazine’s May issue: http://bit.ly/a2gFxN) is exhibit A. The Bay Shore softball coach capped his 27th season at the helm by winning his seventh state championship on Saturday. The Marauders captured the state Class AA title by scratching out a run in the bottom of the seventh to beat Clarence in the semis, 3-2. Then Liz Weber shut out rival Cicero-North Syracuse, 4-0, in the final.

Weave it all together and what you have is a mosaic of champions from across the Island. They each found a way to come out on top in one unforgettable sports weekend.

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com

Zara Northover’s Olympic-Sized Determination

April 6, 2010

The road to the 2008 Beijing Olympics was a difficult one for Zara Northover, filled with injury and financial hardship. The Sewanhaka High School graduate grew up in Elmont and realized her dream competing for the Jamaican National Team.

She qualified for the Olympics in the physically demanding shot put despite a bulging disc in her back and a torn meniscus in her knee. Northover, whose parents are Jamaican, only had surgery once she returned from China.

But when you hear her words, you realize it was a transformative experience.

“It was all worth it stepping off that plane into China,’’ Northover wrote via email from Arizona. “It was all worth it as I walked in the Opening Ceremonies shaking hands with other athletes, coaches, officials from different countries all over the world. It was truly an amazing and breathtaking experience that I will never forget.

“There was a serenity in knowing that I am standing in a place with people from countries who are constantly at war with each other but yet we’re all in one stadium, living in one village and competing for the same goals. We were happy and we were sharing an experience of a lifetime together. It was nothing to be taken for granted, but a moment to be remembered for the rest of my life.”

For two weeks of bliss, Northover endured years of deprivation. The life of most Olympic-caliber athletes is not the jet-setting one of snowboarder Shaun White or the celebrity endorsement machine that is swimmer Michael Phelps. No, it is of daily struggles to hold down a job and pay bills while finding the time to train. To compete you need to constantly fundraise.

So the midpoint between her last Summer Games and the 2012 London Olympics finds Northover, 26, still fighting to remain in the sport. A 2007 graduate of Northeastern University, Northover could be living comfortably and close to friends and family. She’s had offers to coach.

She gave up a job at the University and ventured far from her comfort zone to train with renown field events coach Mohamad Saatara, the throws coach at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Ariz. That’s where she is now, training hard to remain relevant in an unforgiving sport.

When she moved to Flagstaff in September 2009, the job in the school athletic department fell through. Northover was forced to sleep on a friend’s couch and live out of her Ford Focus. She applied for public assistance. This was as far from Olympic dreams as you can get.

“I hit a rock bottom,’’ Northover said. “ I was getting offers from schools to come and coach and offers to work full-time at different places. But I knew that those offers wouldn’t enable me to train the way I need to in order to truly compete on the next level.”

Then she reaggravated her back injury, halting her training. Northover landed a job in December and has been working as a community organizer for A league of Neighborhoods. President Obama worked a similar job out of college. Now her back is better and she is training once more. Things are looking up.

She is on pace to compete at the Jamaican National Championships from June 26-28 in Kingston, Jamaica. And then she hopes to join a mission to Europe in conjunction with Christian-based Athletes in Action.

“Though situations may be tough, even though you may have paralyzing doubt, if you believe in yourself and you keep moving in faith, then anything you set your heart and mind to will come to pass,’’ Northover said. “I hope from this mission I will be able to continue to inspire those whom I come in contact with while also learning a great deal from others and myself. Every day I strive to make a difference in the world. Even if it’s just by helping one person, then it’s an accomplishment for the day.”

“Moving in faith” is Northover’s credo. And when you learn how she came to pick up the shot in the first place, you appreciate her spiritual message all the more. She only joined the track team in high school to lessen the load. Basketball was too much of a commitment for Sewanhaka’s junior class president. So she changed sports, threw the shot on a lark and suddenly found her path.

Help Zara Northover take her inspirational story overseas. She is looking for help financing her mission. Go online at http://www.give.ccci.org and enter Northover’s tracking number CCC#: 5534030 into the “Give a Gift” box. Or send a check. Make checks payable to “Athletes In Action” and do not write Northover’s name in the memo line of the check per IRS guidelines. Send it to:

Zara Northover
901 S O’Leary Street
Apartment 23
Flagstaff, AZ 86001

Blog originally posted at LI Pulse.com