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Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015: Albany CBA bowlers win title after coach's death

   Leading off today: Victory was bittersweet on Wednesday for the Albany CBA bowling team. Shortly before earning the school's first Section 2 boys bowling championship, team members learned that coach Tom Donato, 65, had died of an apparent heart attack, The Times Union reported.

   With former coach Brian McGraw and the operator of CBA's home bowling center arriving on the scene to help out, CBA administrator Jim Schlegel broke the news to team members after warmups. "They reacted very emotionally," he told the paper. "They were very close to Coach."

   After a sluggish start, the CBA bowlers gathered momentum and threw a second-game score of 1,103 -- the tournament high -- on the board.

   "The first couple of frames, it definitely was still very shocking," CBA's Zeph Kozakiewicz said. "As the game progressed, we knew what we were trying to do. We were trying to win this for him the whole time."

   Columbia held a 43-pin lead heading into the sixth and final game, but Kozakiewicz closed with a 255 and Dom Savona put together a string of nine strikes for a 279. When it was over, the Brothers won the Class AA crown by a 73-pin margin with a 6,084 total.

   "In my mind, my guys didn't lose," Columbia coach Bill Neumann said. "The other team won. They bowled phenomenonally. They rallied for their coach. It's a great story."

   CBA advances to next month's NYSPHSAA tournament in Syracuse.

   Glitch sidelines two swimmers: Two of the area's best swimmers were disqualified from the Section 5 boys championships during Tuesday's prelims after meet officials determined that their coach had submitted an incorrect lineup card.

   Senior Nick Olson, who registered the section's top times in the 50- and 100-yard freestyles this season, and sophomore Brandon Amthor, No. 1 in the 200 freestyle, were DQ'd from the Class A meet after coach Scott Stepanek accidentally submitted the wrong lineup for the meet-opening 200 medley relay.

   Stepanek wrote the names of his section-leading 400 free relay, including Olson and Amthor. Once they failed to compete in the race, they were technically benched for the remainder of the competition, though the mistake wasn't caught until late in the prelims.

   "When you turn the card in, those are the kids who are supposed to swim that event. If they don't swim that event and they are entered then they are disqualified for the rest of the meet," Section 5 swimming coordinator Scott Fake told the Democrat and Chronicle.

   An appeal to Section 5 was turned down Wednesday, so the disqualifications will stand for Thursday's finals. However, the two swimmers and their 400 free relay already possess automatic qualifying times that will allow them to compete at the state meet Feb. 27-28 at Ithaca College, the paper reported.

   "I take full responsibility and it's too bad it cost two guys so much," Stepanek said. "We were all devastated."

   Milestone: Greece Athena boys basketball coach Jim Johnson picked up career win No. 400 Wednesday when the Trojans, ranked No. 2 in the state in Class A, beat Churchville-Chili 93-65.

   Johnson has coached varsity teams for 29 years, the last 19 with the Trojans. Athena has won five sectional titles in the past nine seasons.

   "I'm real appreciative of the fact that I've had the opportunity to coach this long and hopefully made an impact on some young people," he told the Democrat and Chronicle.

   That time of year: Whether it's a case of the schedule-maker saving some of the best matchups for last or teams losing some of their focus down the homestretch, the last week of basketball's regular season has a history of putting the first blemish on win-loss records.

   On Tuesday, the Rome Free Academy girls beat previously perfect Bishop Grimes 48-35. RFA is ranked 21st in Class AA and Grimes is second in Class B this week.

   The same night, Newfield's boys took their first loss in the form of a 49-35 setback vs. Watkins Glen, which scored the

contest's first 10 points. Newfield is ranked sixth and Watkins Glen 15th in Class C this week.

   More basketball notes: Holland senior Clay Lewis set a school single-game record Tuesday with 50 points in an 84-46 victory vs. Eden. Lewis was 16-for-25 from the field, including 9-for-13 accuracy on 3-pointers.

   Lewis added 10 rebounds and six assists.

   There were no perfect records on the line Monday, but two of the better girls Class A teams in New York got together and No. 6 Cardinal O'Hara topped No. 8 Sacred Heart 68-55 to lock up its third straight Monsignor Martin Association regular-season title. Summer Hemphill's triple-double included a game-high 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals.

   Cast your vote now: Online voting through Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the NYSPHSAA's second annual Battle of the Fans contest closes Friday at 8 a.m.    Bethlehem, Pittsford and Skaneateles are battling for the top honor, with the champion to be announced later Friday based on a calculation of total social-media votes divided by school enrollment.

   More details are available on the NYSPHSAA website.

   New Jersey rumblings: New Jersey state Sen. Nick Sacco wants to fully separate public and private high school sports in his state, citing a competitive imbalance, reported.

   "The complete unfairness of this situation where schools can recruit, give scholarships, and take talent from all over the region, not just the state, and then have an organization like the NJSIAA insist they play public schools in their league is so unfair to football players and other athletes," Sacco said.

   Sacco is threatening to convene legislative hearings -- even using subpoena power to dig into private schools' alleged recruiting tactics -- if the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association doesn't revamp its policies.

   The issue of public/private balance has been under discussion by a NJSIAA committee since the beginning of the school year. Executive Director Steve Timko said there is no timeline for its recommendations to be made public.

   The cynic in me says Sacco is at least partly motivated by a desire to protect his turf. Besides his state senate position, he is mayor of North Bergen and a school board member. That's a combination rife with potential for conflict when voting at the state level for school-related funding or enacting local policies that could potentially favor public schools over their private counterparts.

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