54 YEARS OF THE BERGEN COUNTY JAMBOREE
The Bergen County Basketball Jamboree came into being on the scholastic basketball map in December of 1950 when the Bergen County Coaches Association appointed a committee to look into the possibility of a countywide high school basketball tournament.
Charlie Yennie, former basketball coach at Ridgewood High School, headed the first jamboree committee in an effort to get the ball rolling. Others who served on that committee included Francis “Red” Garrity of Englewood, Oscar Thompson of Hackensack, Al Brown of Bogota, Wilbur Ruckel of North Arlington, Harold Schaible of Rutherford, Tom Morgan of Englewood, Bob Curley of St. Luke’s, and Carl Mueller of Woodridge.
In 1951, the first Jamboree was played with Holy Trinity of Hackensack defeating North Arlington 37?27.
The Bergen County Tourney, named in honor of the late Oscar F. Thompson, has had many great ups and some downs. On three occasions in the last 50 years, the years of 1962, 1965, and a four-year period from 1967 through 1970, it was necessary to call off the tourney due to various reasons. One of the main problems was State scheduling restrictions.
In 1971 however, Pete LaBarbiera, as Bergen County Coaches Association President, initiated the reinstatement of the Jamboree. He appointed a committee with Ed Strohmeyer of Tenafly as chairman, Mickey Corcoran of Northern Highlands, Charlie Brown of Paramus, and Tony Comeleo of Lodi and passed on his idea of spreading the tournament dates throughout the month of February to avoid scheduling violations. More recently Lee Clark, Bruce Bartlett, Paul Puglise, Ralph Lella, Jim Brangan, Leon Steinberg, John Mazziotta, John Ryan, Chris Donfield and Frank Connelly have served on the committee.
Since then, for 39 consecutive years, the Jamboree has been one of the most prestigious scholastic sports tournaments in New Jersey. In the 53 previous tournaments that have been staged, the thrills have come aplenty. But the 1954 finale between Hackensack and Englewood and the 1985 Championship between Northern Valley – Demarest and Rutherford stand out above many other great title clashes.
In 1954, Hackensack, coached by Howard Bollerman Sr., was gunning for its third straight championship as it battled against mentor Tom Morgan’s talented Englewood squad. The Comets and the Maroon Raiders battled every inch of the way in a contest that saw the score tied or the lead change 31 times. Junius Daniels’ fine all around play and Tom “Nip” Goodwin’s fantastic outside shooting kept Englewood in contention throughout the exciting contest. The game went right down to the wire with the two teams matching basket for basket until Englewood moved in front, 61?59, with four seconds remaining. Englewood gained its 61?59 edge on a pair of charity throws by Goodwin and everything appeared doomed for the Comets as the clock showed four seconds left and the more than 1,500 fans in attendance at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s gym were in an uproar. A Maroon upset was in the making and excitement was ready to explode. But then Kenny Harrison, Hackensack’s guard took an inbound pass and flung a football?like pass down court to center Bill McCadney. McCadney leaped into the air, pulled the ball down into his possession and, almost in the same motion, twisted and snapped it into the basket for a field goal to tie the score 61?61. Almost unnoticed as the final buzzer sounded, however, with McCadney’s shot going through the hoop, was referee Harold Schaible’s whistle signaling that McCadney was also fouled on the play. A semblance of order was restored as the crowd ringed the playing floor. McCadney stepped to the foul line and sank his shot to give Hackensack its third straight jamboree crown in an exciting storybook ending.
54 YEARS OF THE BERGEN COUNTY JAMBOREE
In the 1985 Final, unbeaten Rutherford (23?0) and unbeaten Northern Valley – Demarest (22?0) fought through two overtimes before a champion was crowned. It seemed unlikely that the game could live up to advance billing, but it did that and more. Rutherford’s coach, Bill Whitney, and Northern Valley – Demarest’s coach, Chuck Luethke, matched wits for thirty?eight nail?biting minutes. A nip and tuck first half ended with Northern Valley – Demarest clinging to a 27?26 lead. Rutherford’s Matt Shannon opened the second half with a jump shot and the Bulldogs led by as many as six points on two occasions before the Norsemen finally took the lead one minute into the second half. The outstanding play of point guard Tom Zacharias and the rebounding and scoring of Dave Brooks had kept Rutherford in control throughout the second half. However, Northern Valley – Demarest kept battling back behind the fine all?around play of the Buckley twins, Bill and John, and Peter Cornet who scored 31 points and grabbed 18 rebounds. It was Cornet’s buzzer-beating shots that forced the first overtime and the second overtime. In the second overtime, Bill Buckley’s jumper with 2:00 left and his follow-up with 1:30 to go gave the Norsemen a 60?56 lead it didn’t relinquish as it gained a 68?64 victory in an unforgettable championship game.
The thrills have not been limited to championship games. The 2009 tournament saw 13 of the 19 games played decided by eight points or less with one overtime game and one double overtime game. The four quarterfinal games featured winning margins of two, two (in overtime), four and five points and the semifinals were decided by four and eight points. Teaneck became the first public school in nine years to win the championship in a 53-51 victory over St. Joseph Regional that went down to the last second. The Highwaymen gave their head coach, Curtis March, the perfect ‘welcome back to the bench’ one week after the veteran mentor suffered a heart attack.
This has truly been an outstanding tournament year after year and the word “Jamboree” has become synonymous with “hoop excitement.”