LITTLE FALLS, NJ — Continuing a beloved tradition in local high school sports, for the ninth consecutive year the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center honored student athletes from member schools of the Super Essex Conference in a celebration of the qualities that made Yogi Berra a national treasure. Recipients of the 2021 Investors Bank Best Teammate Award, selected by their respective athletic departments, exemplify the strength of character, sportsmanship and supportive spirit that, though often unheralded, are vital to a team’s success — qualities that were on full display May 25, despite the ceremony being held virtually, instead of in the museum’s theater.
Recipients are as follows: Arts High School’s Janayah McCullers, Barringer High School’s Isiah Cabrera, Belleville High School’s Jason Miranda, Bloomfield High School’s Tiffany Ortiz, Cedar Grove High School’s Brian Catanzarite, Central High School’s Briana Worthy, Columbia High School’s Jacob Messeri, Eagle Academy’s Qrshon Roberts, East Orange Campus High School’s Jahzara Mathieson, East Side High School’s Beatriz Vicente Da Cunha, Glen Ridge High School’s Matt Van Bloem, Irvington High School’s Victoria Bonheur, James Caldwell High School’s Natalie Lorenz, Livingston High School’s Vincent Militello, Malcolm X. Shabazz High School’s Ja’zon Ellis, Millburn High School’s Sydney Kuehn, Montclair High School’s Sabrina Martin, Montclair Immaculate Conception High School’s Thomas Pennetta, Montclair Kimberley Academy’s Rollins Heath, Mount St. Dominic Academy’s Kaitlin Hladik, Newark Academy’s Billy Hales, Newark Tech’s Allendy Lluberes, North Star Academy’s Kolina France, Nutley High School’s Kaitlyn Gavidia, Orange High School’s Celine Jobson, Payne Tech’s Nicole Johansson, Saint Vincent Academy’s Therese Argueta, Science Park High School’s Nakiyah Jackson, Seton Hall Prep’s Tim Polizzi, Technology High School’s Jordan Skillern, University High School’s Janaie Coates-Sinues, Verona High School’s Megan Meehan, Weequahic High School’s Stephen Akuakolam, West Caldwell Tech’s Isabella Tosca, West Essex Regional High School’s Rebecca Desiderio, West Orange High School’s Tracey Ilderis and West Side High School’s Heavyn Woods.
“Matt helps younger b-ball players build their skills, and he was respectful to everyone on the team,” Glen Ridge varsity basketball coaches said about Van Bloem. “He is a selfless player who worked hard and encouraged teammates during practices and on game day.”
“Victoria just wanted to play sports, and she loved to play with her teammates,” Irvington coaches said about Bonheur, who plays both basketball and softball. “She rallied the players to make the most of their senior year and do their best even though the season was shorter than normal.”
“When it comes to teammates, Jahzara always sets the right example for players and her classmates,” East Orange Campus girls volleyball coaches said about Mathieson. “She holds herself and teammates accountable for their actions on the volleyball court, in school and in the community.”
“Kaitlyn, who was injured, stayed involved with her teams by attending every practice and game,” Nutley coaches said about Gavidia, who is on the girls soccer and track teams. “She was often the third ‘coach’ on the bench, cheering on her teammates and helping to energize the players.”
The 37 winning students, together with their parents, grandparents, coaches and athletic directors, had the opportunity to hear from special guest Bill Brown, chief retail officer of Investors Bank, long-time sponsor of the event. In congratulating the recipients, Brown said, “At Investors we … often talk in meetings about Yogi Berra as the model of a person who lifted the people around him. The Best Teammate Award shows that you make your teammates better because of who you are.”
“There has been so much personal sacrifice in the last 14 months,” said Eve Schaenen, the museum’s executive director, in her welcome remarks to the students on Zoom. “Sports seasons were canceled, or cut short, or modified to account for the public health crisis we have all lived through. And yet, your athletic directors still chose you as ‘best teammate.’ What that says so clearly, this year more than ever, is that the qualities of a great teammate are identifiable in you … because of who you are as people, as much as who you are as athletes.”
Participants also heard from Dale Berra, Yogi Berra’s youngest son, who spoke of his experience playing on the same team as his Hall of Fame father; Dale Berra was a player when his father managed the New York Yankees. The younger Berra reminded the students that being a great teammate isn’t just about statistics, but is about putting the team first, showing respect for others and persevering.