As he was inducted into the Oceanside High School Hall of Fame’s Circle of Pride along with his former baseball teammates, Sam Ytuarte said he thought of his late grandfather, Frank Janu-szewski, a longtime district coach who started the Hall of Fame in 1962.
“It means a lot, for sure,” Ytuarte said. “Even though he’s gone, to see his legacy living on and touching people’s lives is powerful. Some people there even spoke about him, and to see what they had gone on to do with their lives, partially as a result of the wisdom he gave them, means he had an impact beyond his years at Oceanside, and beyond the years of his life.”
Ytuarte and the 2004 Ocean-side varsity baseball team were inducted into the Circle of Pride at a special ceremony at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Oceanside on Nov. 13, along with other former athletes, coaches and community members who made an impact on Oceanside sports.
The 2004 baseball team was honored because it went undefeated during the regular season and played in the state championship. Though the squad lost its final game, Ytuarte said he had cherished the memories he made on the diamond, and that it was a humbling experience to be honored. He noted that about 15 of the players attended the event.
“What I liked most about that team is we weren’t really a ‘rah rah’ team and we didn’t need to fire each other up for the games,” he said. “We had this understanding that we just wanted to go out and win, and it was unique.”
Ytuarte, 32, graduated from OHS in 2004 and then went to the University of Connecticut. He now works in the insurance industry. He and his wife, Rachel, recently bought a house in Bellmore and are expecting a baby in February. He said his time at Oceanside helped make him the person he is today.
In addition to the baseball team, the top inductees included Randy Levine, the current president of the Yankees, who graduated from Oceanside High in 1974, and Gina Prinzevalli, a 1992 graduate who was a professional soccer player for the Long Island Lady Rough Riders.
The other inductees were all alumni of OHS, and included brothers Joseph and Michael Devlin, who were All-American lacrosse players at Duke and Yale, respectively; Danielle D’Ambrosio Chiera, who was All-New England and a record holder in soccer at Central Connecticut State University; Jodi Kaplan, who was Most Valuable Player at SUNY Oneonta in both volleyball and softball; Phil Stern, a Division 1 women’s basketball coach at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the all-time leader in wins at the college; Billy Weitzman, who played five years of professional baseball in the Mets organization and also led Oceanside to a state championship in baseball in 2000; John McMullan, who was a basketball, soccer and golf coach, earning county titles in golf and soccer; and Sam Cooperman, who ran the Oceanside Little League for 22 years. Each inductee received a plaque, and an identical one will be placed in the Hall of Fame at Oceanside High School.
“It was really a great event, and it was a real warm feeling among all the people there,” said Richie Woods, a former varsity basketball and baseball coach who retired in 2017 and served as the master of ceremonies. “Many alumni reconnected with each other, and good friends from the good old days got together for this event.”
About 160 people attended this year’s event, Woods said, noting that teachers, coaches, alumni and district administrators came, and that each of the inductees got up to say a few words about being honored. Levine and Prinzevalli were unable to attend, he added.
The Circle of Pride began in 2003 as a way to honor former athletes who were successful in sports after high school. Coaches and high school teachers Sean Keenan and Tony Caiazza started the Athletic Pride Club and came up with the idea to create the Circle of Pride, which is now held every other year. In its first year, former Kansas City Royals pitcher Dennis Leonard and former Knicks forward Ernie Vandeweghe were among the alumni honored. A committee comprising faculty advisers and community members selects the honorees. Woods said the event is an extension of what Januszewski started more than five decades ago with the creation of the Hall of Fame. “There were athletes that were close to tears talking about him,” Woods said. “He was just that kind of guy, so it’s within his spirit that this whole thing happens.”
Januszewski, who died last fall, was a longtime basketball coach and won a number of county championships. He is remembered for his love of parties, Woods said, along with his sense of humor and pride in all things Oceanside. He coached many notable players, including Art Heyman, who was the Knicks’ No. 1 draft pick in 1963.
Ken Dwyer, the co-adviser of the Athletic Pride Club, which organizes the Circle of Pride, along with Jason Manning, said that the event is a reminder of how special Oceanside is.
“One of the things that’s great is you see these bonds that are made between player and coach and player and teacher that last a lifetime,” said Dwyer, who has taught social studies at the high school for 20 years and was a lacrosse coach for 17. “We had inductees who haven’t come back to Oceanside in decades, and yet they see that coach or that teacher that they had some years ago and you see that sort of connection that spans years and distance. . . . It’s pretty powerful.”