14th Annual Columbia HS Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Dinner set for May 9

MAPLEWOOD, NJ – The Columbia High School Athletic Hall of Fame Committee will hold its 14th Annual Induction Dinner on Thursday, May 9 at Mayfair Farms, located at 481 Eagle Rock Ave. in West Orange.

Reception is at 6 p.m. and dinner is 7 p.m.

The cost is $85 per person. Tables of 10 people can be reserved at $850 per table. Please make check payable to: Columbia High School Athletic Hall of Fame.

To purchase a ticket and for  more information, contact Ed Manigan at 973-650-1731; or emanigan@gmail.com

This year’s induction class features Steven Lesnik (Swimming, Class of 1958); Jim Bianchi (Lacrosse, 1977); Beth Caskey (Volleyball, 1980); Steven Giordano (Soccer, 1980); Kevin Bianchi (Wrestling/Football, 1981); Natalie Deffenbaugh, (Track & Field, 1998); Charles Taylor (Peter Cross Award); Lisa Morgan (Coach Award, 1985); and the 1960 Boys Swim Team.

Here are the bios of the inductees:

STEVEN LESNIK, 1958

The period from the mid 1950s through the early ‘60s was a great one for the Columbia swim program. Lesnik was arguably the greatest individual for the Cougars during that era. He was the only sophomore to score when the Cougars won the state meet by half a point in 1956, was the state champion in the 150 individual medley as a junior, and as a senior, broke his own state record in the 150 IM and also won the state 200 freestyle championship.

JIM BIANCHI, 1977

In the amazing history of the Columbia lacrosse program, dating back to its early days in the 1970s, the Bianchi family name stands out above all others.

It started with Jim, who with teammate John Hooper, represented the first of many All-Americans in program history.

Jim was followed by his brother, Bob, who graduated in 1979 and was later named Player of the Century by the Star-Ledger and was part of the first Columbia Athletic Hall of Fame class in 2006. Kevin Bianchi then graduated in 1981, and is also part of this year’s Hall of Fame class.

Jim, Bob and Kevin all moved from Columbia to the United States Naval Academy. During Jim’s senior year, the Midshipmen were ranked third nationally, and he was named a first-team All-American.

BETH CASKEY, 1980

The Columbia girls volleyball program is legendary, with the team going 247-0 in regular and post-season matches from its founding in 1977 until the streak ended in 1988. One of the early standouts was Caskey, who was Essex County Tournament MVP her senior year, a second-team All-State pick as a junior and first-team All-State selection as a senior.

STEPHEN GIORDANO, 1981

The goalkeeper is regarded as arguably the best, and certainly most successful, at his position in the history of the Columbia soccer program. His career record in goal was 46-2-5, and he set the school shutout mark of 19 as a senior in 1980, a record that still stands. His record for goals-against average (0.49) held until 1998. He was in goal for the 2-1 victory over Neptune in the 1979 Group 4 state final, and he had clean sheets against powerful Bloomfield teams in both the 1979 and ‘80 Essex County Tournament finals. He was first team All-State in 1980.

KEVIN BIANCHI, 1981

A star in wrestling and lacrosse, he joined his brothers Jim and Bob (the Star-Ledger Lacrosse Player of the 20th Century) in moving on from Columbia to the United States Naval Academy.

Although he was an excellent lacrosse player (earning second team All-State honors), he truly excelled in wrestling. As a senior, he went 25-1 and was an Essex County, District and Region champion. He also won county and District titles as a junior. His success continued at Navy, where he was an NCAA quarterfinalist.

He became a career Naval officer, eventually earning the rank of Commander. Kevin perished in a Navy helicopter crash in Italy in July of 2003, one day after his 40th birthday. It also came 16 years after his brother Bob died in a Navy helicopter crash in the Philippines.

NATALIE DEFFENBAUGH, 1998

She was not a competitive runner until signing up for the outdoor track team as a freshman, but soon became one of Cougar program’s all-time greats.

She lettered that first year as a 100m hurdler, but would eventually become a specialist in longer distances. Her prowess helped Columbia win indoor and outdoor state titles in 1996, ‘97 and ‘98, and she was a team co-captain each of those years. In cross country, she was the Essex County Champion as a senior in the fall of 1997, leading the Cougars to the team title as well.

She ran the lead leg on the 4×800 relay team that broke the indoor and outdoor national records and on the first United States high school distance medley team to win the event at the Penn Relays. She also frequently anchored the Columbia 4×400 relay squad, including the one that was victorious and set a meet record at the Millrose games.  She also won the NJSIAA Outdoor Meet of Champions in the 400 intermediate hurdles as a senior.

She continued her career at Princeton, where she was an Ivy League champion in the 800m.

CHARLES TAYLOR (Peter Cross Award)

A physical education, health and driver ed teacher from 1980 through 2011, Taylor was one of the most well-liked and respected members of the entire faculty. Through most of those years he happened to work with Cross, the long-time beloved teacher, coach and administrator who the service award is named after.

Taylor grew up in Red Bank, where he was a standout athlete, particularly in football and baseball, at Red Bank Regional. He arrived at Columbia after graduating from Glassboro State. He coached a variety of sports at Columbia, most notably as the head softball coach for 18 years.

LISA MORGAN, 1985 (Coach Award)

A star track athlete during her days as a student, she returned to lead the program to new levels of success as coach from 2008 until she departed to become the founding coach of the Bloomfield College track and field program in 2016.

1960 BOYS SWIM TEAM

During a period where swimming was a dominant sport at Columbia, the 1960 team may have been the program’s best. That year, Columbia won its third state championship in a six-year span, and did so with a dramatic victory over Westfield, which was its biggest rival.

Westfield had won the state championship in 1958 and ‘59, and would do so again in every season from 1961 through ‘70.

Columbia set loads of school records during its 9-2 dual meet season in 1960, but both losses were against Westfield. And in the state meet, Westfield held a four-point lead over Columbia with the final two relay events remaining. But the Cougars won both in dramatic fashion to capture the championship.

Editor’s note: The bios were comprised by Sean Reilly.

 

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