WEST ORANGE, NJ – In the years that Seton Hall Prep has been located in West Orange, several graduating classes have been quite special.
A prime example is the 1991 class which spotlighted basketball star Ira Bowman. In his senior campaign for Coach Bob Farrell in the winter of 1990-91, Bowman led the Pirates to state, county and conference titles. SHP advanced to the Tournament of Champions final against powerful St. Anthony with a perfect record.
For SHP sports fans, the class of 1998 was another special one. Jeff Miller, one of the top all-around athletes in Garden State history, picked up his diploma that spring. In his career at SHP, Miller sparkled in football, basketball and baseball. On the gridiron, his skills as a receiver were particularly impressive.
And just a little bit over a decade ago, the 2007 class spotlighted baseball star Rick Porcello. In his senior campaign, Porcello’s efforts on the hill led SHP to a 32-1 mark. SHP, coached by Mike Sheppard Jr., was probably the top H.S. diamond team in the U.S. that year.
One more special class was the group in 1993. Brevin Knight, one of the best hoops players in state history, graduated that year. He was a member of the 1990-91 SHP hoops powerhouse, directing the attack at point guard.
“It was nice to be part of that class,” said Rhett Zidziunas, who was a teammate of Knight in both freshmen football and basketball. “That class had a number of top athletes.”
Zidziunas, who is busy these days coaching youth sports, to go along with part-time work as a musician, and full-time work in the environmental field, recalls some special times in the athletic arena.
“In my freshman year, both myself and Brevin were competing for the QB job,” said Zidziunas, who is a West Orange resident. “I got the job because the coaches felt that Brevin could help the team more as a receiver. Then that winter, Brevin led our freshmen basketball team to an unbeaten season. I think, even to this day, that was Seton Hall’s top freshmen basketball squad.
“When I saw Brevin play on the varsity as a sophomore in 1990-91, I knew he had the potential to make the NBA. It was enjoyable to follow his pro career after his college days at Stanford.”
As a varsity athlete at SHP, probably the top moment for Zidziunas came in his junior baseball season when SHP made it to the GNT finals against East Side.
Then as a senior, he was a key man in an incredible home comeback win over powerful Morristown. The Pirates scored 10 runs in the last of the seventh to gain a stunning 16-15 victory.
“The big hit in that inning was a grand slam by Gary Cordovano,” said Zidziunas, whose favorite player in the Majors was Don Mattingly of the Yankees. “I had the hit which tied the game, and then I scored the winning run. But as a whole, that season was a little disappointing.
“In football, I did pretty good at QB. I think our most frustrating game came when we lost to Paramus Catholic in the states. But then again, they had a great quarterback in Vito Campanile.” Campanile recently coached football at SHP before leaving for Bergen Catholic.
In college, Zidziunas started at Hobart but ended up at UMass. As a baseball player, he got the attention of a couple of teams in the Majors. He had a brief minor league career in Canada.
“At one point, I thought I had the potential to pitch in the Majors,” said Zidziunas. “Hey, one of my teammates on the UMass team in 1996, which won the Atlantic 10 Conference, did make the Majors. That was a great team.”
Zidziunas, who has three kids involved in sports, picked up a lot of his interest in sports from his dad, John, who played football at East Side and later Miami University. For the former Pirate standout, his favorite player in the NFL was Phil Simms of the Giants.
“It was great to see Simms lead the Giants to a Super Bowl title,” remarked Zidziunas.
Zidziunas, who had great respect for the academic standards expected for all SHP students, has no regrets as an athlete.
“I had so many wonderful experiences as an athlete,” said Zidziunas. “I really couldn’t ask for anymore.”
CLASS NOTES – In the winter of 1993, the SHP hockey team won the Gordon Cup, its first of seven in West Orange. The Pirates won two in South Orange… SHP’s 1993 Hall of Fame induction class was led by Farrell.