This is dedicated to those who climbed high above the rest and earned a state title during the winter high school sports season.
The memory of one of those glorious champions who rose to the challenge in the big moment will stay with me forever. Competing on the big stage takes courage in all sports, especially as the pressure mounts, expectations grow, and an opportunity presents itself.
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Senior Jamel Hudson, a dynamic wrestler for St. Anthony's, with a cool demeanor and a great sense of humor, showed us why we love school sports.
Hudson was reaching for a goal that only three other Long Island CHSAA wrestling champions had ever achieved. He was trying to win a state public schools wrestling crown.
Chaminade's Robert Murphy was the first CHSAA wrestler to win a state public schools title 26 years ago in 1986. Lucas Magnani of St. Anthony's in 2000 and Grant Greene of St. Anthony's in 2008 would also add their names alongside Murphy's winning public school state titles.
Until Hudson, who flashed and dazzled his way to the 132-pound state title with an 8-1 win over Dylan Cohen of Williamsville East.
To achieve his goal, Hudson had to win the CHSAA state title and then beat the state's top ranked public schools wrestler, Nick Kelly of Shenendehowa, in a crowd-pleasing semifinal win in the state tournament.
Hudson never flinched. The stage was never too big. Focused on the state prize he barreled his way through the Catholic and public state championships.
But before his victory, there was an unexpected moment of glory. There was Hudson, standing along the mat with the other 59 finalists in Division I and Division II and more than 6,000 fans in the Times Union Center in Albany, waiting for the start of the Star Spangled Banner.
"They were having some difficulty [with the audio tape] and I offered to sing it for them," Hudson said. "It was an opportunity of a lifetime."
It was the start of what would be Jamel Hudson's unforgettable night. He brought the house down with the National Anthem and then rocked the place with an overpowering effort in the final.
Hudson wasn't the only one leaving an impression around the state. Long Island wrestlers won nine state titles, with four of those crowns won by wrestlers who qualified as wild card entrants.
Connetquot's Sean McCabe, Glenn's dynamic duo of James Dekrone and Nick Bellanza, and Syosset's Evan Kappatos earned state titles even though they didn't win county crowns on Long Island. Those performances supported the long-standing belief that Long Island is Strong Island on the mat.
We're also dominant on the track, in the pool and on the ice.
The Garden City girls track team left an indelible impression on the winter season as Molly Josephs earned the state and federation championship in the 1,500 racewalk. Teammate Emma Gallagher won the state and federation in the 600, and the 4x400 relay team earned state and federation honors. There were five other track state titles as well.
St. Anthony's, Long Beach and Massapequa won state hockey championships. And was there anyone better than St. Anthony's Christian Yeager and Great Neck South's Sam Mo in the pool. Yeager won the state federation in the 200-yard individual medley with a time of 1:49.06 and Mo earned the state public crown in the 200-yard IM with a time of 1:52.81.
It was a wonderful season for Long Island athletes, punctuated by one wrestler who went center stage and thrived.