Friday, November 8, 2013

Hen Hud Should Be Swertfager's Court

On Friday, Nov. 1, I was at Hendrick Hudson High School for the Yorktown News, covering the Yorktown volleyball squad as it beat John Jay-Cross River for the Section 1 Class A title.


It was great to be back at Hen Hud, I covered its teams there from the mid-1990s to two years ago for various publications.


One of those people at Hen Hud I wrote about was a wonderful woman and coach who coach’s its volleyball squad, Diane Swertfager, who has enjoyed a legendary career at the Montrose-based school.


Swertfager and her Sailors (see team pix above) added to that legacy as they won their 12th sectional title in 14 years, this one amazingly as a 10th seed, when they ended No. 1 Ardsley’s season on Nov. 2 at John Jay-CR for the Class B crown.


Since I was caught up in the euphoria of covering Yorktown’s championship at Hen Hud, it took a couple of days but then it finally hit me, that there was someone’s name missing on that court and that name is Swertfager.


It is my opinion that the court at Hen Hud should be named after her.


That is an opinion that I don’t toss around lightly, believe me.


I know through personal experience bestowing that honor on someone should be taken very seriously.


I have been the public address announcer at Peekskill High School, my alma mater, since the 2000-01 school year where the court is named after Peekskill boys basketball coach Lou Panzanaro, a member of the New York State Basketball Hall of Fame.

I have known Panzanaro since I played Little League baseball for him. I’ve been close to him ever since, he’s practically like an uncle to me.


I obviously felt very strongly that the court at the John Devins Gymnasium should be named after him and in ‘08 it was.


I now feel just as strongly that the court at Hen Hud should be named after Swertfager.


Obviously, one reason why is that she has racked up an historic list of numbers.


According to an online petition ( requesting the court be named after her, these are the mind-blowing numbers that she has accumulated through ‘08, so many of these numbers have increased since then:


 Over 400 victories
• 14 League Championships, 12 undefeated
• 9 Consecutive Sectional Championships
• 6 Consecutive Regional Championships
• 5 Consecutive New York State Championship Finals 
• 3 Consecutive New York State Championships
• 5 New York State Team Scholar Athlete Awards
• 2 Consecutive High School All-American
• 1 NYS Gatorade Player of the Year Finalist
• 8 Section 1 players of the year, 4 Consecutively
• 42 All-Section selections
• 25 All-State Selections
• 11 Con Ed Scholar Athletes of the Week
• 2 Con Ed Sports Athletic Awardees
• 12 Coach of the year honors
• Numerous proclamations and citations from local, regional and state governmental officials and municipalities.


Besides the numbers, Swertfager has been heavily involved in the Hen Hud community, as per that petition, she among other things has led the charge for Katrina Relief efforts, Breast Cancer Awareness and the Red Cross.


What she and her kids have done for Breast Cancer Awareness, I saw myself, covering a game Hen Hud had against Croton-Harmon in ‘09 where both teams wore pink in what was a just a festive and electric atmosphere, similar to a Friday-night boys basketball game.

One parent who can attest to the Sailors giving back under Swertfager is Kurt Pelaccio, whose has three daughters who either played (Kristina and Jessica) or are currently playing (Lindsay) for Swertfager.

“We raise money each year through car washes, our home tournament, our yearly volleyball booklet as well as other fund raisers to donate to various cancer causes,” Pelaccio said. “She also runs many free volleyball clinics to all three local elementary schools that the varsity and JV girls run. Diane has enforced many values that my wife Jackie and I stress to the girls each day.”


Of course if the above numbers, what she has done for the community and the word of a veteran sports journalist who covered her teams aren’t enough, take the word of the people who played for her.

One of those players is Niki Tamburri, a ’08 Hen Hud graduate, who was named All-American her senior year and led the Sailors to state championships in ’06 and ’07.

Tamburri went on to play four years of volleyball at Iona College. She says she owes her entire volleyball career to Swertfager.

Besides that, off the court Swertfager has been an invaluable mentor to her as well.

“I can pretty much handle any task I have right now outside of sports with school, I am still in nursing school (Concordia College),” Tamburri said. “That came from her because my leadership grew in high school and when I came to college it was already instilled in me so much by her. It was very easy for me to take anything that came at me in college, not just sports but outside of sports, because I knew how to handle situations because of what she taught us.”

Kristina Pelaccio, who just finished her college playing career at Oneonta, her freshman sister Jackie is also on the team, said that without Swertfager’s help, there is no way she would’ve been prepared to play in college where she tallied more than 1,000 digs.

“She made myself and other players like over prepared,” Kristina Pelaccio said. “Since elementary school I remember her coming in and helping us. She is passionate about the sport and it shows. I know I would not be nearly as good if I didn’t have Diane as a coach, not even close to being as good. I don’t even know if I would play in college.”


Swertfager’s girls also go on and excel after college.


One shining example of this is one of Westchester’s most beautiful and brightest, Caitlin Krueger, a ‘00 Hen Hud graduate, who I had the pleasure of doing a question and answer in June ‘12 for Peekskill-Cortlandt Patch.


Last year Krueger was named to The Business Council of Westchester’s “40 Under 40” Rising Stars List and in ‘11 one of Westchester’s Wunderkinds by Westchester Magazine.


She is currently Director of Special Events and Major Gifts Officer for Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, where she graduated from. Eventually, she no doubt will be running her own Fortune 500 company.


As for the last word, I will give it to one of the greatest athletes in Section 1 history, Tamburri, who was also a star pitcher on the softball field for the Sailors.


As you could imagine, Tamburri is strongly in favor of naming the court at Hen Hud after Swertfager.

“What she has done for the school, for the program, for her co-workers, for everyone, in the entire district it would show her the same respect if we would do something like that for her,” Tamburri said.