Since coming into existence in 1918, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has regulated the competitive interests of the state’s student-athletes.
As the NJSIAA celebrates its centennial and heads into its second century, that responsibility is as strong as ever. And to help strengthen that commitment, the association is looking to help the student-athletes beyond the field of play.
The latest step in that direction took place on Oct. 5, when the first NJSIAA Senior Leadership Summit took place at the Westin Hotel in Princeton.
Every NJSIAA-member school was invited to send a senior representative to attend the four-hour program that featured four guest speakers, who each grew up playing sports in different parts of New Jersey.
The speakers were:
Dr. Lamont Repollet, the current state Education Commissioner and former athlete at Carteret High School.
Gian Paul Gonzalez, Union City native and former athlete at Manchester Regional, who has become an internationally-known motivational speaker.
Bob Hurley, Sr., the winningest basketball coach in New Jersey history, with 1,187 wins, 28 Non-Public state championships and 13 Tournament of Championships at St. Anthony in Jersey City, and one of three high school coaches inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Dr. Jarrod Spencer, former football and wrestling athlete at Phillipsburg and now a sports physchologist. His “Mind of An Athlete,” is a sports psychology company committed to improving the emotional health of athletes.
The program was organized by Colleen Maguire, NJSIAA Director of Finance and Administration, who was also an All-State basketball player and field hockey athlete during her days at South Hunterdon.
The NJSIAA was excited by the presence of Dr. Repollet, who was appointed Commissioner of Education earlier this year. The Commissioner, too, was pleased to spend time with the student-athletes.
During his remarks, Dr. Repollet asked the audience to take 10 seconds to imagine their lives without sports, and he went on to point out the lifelong benefits the students have already gained through their participation in sports.
“It’s always a good day when I get to be around kids,” Dr. Repollet said. “This was nice. I look forward to seeing how this grows. It’s more than just about the games on the field, and that’s what this is all about.”
The keynote speaker was Gonzalez, who was a Division 3 basketball All-American at Montclair State, who became a school teacher in Union City and then a internationally-sought motivational speaker after he gained fame with his “All In” speech to the New York Giants leading into their surprise run to the Super Bowl championship in 2015.
Hurley passed along many of the tips he’s picked up over the years that help in both athletics and in life.
Dr. Spencer gave an interactive presentation which showed up how the mind works, how a clearer mind leads to better performance, and how mental stress is not to be ignored, and in fact, is rather common.
There were more than 125 students in attendance, who were seated at tables exclusively comprised of fellow seniors from other schools. The students also enjoyed the program, and the advice offered by the speakers.
“I thought this was really cool and very inspiring,” said Molly McEneaney, a volleyball and softball player from Barnegat. “It was about more than playing sports and being on the field. It was touching how all of the speakers explained it. It was also cool how they are appreciating more than just who we are on the field.”
“I got a lot of things out of this,” said Dameer Vital, a basketball player from Irvington. “It was good to meet other athletes and know what they are going through. I learned that I have to clear my head more in order to improve on the court, and I really enjoyed Bob Hurley and Gian Paul. They really touched me.”
Christopher Gomez was the student representative from West Milford. He plays soccer, basketball and baseball.
“I learned a lot about my mind and how to release stress so that I can perform better,” he said. “I also learned that my voice matters, and that we need to set an example to younger players, and how we can also set an example in our school and community. I also met people from schools from all over, and was interesting to see the differences between North and South Jersey.”