The Fort Lee Girls Recreation Basketball League held its Opening Night Festivities Tuesday to kick off the season. Hosted by league president Michael Klein, the night brought more than 400 people to the Lewis F. Cole Middle School gym.
Players, families, friends, coaches, sponsors and town dignitaries attended the ceremony, during which it was announced that a record number of 269 girls are participating in the league this year.
Guests included Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich and Councilman Mike Sargenti.
Sokolich addressed the audience and later tossed up the opening tip. Fort Lee Assistant Superintendent of Schools Dr. Sharon Amato and several Fort Lee Board of Education members were also in attendance.
When Klein took over the league seven years ago, the league had 132 girls playing on 10 teams. The current enrollment allows for 22 teams and 47 coaches.
“The interest in girls’ basketball has really taken off throughout the town,” Klein said. “I am happy that so many girls want to be involved in the sport, and that so many parents are willing to support by coaching. I wouldn’t be able to do it without the parents.”
The league has four divisions: The 3rd & 4th grade division has six teams, and both the 5th & 6th grade and 7th & 8th grade divisions have eight teams. The travel division includes a 5th & 6th grade team, an all-7th grade team and an all-8th grade team. Each recreation team has a local sponsor; most are members of the Fort Lee Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Many sponsors continue to support the league year after year. Most of the coaches have daughters in the league and move up through the divisions as their daughters get older. But there are also several coaches whose daughters graduated from the league but continue to volunteer their time because they enjoy it and enjoy giving back to the community.
Several coaches, especially those with two daughters in the league, volunteer their time with two teams. Steve Schulman, a coach of a 5th & 6th grade team and a 7th & 8th grade team, said, “Although it is very demanding, it is very rewarding.”
Last year’s travel season ended when, for the first time ever, two of the three teams won championships in the Tenafly Travel League. The 6th grade team, coached by Ralph DiMeglio, Danny Gaito, and Frank Ferraro, took home a championship trophy. Scott Mittman and Greg Vucci coached the 7th grade team to a championship victory as well.
This year’s travel teams advanced to the Army Division of the league, which is highly competitive. The 5th & 6th grade team is coached by John Feasenmyer and assisted by first year coaches Jeff Weber and Eufemio Infante. The 7th grade team is coached by returning coaches Ralph DiMeglio and Frank Ferraro. Veteran coaches Scott Mittman and Greg Vucci coach the 8th grade team.
Klein is a hands-on league president, and devoting roughly 50 hours a week to the league has made it a second full-time job. He attends every team’s game and many practices.
Klein is very proud of the league’s website, which he considers one of the most exciting components of the league. Thanks to Coach Ralph DiMeglio, the website includes statistics, photos, links, schedules, announcements and general information. Klein believes it’s a great tool for communication, not only for people involved in the league, but for the community as well.
The league has laid the foundation for many talented girls play basketball at the high school level. Current varsity players who came through the program include Fort Lee High School seniors Renee Mattessich, Lisa Amarini, Taylor Gorruso and Danielle Elmers. Klein communicates with the Fort Lee High School girls’ varsity coaches, Stacie Zafiris and Billy Straub, on a regular basis to help lay the groundwork for up and coming players. Such girls include current league players Jackie McKenna, Sarah Diaz and Jamie Rosa, Nicole Maldonado, Ellie Schulman, Gianna Dejesus, Catherine Liapis, Jane Kim, Caitlin Yee and Kamryn Mattesich.
“I am so happy and proud that the league has grown. It’s great to be able watch a girl start in the league, learn the game, and improve her skills over the years. The league provides the opportunity for not only this, but a social environment as well,” said Klein, who also thanked Leah "BLL" Rosa her years of behind-the-scenes work.
“She is a tremendous asset to the league with various administrative duties,” Klein said. “BLL is in her last year with her daughter Jamie, who started in the 3rd grade, being an 8th grader in the league. She will be sorely missed. I need to find another BLL.”
Final scores for opening night ceremony games on Jan. 8 were as follows:
3/4th grade division:
- Norms Ice Cream - 6
- Brescia Medical - 4
- Systrum Energy - 8
- Fairway Market - 6
5/6th Grade Division:
- Twin Towers Exxon - 7
- Starr, Darcy & Starr - 6
- PostcardsRus - 14
- Tutor Doctor - 13