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Thursday, April 9, 2015: Eighth-grader's decision draws wide attention

   Leading off today: A lot is being made about a development out of New Jersey this week, and I scarcely know where to begin dissecting it. I will say that keeping in mind some variation of Mohandas Gandhi's suggestion to "hate the sin and not the sinner" could be helpful as we dive into the subject. (But, damn, that's going to be hard.)

   So, away we go ...

   Josh McKenzie, a very talented wrestler and football player in eighth grade in Wall Township, N.J., lit up the Internet by going on social media Monday night to announce he was "committing" to Bergen Catholic.

   "After a long thought out decision," he wrote on Twitter, "I have finally decided to attend the school in Oradell and become a Crusader of Bergen Catholic."

   Darren Cooper of The Record in New Jersey notes McKenzie didn't break new ground nationally or even locally having his decision announced via Twitter. "This is how the world works now," Cooper wrote.

   The world understandably pays more attention when the person making the announcement has athletic prowess. Trust me, no one cared when I was the first student in line in the cafeteria at Aquinas Institute one April morning in 1976 to hand the Basilian Fathers a check for $100 to confirm my intention to attend the school in the fall. I couldn't (and still can't) walk and chew gum at the same time, though I was a math whiz.

   McKenzie, though, is 5 feet, 9 inches and 184 pounds of athletic marvel who attracted the attention of a lot of high school coaches. He played running back and LB/DB last fall for the River Plaza-Lincroft Chargers and scored more than 35 touchdowns to lead his team to the American Youth Football semifinals in Florida. On the wrestling mat, McKenzie was 30-0 (28 pins and two technical falls) on the way to a sixth consecutive New Jersey state youth championship this winter; he reportedly hasn't lost a match in almost four years.

   "He's the perfect fit for our school," Bergen Catholic football coach Nunzio Campanile told The Record this week. "I think he's very similar to a lot of the kids we have in that locker room right now, both from a football and a wrestling standpoint. He's a dynamic athlete, (and) a great student, and I think he's the type of athlete who has the ability to compete from the day he gets here."

   With another nod to Cooper's observation that "this is how the world works now," it's kind of scary that people have kept track of the kid's high stats. More troubling, though are the following:

    • McKenzie turned 15 last week, which means he repeated at least one grade along the way; I was 15 when I started by junior year in high school.

    • Unless his family pulls up stakes and moves, McKenzie's commute from Wall Township to the Bergen Catholic campus is at least 75 minutes in each direction every day. With no realistic public transportation options, here's hoping he becomes very proficient at doing homework in a moving car.

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   On an encouraging note, McKenzie at least suggests that a balance of academics and athletics drove his decision.

   "Their education and athletics go hand-in-hand with one another," McKenzie told "Bergen has one of the top-notch educational programs in the state -- and football and wrestling. Out of all the schools you really can't get that out of any other one. Bergen was the right choice."

   Dedication set for Sunday: Pine Plains' baseball field will be dedicated and named in honor of Mike Kohut before Sunday afternoon's game vs. Millbrook.

   Kohut, the Pine Plains AD for two decades and a respected figure in local baseball circle, died in January 2014. In his 24 years as baseball coach beginning in 1969, he was never at the helm of a losing season.

   "It's a no-brainer," softball coach Les Funk told The Poughkeepsie Journal. "With Mike, you always knew where you stood. He did things his way -- the right way."

   Extra points: New York State Sportswriters Association baseball editor Tom Vartanian is pretty close to being ready to launch weekly rankings for the 2015 season, though some precincts are admittedly still water-logged. However, Tom is looking for a volunteer to assist with weekly updates from Section 10. If you can help, shoot Tom an email at to volunteer.

   Work is just about complete on the boys basketball all-state teams in the smaller classes. Barring a last-minute problem, we'll reveal Classes B, C and D next Thursday morning.

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