Updated: Nov 19
Ahh…High School. High school is one of the most pivotal times of one's life as it teaches you a lot of things. High School is where you learn some of the following: Finding your identity of who you’re going to be in the world, who your real friends are, peer pressure, teamwork, critical thinking, overcoming adversity, and the stress of choosing which college to go to.
All those things, and then some are, what I learned while attending North Rockland High School from September 2014 to June 2018.
North Rockland High School in Thiells, NY
I moved from Nyack to Haverstraw, NY (where I still live) in August 2014. The longest I’ve ever stayed in one town for my entire life by far.
A lot happened in high school, from self-doubt, realizing not everyone is truly your friend, overcoming adversity, and figuring out who am I going to be in this world while also dealing with homework, playing sports, and eventually thinking of which college I want to go to.
When I moved to Haverstraw that summer I was nervous. I saw photos on Google of how big a school North Rockland was. I was right.
When I entered my first day at the high school as a freshman my eyebrows raised as if I was a kid in Times Square for the first time. The school had about three to four floors, over 3,000 kids, and loud, ecstatic, energetic energy I never felt before.
A whole different level from what I ever experienced in my life up to that point. I was a new kid, once again sadly, so I had to make new friends and introduce myself to people which sucked because it’s now three years in a row I’ve now had to do that from Pmona to Nyack and now North Rockland.
I see kids doing the “Shmurda” dance to the hot Bobby Shmurda song that came out that year and people blasting it in the hallways. I’m like to myself in my head… “This is high school?!” Think I might like it.
High School is where I officially met some of the people I played against while at Nyack who became my teammates such as John John, Dylan, the Amaro twins (Adrian & Alex), Evan, Jacob, Cincere, Carlens, Brendan, Chris, Anthony, Ralphy, and so forth.
High School is also where I met some of my other friends outside of sports such as Chris Urena, and Joseph Recinos, who are both some of my closest friends to this day. I also met Anthony Pierre, Airion, Patrick, Bradley, Chima(my neighbor while in high school who was an elite track star), Josh Dow, and my guy Louis just to name some of whom I still talk to to this day.
Matt aka Bobby, Nick, Anthony Pierre, and myself in that order
All of them are my brothers from another who I’m forever grateful for.
Let's start with freshman year.
Freshman Year (2014-15)
Freshman year was interesting as it was the introduction to high school: The workload was heavier, more students, sports, girls, peer pressure, parties, people thinking of college, etc.
I did not party in high school or in general, especially during freshman year. Freshman year I was a skinny 14-year-old kid just trying to get to know people in the school and introduce myself.
My freshman year of high school in 2015 in one of my Adidas tracksuits I used to love to wear
I also met people such as Nick, Harry, Diamel. Xavier, Tyler, the list goes on. At lunch, I first started sitting John John and his friends at their table and other times with Nick, Carlens, Elysia, Emily (my girlfriend freshman year), and others.
It was great meeting new people and them being welcoming toward me especially since I was new and didn’t know anyone which helped me get accustomed to the school quickly.
I remember I wore these bright highlighter Adidas suits in my early high school years lol that made me stand out. I was also wearing some nice button-ups and started taking pictures like a model.
I wasn’t one to look for a camera to take pictures of myself in the years before high school, but it started as a freshman.
Another thing that started as a freshman was having my first girlfriend in high school Emily. We’re still cool to this very day and she’s one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. We didn’t last long because it seemed rushed, I was brand new to the school and we were both so young, literally kids at just 14 but we remained friends the following years.
Now after just two months of starting at North Rockland and still trying to adjust to everything as a kid… It’s time for basketball tryouts. At the meeting in the annex cafeteria, I see mad kids there for either freshman, JV, or varsity.
Before high school I had no clue high schools had freshman teams; always thought it was just JV or varsity. At the time I always heard kids around the school say there was a lot of “politics” when making their selections for the team so that worried me and I was like to myself “Great, I’m new, scrawny, how the hell am I going to make it with this many kids trying out.”
I was Class of 2018 which had over 800 kids in the graduating class so many kids were trying out for the team freshman year. I made sure to do what I could to get ready for tryouts ahead of time from conditioning, to skill drills, pushups, and so forth.
Me going up for a dunk at 14 years old at Memorial Park in Spring Valley, NY working out
I was very nervous as yes, I went through this the year prior at Nyack Middle School being the new kid and adjusting, but this is the high school level now, and there are more kids with tougher competition.
It also didn’t help I was hearing there were “politics” at the school that I didn’t hear about at Nyack, which made me feel anxious and increased pressure.
I remember freshman year tryouts like it was yesterday. Me, Carlens, Nick, Diamel, Harry, and many others stayed after school just trying to kill the time until tryouts.
Then it was time.
Carlens ended up playing for JV freshman year since he was much bigger and more athletic than tour typical freshman with way more girth.
That opened one spot I said to myself. There still was a lot of talent though I saw those few days of tryouts from John John hitting deep threes, Dylan using his body to get to his spots, the Amaros doing their thing, Jacob being a pesk on defense, Clarck being a menace on the boards and so forth.
We did drills from three-man weave, shooting drills, transition defense, and scrimmages. Scrimmages were your best chance to stand out. And that’s what I did.
I knew I had to since I was new and no one knew of me. I tried standing out first by going back to what I was good at when first starting to play basketball: Rebounding and Defense.
Since I saw many were trying to get their shot, I said to myself if I was going to stand out I had to do the less glamorous stuff to catch the coach's eyes which I did by swatting shots, getting steals, second chance opportunities, putbacks, and hustling.
Even created a few shots off the dribble just to show I could, but I didn’t need to since I saw the guards at the school were good so I just made sure to set good screens, roll hard, rebound, play hard defense, and hustle.
After the tryouts, I’m drenched in sweat feeling good about how I performed but nervous about not knowing what to expect.
That night, Carlens, Nick, Diamel, I, and others walked home in the pitch-black night. It took forever to get back, but was a great walk since I wasn’t alone.
They said it would take a few days to decide who made the teams for each level. I was nervous the days leading up to seeing the list, thinking about it in each class freshman year.
The list finally came up one morning as I had art class first period freshman year, which was right next to the annex gym, and saw the list… I made the team.
The emotion flowing through me as I searched for my name was racing, heart pumping, veins bursting on my arms, palms getting sweaty until I saw my name and said a “Phew” to myself.
The other names for freshmen were Dylan, John John, Jacob, Jimmy, Adrian, Alex, Evan, Clarck, Shane, Brian, Jerome, Anthony, & Ralphy—a 13-man unit with our coach being Coach Jamie Ryan.
The 2014-15 Freshman Team Squad
The early practices went well as a team, gaining chemistry and camaraderie as a unit. I have a single parent who worked two jobs and have younger siblings so my mom couldn’t bring me to and from practice and games throughout high school so I had to rely on my coach or teammates through the years for rides.
Shoutout to the Amaros, John John, Evan, coach Ryan, and so forth who blessed me with rides consistently through the years, and am forever grateful for that.
During freshman year of high school was the first time in my career where I was playing inconsistently. I would have a good game here and then a bad game where I had foul trouble and couldn’t get a rhythm.
There would also be times during the game for the first time in my career, especially during the bad games where I’m missing easy shots I usually always made, I’m not seeing passed come to me, and so on.
It would hurt my confidence at times I’m like to myself “What the hell is going on with me?” “I’m letting my teammates down c’mon DJ!” I would say to myself.
No one in my life (still to this day) is harder on me than myself. Even as a freshman in high school, I was very hard on myself. There were times I questioned myself and wondered “Do I suck?” I went through a dark period for a while mentally freshman year when I had a few bad games in a row all while trying to adjust to a new school, new people, a new hometown, the high school academic workload, let alone the speed of a high school basketball game.
It was a lot for a 14-year-old. I was mad at myself for not being consistent, as even in the years prior if I was bad offensively I was still effective defensively and on the glass to still have my impact felt and help contribute to my team winning.
Winning is what we did freshman year as we had a very talented group. John John was lefty with a shifty handle and deep range (imagine Luke Kennard in high school). Dylan, who also was the starting quarterback for the varsity football team was the other starting backcourt player who had a great arm, and knew how to use his body to get to his spots and score as he was bulkier than most freshmen.
The starting frontcourt was me, Adrian, and Clarck with Evan interchanging at times. Adrian was the three: A solid third ball handler, sometimes the secondary playmaker, great at attacking the rim, and competitive.
I usually played the four when Clarck was on since he was naturally bulkier than me similar to Baylen back in middle school. When he was out I would slide to the five and Adrian or Evan would play the four.
Evan would do all the dirty work, crash the glass, take charges, attack the rim strong, dive on the floor for loose balls, and so forth.
Clarck was only there freshman year, but during my one year there with him, he was a jokester but also good on the court as he rebounded and defended well which took the pressure off me defensively and rebounding-wise as he was mobile like me.
Some of our key guys off the bench were Jacob who imagine Patrick Beverly but shorter, as he was a pest defensively, talked shit to you, hit big time shots when needed, and knew how to thread the needle with great dime passes.
Brian was a small scrawny kid who could shoot and hit shots when needed as well off our bench. Alex also was one of our absolute best shooters who really spread the floor for us freshman year as I’d probably say he and John John could shoot the best freshman year.
I forgot how many games we played that season but we did take home a plaque from a tournament and had a great overall season, losing just three games I believe.
Us taking home the tournament championship
That first year playing basketball we would get light pre-game, crack jokes on the bus on our way to road games, and joke around, just teenage boys being boys.
I would call Alex and Adrian” ABillz” and “AMoney” as their nicknames and they called me “DMoney” lol good old days.
It was a good time of the simple days of high school and I’ll never forget it.
Freshman year was also the year I met one of my closest friends who turned into a brother in my guy Chris Urena who I met when I had resource room fourth period of that year where we would crack jokes, talk hoops, girls, and so forth.
That’s where the relationship began with my boy Dion Waiters I call him as he looks like the former NBA player lol.
Freshman year wasn’t my favorite year of high school since I didn’t perform how I wanted to and was disappointed about it, but was happy overall I made new friends, met new people, and we won as a unit.
That spring I played Rock Elite, an elite AAU program with some of Rockland’s best upcoming ballers separated by age. The freshman team had Cincere, Marcellus, Adrian, Xavier Rodriguez, Xavier Gibbs, Nick Ovinchinkoff, Carlens, and so forth.
They were loaded and had their team set already. I did well in the tryouts at one of those old dusty gyms they used to practice in that didn’t have the best grip at all.
We did a variety of drills from three-man weave to off-the-dribble shooting, defensive drills, and conditioning as well as scrimmages.
I did well throughout, but the one play that forever stands out to me is when I cleanly blocked Xavier Rodriguez (one of the most absolutely athletic kids I saw growing up who could really jump and also did track) on a fastbreak that looked like he had me but didn’t.
It was a two-on-one fastbreak drill we were doing to work on stopping the break and as Rodriguez was coming down fast from the left lane and I was coming from the right I jumped floating in the air as he did.
In the summer of 2015 before sophomore year, I played RABA with friends from high school I made from freshman year, Nick, Diamel, Harry, Andre, Santino, and my guy Louis whom I’m still friends with to this day and met that year.
The coach was Larry and Patrick (Andre’s older brother) who both just graduated high school that year and were three years older than us. The team we formed was legit, we ended up winning the championship that summer, and I even caught my first in-game dunk in transition that had my teammates going bonkers on the bench.
This was also the first time I got hurt in my career. So there was one game, it was a nice sunny day out. We’re in a competitive game and I’m skying high for a rebound like I always do when going for a rebound.
As I’m going up my safe landing space someone is under me and causes me to lose my balance which causes me to use my right wrist to try to brace the fall from being feet above the ground… I yelled “Ahh!!!” The game stopped as they realized I wasn’t getting up once they got to halfcourt.
The pain was unbearable. I couldn’t even lift my wrist, no movement nothing. I had fractured my shooting wrist. I sat on the bench, throbbing in pain, trying to see if I could somehow still play because throughout my young years, I rarely got injured and if I did I was able to shake it off and still be able to play through it.
Me with a cast on my right wrist Summer of 2015
But not this time. I didn’t enter back into the game since I couldn’t move my wrist. Just even the thought of moving it caused pain. I was furious I couldn’t play but happy my team won that game and I was able to wrap my wrist and a few weeks later be able to play in the playoffs on our way to a title.
(Santino, Andre, Diamel, JB, Harry, Patrice, Louis, Jesse, Devond, Nick, and Me holding our title trophies)
I never got the surgery done on my right wrist which has changed the way I do pushups with just my right hand as it feels weird having my wrist flat when doing it as opposed to before the injury or my left hand which I can do with no problem.
During that time I would ice my wrist, oozing with pain as I iced it, put heat on it, take Tylenol, do wrist exercises, etc. I would use that time to work on my weak hand (left) from dribbling to shooting layups, bicep curls, etc.
The injury might have been a blessing in disguise cause that’s when I would say I got better at using my left hand not just in basketball, but in life in general since I couldn’t fully use my right for a few weeks. It made me a better player come my sophomore year.
Sophomore year was a good year for the most part. I was more comfortable at the school now having been there for a year and knowing people. I was stronger and sharper on my game after working out constantly all summer while also playing summer league and working on my left hand.
I was more confident. That was also the year I did track, but will get into that later.
In my second year of high school, I dated a girl named Alexandra for a few months who was the grade below me. She was tall for a girl, near my height as just a freshman.
We met in the study hall in the annex cafeteria which we had in the morning together that year. Me, her, and one of my best friends Tarrique since seventh grade all chilled together along with some others at times.
It was a good time filled with laughs. I did realize though I was starting to catch feelings for her as she had nice curly hair, a nice smile, was pretty, and had a weird cute personality.
Eventually, I asked her out after a while of being friends, she said yes. We dated for a few months and then broke up, which hurt me a bit, but I was only 15 and we were kids so it was a learning experience that did motivate me after the end of my basketball season sophomore year.
In regards to the classroom, I did well sophomore year, but one class that stood out was Careers and Finance with Mr. Samoylo, who was the JV girls' basketball coach. That class is a class that should be taught in all high schools and colleges, a class that teaches you about credit, budgeting your money, how to save, and so forth.
A vital skill as you approach adulthood. In that class, I met some of my brothers in Airion and Bradley. Both of them played football for the school and were highly dedicated to football and school. Their both my boys to this day, and both are doing well in life now, which I’m glad to see, as we’ve all come a long way.
Bradley and I posing before I had track practice in the Spring of 2016
Patrick Lafontant and Julius, my other brothers from another were also in that class and both played football and basketball in Patrick’s case for the school. We all always cracked jokes, that class had me dying in laughter as all of them were hilarious.
Pat and I posing for a picture in health class in 2017 my junior year while out with an ACL injury
We talked about life, girls, sports, and school, what teenage boys typically talked about as well as being clowns in class but still making sure we got our work done and did well in the process.
Bradley and Patrick would jokingly make front of me which had me weak in laughter, especially when they jokingly called me “FroZone” from Incredibles and be like “Where’s my super suit!” because of the variety of different Adidas tracksuits I had in high school which always had me in tears of laughter.
Those were the good old simple days of high school, and that’s where the brotherhood started with some of the guys I call brothers now.
Back to basketball now.
As a sophomore, it was a different team from freshman year. The Amaro twins had moved to Paramus that season, as well as Clarck moving. But, Cincere, Roman, and Wesley were new additions of teammates I played with on JV. Nate was another player, but was out with an ACL injury, and Kyle helped us and the coach with anything we needed.
Wesley was bigger than me in height and girth so he played center that year and I slid over to the four when he was on the court and back to center when he was on the bench.
Roman was from the city, a typical city guard who talked trash, got in your head, had a nice handle, and could pass. He was a cool guy and was a jokester along with Wesley on bus rides and during practice breaks.
Cincere was my guy. He was an elite player in all facets of the game. He had a similar slender muscular frame to me but was a guard. He had slick handles, could shoot, had a quick first step, was ultra-competitive, and was a lockdown defender.
He and I formed a dynamic duo, especially in the pick-and-roll. We were like “Penny & Shaq” or “Kobe & Shaq” as a dominant guard, big man 1-2 punch. We would always motivate each other. Whenever I was having a bad game and seemed off my game he would come to me and say “Wake up bro, we need you.”
The feeling was mutual, as I did the same toward him when I felt he wasn’t fully focused and got him back on his game or tried calming him down when his emotions got the best of him. We helped push each other every practice and game and it would pay off. We had major respect for each other as the only two black kids on the team.
When we were both on our game the team never lost and was unguardable. That team also still had John John, Dylan, Evan, Jacob, Anthony, Ralphy, etc. We were stacked with all sophomores on the team that year.
We all gelled perfectly together with most of us having played together the year before. I was much better that year, as I would say the sophomore year was my peak year in sports due to tearing my ACL at the end of the year (we’ll get into this later on) which caused me to miss all my junior year unfortunately.
My knee not being the same senior year, and freshman year lacked confidence due to all the changing variables in my life and adjusting to a new school, new people, teammates, new environment, and high school as a whole at just 14.
That year I was way more consistent game in and game out as Coach Castaldo was the JV coach that year and also was a gym teacher for the school. I was a more confident post presence for my team that caused defenses to have to throw a second defender over to guard me which in turn opened up easy shots and drives for my guards such as Dylan, John John, Cincere, Evan, and so forth.
I also was smarter and did not commit as many silly fouls as I did my freshman year when I struggled with foul trouble. I was the shot-blocking menace and defensive anchor for my team like I was in Nyack Middle School now that I had found my confidence and mojo again.
I was having games with four blocks here, six blocks here, the most I ever had in one was eight. I was like Bill Russell in that game. I was also still strong on the boards and scoring double-digit points, not every game, but some games.
I didn’t need to score as I had talented guards to do that in John John, Dylan, Cincere, Evan the forward, and Jacob.
I was the primary screener like I was freshman year, always setting good highball screens to free my teammates up for an easy shot or roll hard to the basket to finish at the rim.
I ran a lot of pick-and-roll with all the names I listed above but with Cincere, John John, and Jacob the most.
They were all quick, all could shoot, had tight handles, could finish at the rim, and were good passers. For the opposition it was a nightmare because you either had to worry about me down low or at the rim, but also my teammates who were elite shotmakers whose jumpers you had to respect.
That year we had an absurd record and made it to the county title game against Clarkstown South who were also a good team. The game was held in Suffern High School’s gym. The bleachers were packed, especially for a JV game.
In warmups, I’m stretching and getting loose as I always do before playing a game through the years. I’m a little nervous, my palms are sweaty while looking at the crowd. I told myself “Calm down, you got this” while taking deep breaths and getting my mind focused.
I would go to the bench after stretching and getting some shots up to warm up and get a feel for the ball to get in the zone. I was listening to the music playing in warmups getting me amped up before the game. The biggest game of my career up to this point of my life.
The adrenalin was pumping through my veins, sweating from warmups ready to go for them to call out the starting lineups. I’m on the bench while everyone is shooting with a few minutes left just looking around the gym, and staring at the crowd before finally staring at midcourt.
Focused, and determined, the fire is raging inside me, anxious. I was ready to play. On the other side South had a solid squad with elite shooters, played great team ball, and had this tall kid, Ryan Thomas, who was an athletic lefty who could handle, was quick, and can shoot. He could do it all.
I took the challenge of guarding him all game since I was the only one who was tall enough and quick enough to challenge him as Wesley wasn’t the most laterally quick or agile guy. The starting lineup, like it was for most of the season was me, John John, Evan, Cincere, and Dylan.
The game was a dogfight. Both teams going back and forth and going on runs. You can hear all the sounds of excitement and disappointment through the crowd after every big play or shot.
I did a good job containing Ryan in that game, suffocating him defensively, while also holding down the defense as the anchor, and having opponents stutter when they saw me after swatting some of their shots.
I also was aggressive on the glass and offensively. Getting to the foul line, making strong moves finishing in the post, and facing up looking at the rim.
That game against Fieldstone back in Nyack might have been my best statistical game, but this was my biggest in terms of what’s at stake. South couldn’t stop us. We eventually went on a run with John John, Dylan, Cincere Jacob, and Evan hitting shots.
Jacob, Evan, and Cincere were disruptive defensively on the perimeter like I was in the paint. That caused South’s game plan offensively to get out of sorts.
We won the game. I don’t remember the exact score but we won in one of the most competitive games and atmospheres I had ever been a part of.
I finished the game with a double-double (12 points, 12 rebounds) while also having around four to five blocks and a few assists to my guards who always hit big shots.
That was the best game I ever played all year and in high school. As the final buzzer sounded me and my teammates were ecstatic. We first lined up at the benches and scoreboard as you do at the end of each basketball game to show good sportsmanship and respect to your opponent which we did to South as they challenged us.
After that, you hear the crowd clapping as they announce North Rockland as the 2016 JV County Champions. We all pose for a group photo smiling, proud of all those hours of practice we put in and the sacrifices we all made.
Us posing as the 2016 Rockland County JV Basketball Champions February 2016
It was an incredible feeling. I was so happy for the school, my teammates, Coach Castaldo, and myself. I was dominant in that game and confident that whole season in a way I wasn’t my freshman year and it showed. I was developing quickly.
Cincere and I also posed for a photo with the trophy, as I did myself as well, as the dynamic duo we were all season. Both were dominant throughout the game and destroyed South in the pick-and-roll all game.
Me and Cincere posing with the trophy after a hard fought game against South
Me with the Jim Kane championship trophy after a dominant performance
After the game I was exhausted, just exerting all the energy I had during the game. I went home, showered, ate something then took a nap that day.
Before I slept thought I was very proud of my team and what we accomplished for the school and as a unit. I was also proud of myself and performing when the stakes were high and that boosted my confidence.
I was one of three sophomores that year, along with John Hon and Evan to be called up to varsity at the end of the JV season, and had the chance to scrimmage against the varsity players, observe how hard they practiced and how intense the games were.
They had great players from Jesse, Levance, Steve, Jason, Lucas, and lead star guard Mike Arias. All of them played hard and all had great chemistry together since they all played together for years.
Sophomore year was the year I needed after a freshman year where I was frustrated and didn’t play up to my full capability which hurt my confidence.
Sometime around March-April 2016 during track season, I received bad news from my mom about Michael (Paris's dad). He passed away tragically at just 31 years of age from being brain dead.
I couldn’t believe it. I said how? Why? I broke down many times to myself tearing up because when I was first growing up I thought he was my biological father and he took care of us as if we were his own.
I was furious, raged, and sad. I was too young to understand what depression was at 15, but I felt a rollercoaster of emotions. His passing added extra motivation for me during the track season, basketball, and life in general.
It also motivated me more to protect Paris since her father was no longer physically with us and I felt obligated to protect her even more now with Michael’s passing.
I wish he was here to see the great things his daughter has done and is becoming as well as me. But I know he’s watching down over us smiling proud of both of us, remembering us as those little kids running around he used to always watch over.
Rest easy in heaven Michael and thank you for treating me like your own.
Once basketball season ended I had to decide if I wanted to play AAU again that spring or try a new sport such as track that I felt would help take my endurance, speed, strength, and so forth to the next level.
I chose track.
Doing track a month after basketball for the first time was new. I had crazy shin splints after workouts and I never felt such pain in that area before or since. It was grueling.
The girls and guys would be separated during practices but all still practiced on the same track where the football games and practices were held.
Track was where I met Kevin Diaz, Wyatt Brooks, Phil, Dimitri (who was in my grade), and so forth.
We always started with a group warmup where everyone from the sprinters, hurdlers, long jumpers shot putters, etc all ran a few warmup laps around the track to get our blood flowing and rolling.
It was different but I liked it. I felt myself getting faster and stronger, and felt track forever helped improve my endurance and stamina to a new level.
I felt I made the right choice.
Dimitri and I were in the same class. He started track the year before me so he had some experience already. He didn’t do hurdles like me, but he was an elite sprinter who did the 400-meter run and relays as he had incredible endurance and stamina and was built like a tank. His dedication to track was unmeasurable.
He loved track as much as I loved basketball. He was a cool, humble kid with a great sense of humor so we got along very well and pushed each other. I’m glad to have met him and see him progress greatly as high school progressed as he ended up going to nationals etc.
I unfortunately only stopped doing track because of my ACL injury at the end of sophomore year (which we will get into later) that changed things and my knee couldn’t take that type of force of power and speed that track demanded so that’s the only reason I stopped.
I was a hurdler and relay runner since I had long legs and was tall so I decided to do those events. It took some time to get the form down for hurdling right, as it takes time to get good at anything in life.
Eventually, I got it with constant reps and practice. Luckily my neighbor Chima, who was two years older than me and a senior at the time was one of the very best hurdlers nationally as he had numerous medals been to nationals multiple times, just a stud at hurdles and a sprinter overall.
He, Wyatt, Phil, and Kevin Diaz were the ones that taught me my hurdle form and all had been to nationals and won multiple times as the relay squad and sprinting and hurdles in general on their own.
It was great seeing guys who didn’t feel “too good” to help a young one out who was trying to learn and get better to try to potentially reach their level one day.
I was progressing, and fast. I won a few medals I was proud of as a beginner in the sport. I did relays in the 4x100 and 4x400, but my main events were always hurdles from the 100-meter hurdles to the IH hurdles where you ran 400 meters (the full track) around the track.
Me in action at the Cornwall Relays in April 2016
I remember my very first IH hurdle event at Clarkstown South I tripped over one hurdle fell caused me to fall behind. I was so upset and embarrassed, also gaining a nice beautiful cut full of flesh on one of my elbows which stung like hell.
But I didn’t let that deter me, cause if I did I wouldn’t have gotten better, which I did, and the growth was beautiful to see as I was starting to like the sport more as a secondary sport for myself after basketball.
I would make it to Counties in just my first year of track. I was amazed at myself and it showed me I really can do anything I put my mind to.
(Me posing after going home winning one of my few medals on May 16, 2016)
After County’s my season was done. I was so exhausted and mentally drained. I had no energy left and knew I needed a week to just recharge and get my batteries up and running again before varsity basketball workouts that spring.
And boy were they recharged once I allowed myself to rest a bit as up to that point in my life I never felt so athletic, strong, and powerful in my life after coming off track. I was dunking easy and hard in workouts, could run all day without any sign of fatigue, and skills sharp from working on my game again once track season was over.
I felt unstoppable and my confidence was at an all time high. I was ecstatic for my junior season and felt I was going to have my best athletic year yet in basketball and my second year of doing track now that I felt better and stronger than ever.
But then tragedy struck.
Tearing My ACL
on June 13, 2016. The last day of my sophomore year. I remember it like it was yesterday, unfortunately.
I had a knee brace on my right knee in the gym as all of us students in gym class were just on the bleachers talking to one another, playing cards, listening to music, and so forth.
I already had a sprained MCL I was dealing with but saw some of my guys playing basketball down on the other end of the gym.
Me, loving the game so much decided to get up (even though I shouldn’t have) and go join them and play in my old white Air Force Ones since they were playing 21 and didn’t seem to be playing too hard so I thought okay I don’t have to go too crazy since my knee wasn’t fully healed.
Everything was fine at first but then I had the ball making moves blowing by one guy (who I’m not going to name since he caused me to tear my ACL) and was driving to the rim, floated high in the air, and got pushed from behind.
I ended up landing wrong on my right knee. I tried getting up but couldn’t. I was like to myself “That’s weird.” I tried getting up again, but nothing. I couldn’t get up on my own.
The bell rang to signal a shift of periods. I was there sitting nervously as the kids were going to their next classes.
I yelled out to my friend Chris Sand to help me get to the nurse, as he saw I couldn’t get up on my own.
I wrapped my arm around him, hopping on my one good leg (left) as my right couldn’t have any weight put on it. I was lucky the nurse’s office was right across from the main gym on the same floor so I didn’t have to go up or down any flight of stairs.
Chris dropped me off at the nurse’s office and I thanked him and expressed my gratitude to him before he left. The nurse asked me what happened. I replied, “I hurt my knee in gym class and couldn’t get up.”
She called my mom. As I’m waiting for my mom to come get me I’m there in the office for about an hour or so before my mom came. I couldn’t flatten my right leg to lie down comfortably, I felt the pain oozing in my knee, and I had to move very slowly if I wanted to not feel any excruciating pain.
I was worried. At the time I wasn’t fully sure if I had torn my ACL but I had a nervous feeling in my gut that I did.
My mom picked me up and we went home. I was lucky I didn’t have school to worry about anymore, but now I had a major problem to deal with.
Before I ultimately found out from the doctor I had torn my ACL in my right knee, which had me completely devastated, in shock, sad, and raging. I felt all the symptoms of a torn ACL from pain from bending my knee, lack of stability, swelling, etc.
During that time I just laid down and binge watched Netflix shows or movies since I couldn’t do what I’ve always done my entire life, which is playing basketball, exercising, and being outside in general and active with friends.
It was eating me alive. And it did even more once I found out it was official I had torn my ACL and a partial tear in my meniscus in my right knee.
I was crushed and felt defeated, saddened, and angry. I was looking forward to my best year yet in sports in high school and felt I was in the absolute best shape of my life up to that point, and to have this happen burned my soul.
There'd be days I would punc something and
throw stuff when I was alone out of anger and
I didn’t want to talk to anyone or anything for a day or two. I was mad at the world. I was furious with the person who pushed me and caused me to land wrong, but also at myself for knowing I had a sprained MCL and knew I should’ve just taken it easy but my love for the game to play got the best of me.
I eventually had surgery on July 12, 2016, and I was nervous at first since I never had surgery before in my entire life. I was 15 and didn’t know what to expect, thinking I as as going to be awake for the surgery before they put me to sleep, my mom was next to me as my eyes closed shut sleepy from what they gave me.
When I finally woke up I felt the worst pain of my life physically with just excruciating pain in my knee as if it was bleeding out from someone stabbing a sharp blade into it.
It hurt that bad even just lying down. The little things I took for granted before such as walking, being able to just hop in the shower easily, going to the bathroom without gingerly having to get up and so on I never took for granted again as I made a promise to myself I never will again.
I had to learn how to walk again as if I was a baby trying to take its first steps. I looked at my knee and said “Am I ever going to be the same again? I was extremely worried.
In physical therapy I went hard, attacked every workout focused, and determined, wanting to be able to walk again as soon as possible. It was exhausting and tiring having to go to therapy over time, especially once my junior year started.
I would ice my knee at home and do the stretches on my own as well diligently every day or every other day which worked, as the therapist said I no longer needed to come anymore since I did all the stretches at home.
Junior year was different compared to my first two years of high school considering I couldn’t play sports that year (even though I was trying to come within 6-8 months), but an ACL is typically a full-year recovery or more.
It was eating me alive that I was not going to be able to play basketball at full speed in a game for a full year and wasn’t going to be able to do track, but was more upset about basketball since I loved that since I was a kid and has and always will be my first love.
Everyone around the school seemed to hear that I tore my ACL as well, sending me well wishes and a strong speedy recovery and that they were going to miss seeing me out on the court.
The team didn’t do that well my junior year, which ate at me with each loss because I knew if I didn’t get hurt I was going to have the best year yet. I just knew it and I felt it coming. But unfortunately, things happen for a reason and I just had to live with it.
Junior year, despite the injury, was probably the year I grew the most in high school since I had more free time now not being able to play sports which heavily disappointed me.
I always did home workouts starting from the age of 13. But I did them even more consistently once I was out hurt. Three to four times a week, I’m doing pushups, ab workouts, jump roping, stretching, resistance band workouts, icing my knee daily, and injury prevention workouts such as working on my landing. I was in full out Creed Mode.
The fire inside of me was burning and raging that I couldn’t play. I would feel sad, depressed, and lost at times. I tried to not go to many games since I knew it wouldn’t do me any good and the team struggled that year.
I did attend some games though, and felt the adrenaline of the crowd whenever I went. I wanted to play so bad and be in that huddle. But I had to be patient.
Outside of basketball that year, I started socializing even more with people, went to a few more social events saw people from other high schools, and had my best academic year across the board.
One of my good friends I really became cool with was Xavier Miles, who is literally one of the funniest people I know and have known since seventh grade from Pomona, but didn’t see each other much or have any classes together.
He was tall just like me, around the same height, and played football and basketball growing up as he transferred from Spring Valley High School. Xavier was hilarious. He and I had science class together with our teacher Nicholas Cerniglia.
We would always crack jokes, do good in class, talk to everyone in class, and make them laugh, pretty much the life of the classroom. That was one of my favorite classes of all time, it was a nice little class of about 20-25 students in one of the main hallways of the school.
Xavier and I taking a picture together after a fun party in Nyack in February 2017
I had that class eighth period of junior year (the last period of the day), so it was a great way to end my days.
I always was a good student growing up through the years, always getting my work done as soon as possible and striving for A’s and B’s. I never wanted to just “get by.” Junior year of high school is the most pivotal year as this is the time you need to start thinking of what colleges you want to attend, take the SAT, and so forth.
The colleges I started having on my mind were SUNY schools such as Albany, Oneonta, and New Paltz with Rockland Community College as a safe option. I also had other schools such as Quinnipiac on my list as well.
During my upperclassmen years of high school, I had some of the best and most influential teachers of my entire life. The two that stood out in my junior year were my English teacher, Barry Baloga, my History teacher Kevin Metcalf, and my science teacher Mr.Cerniglia.
Mr. Baloga was very cool, intelligent, and strict, got the best out of you as a writer, and a student, pushing you to places you never thought you could. Hence, he was the girls’ Cross Country coach for many years, which is why they won numerous amount of times during his coaching tenure.
I was a favorite of his, did very well in that class getting grades in the 90s and he even displayed my work as examples for the class and other classes at times and for future years ahead. He was the first teacher who truly made me enjoy writing, really helping me sharpen my skills as a writer, and pushing me diligently because he saw something in me.
We always got along, never argued, and always gave me great constructive criticism, and great life lessons. He emphasized that if you want to be great at something in life you have to work for it and earn it, it isn’t given.
I just want to thank Mr.Baloga because without him my love for writing stories (such as this), creating a sports website (which we’ll get into in the college years), and increased discipline and focus probably wouldn’t have happened without Baloga.
I forever have great gratitude for everything he did for me.
Beatriz and I visiting Baloga as seniors before graduation in June 2018
Now let's get into Mr. Metcalf, my history teacher for both my junior and senior years of high school. If Baloga was strict and serious, cracked humorous jokes from time to time, but for the most part, was serious, Metcalf was the complete opposite.
Metcalf was a jokester to the fullest. He really knew his history and had great life analogies and metaphors seamlessly as if he were a book. He always kept it real with his students, as he was the varsity girls' basketball coach for many years and probably still is to this day.
He helped me to realize to not always take life so seriously. Enjoy the little things, laugh, and enjoy the company of others because you only get one life so enjoy it to the fullest. Metcalf was different from every other teacher I ever had because none had the personality he had and how he approached things with the ability to still be an elite teacher and life speaker.
He knew I was hurt that year since he knew I was a basketball player for the school and heard about me. He would crack jokes with me that made me laugh and helped lighten my mood over being upset about not being able to play that year.
Metcalf helped me enjoy history class more and just to not always take life so seriously and not let every little thing bother you whether people liked you or not. He was good at deflecting what people thought of him because of his personality not everyone liked (which was rare), but I’m grateful I had him as a teacher.
Will, Metcalf, myself, and Brian Anderson June 2018
Lastly, Mr. Cerniglia. Cerniglia was very scientific and creative. He also, like Baloga and Metcalf had a great way of giving great metaphors of life and was a good storyteller.
I always was intrigued and an attentive listener when he spoke like I was with Baloga and Metcalf. He had the traits of both Baloga and Metcalf, could be serious like Baloga, but didn’t take life seriously all the time like Metcalf which made you feel at ease and enjoy his class more.
Cerniglia helped me expand my creativity and think outside the box. He pushed my creative mind in a way no one ever had before. He told me I was an incredible young man with a great personality and bright future as me, him, and Xavier always cracked jokes together during class projects and when we watched movies in class.
That was one of the most fun classes I ever had throughout all my school years and I will never forget Mr. Cerniglia.
Baloga, Metcalf, and Cerniglia forever changed my life as three unique teachers during my junior year (senior year as well for Metcalf) taught me numerous life lessons that I’ll never forget.
From Baloga helping me become a better writer, elevating my confidence as one, to Metcalf helping me realize that life is too short to be serious all the time and to enjoy it and have fun because you only get one, to Cerniglia helping my creativity and the finer things in life and that you can do anything you put your mind to.
Thank you, guys, for everything, because I am not who I am today without them.
I did take the SAT twice that year, but I didn’t do as well as I wanted to so was worried about being able to get into a four-year university right out of the gate since they were weighed more than good grades overall, especially before the COVID years, which will get into in the college years.
Junior year showed me about life, as I also started to realize that year that not everyone is truly your friend, even if you’re the nicest and kindest person on earth there are going to be people who don’t like you or just fake toward you.
I started to realize if I didn’t contact someone first, I rarely ever got any messages. I also would hear stuff about me that wasn’t true, and people would talk behind my back but then act friendly to my face.
It just taught me a lot that I’m glad I learned from a very young age at just 16 years old. It showed me you can be the best human on earth and kind hearted, but people will still take it for granted and try to take advantage of you. Junior year is when I started changing how I moved. I had to for my own sake.
I went to some social events here and there, just enjoying being a teenager and meeting new people. It was just an overall good time that year and one of the pivotal years of my life as a young teenager growing into a man. I had a good time and feel it helped my social skills even more since I had more time to meet new people and do things since I was hurt that year.
One of the new people I met that year was my friend Britney Skye, whom I first met in cooking class. She was SZA, like the singer, and I was Travis Scott. She was like a sister to me, being the grade below me. Britney is extremely smart, aware, authentic, and so forth.
We always made each other laugh and I’m glad I met her my junior year in the two classes we had together, also having one when I was a senior and she was a junior. We took some really nice photos together in high school.
(Britney and I smiling and laughing on January 11, 2018)
I also joined Best Buddies junior year, a club where you interact with disabled/special needs students and just talk to them, play card games, draw, listen to music with them, and so forth.
A little Best Buddies party
That was a great club to be a part of as I felt was giving back and making a difference and the leaders of the club, such as Daniel Baluch and Melissa Megali (who were both in my grade) were great people with good hearts. I enjoyed it and continued to do it my senior year as well.
Ironic as it may seem since I was hurt, outside of basketball, junior year was my favorite year of high school due to the new people I met, junior prom, the incredible one-of-a-kind teachers I was blessed with, and the many valuable life lessons I learned while also getting out of my shell a bit being more outgoing and taking more pictures.
(Me, Shannan, and Sam at Torre's Sweet 16 in May 2017)
(Junior Prom with Phil (far left), Nick, Andre(middle) Diamel (front), Jordan (right), me, and Johansen (left of me)
(Me, Shannan(left), and Gabriela (right) at Torre's Sweet 16)
(Me, Anika, and Shannan after a party, both of whom I've known since 7th grade)
(Me looking at my watch on May 2, 2017, like I'm "Timeless", a classic ABoogie song from 2017)
(Me just breathing in the air and enjoying life having good vibes on June 3, 2017)
It’s a year I’ll never forget.
Fast forward to summer 2017.
Summer of 2017 I was doing workouts with the team with my brace on, as I was nervous to play without it on for a while early on. The running was the part I had to fully get used to again since I did run sometimes while working out at home, but not at full speed all the time.
It was an adjustment. We had some scrimmages that summer I did well, went to every workout trying to get back into full basketball shape again at full speed, and so forth.
Whenever I stood for too long or played basketball at full speed after a little while I would feel crazy soreness in my knee, sometimes even pain, but I kept pushing. I could still dunk, which was a good indicator to me that all those days working out in the house from squats, pushups, calf raises, etc did pay off.
But I used the scrimmages and workouts to try to get my full wind under me which I knew was going to take a while so I tried to be patient as I was embarking on my final year of high school.
Senior Year (2017-18)
First day of Senior Year September 5, 2017
Ahh… Senior Year. The beginning of the end of high school is one of the most important eras of a young man or woman’s life. College is right around the corner calling, most get the term “Senioritis” when they don’t want to or feel like doing schoolwork or homework anymore, most students are driving by then, no longer taking the bus, and so forth.
It was a lot to deal with, especially with having to decide what college you wanted to attend which is one of the biggest decisions in a person’s life.
Senior year felt different, as my class was the elder statesmen of the school now. Time flew by quickly.
All of us were growing up so fast. Senior year was a whirlwind that I could remember. I could play basketball again, but I would still feel severe soreness in my knee, even when I just stood up for too long or walked a lot in a day let alone play basketball.
In my final year of high school I just soaked in every moment I could of my last year, enjoyed it cause once you’re out of high school as they always say, you’re in the “real world” forever.
Here are just some of my iconic photos from my senior year:
(Me pretending to be in Astroworld, the title name for Travis Scott's 2018 album)
This was the year I started to hang out in the library considerably more since I had fewer classes as a senior compared to my first three years. This is where I met people I referred to us as the “Breakfast Club” since we hung out in the library so much during lunch periods and even the final periods of the day at times.
The group consisted of Chris, Joseph, Cristal, Leslie, Illy, Nicole, my brother Tarrique, and whoever else wanted to hang out with us at the table.
We always chose that first table to the left behind the shelf when entering the library since we felt we had privacy there. If not there we would sit somewhere else in that section.
I loved this group, we talked about everything from school, work, life, the pressure of trying to decide on a college, relationships, etc. It felt good to have a group I could talk to about anything and crack jokes with as we all got along and never talked bad behind one another’s back and had many laughs.
I got along with everyone, as I typically do with most people as long as you’re not rude, fake, stuck up, or just not a good person in general.
Chris and I have been boys since freshman year as I mentioned earlier and we have been friends since, played ball many times together throughout high school, and hung out.
Tarrique, whom I mentioned in the early years article of my life, I met back in Pomona in seventh grade in 2013 and we are still friends to this day. Tarrique and I took many photos throughout high school, he was my cameraman basically lol as we took many photos together in junior and senior year, or he just took of me.
Tarrique and I doing the iconic Wakanda Forever pose in 2018 in respect to the Black Panther movie
Tarrique and I posing for a flick in the main cafeteria in February 2018
Joseph I had just met that year, he was there at North Rockland all four years but oddly I had never met him until then because the school is so big and filled with many students.
Joseph and I clicked right away. Both can be serious at times but try to enjoy life and not take it too seriously all the time but crack jokes on each other and mess around in a way we can only with one another, me, him, and Chris that others wouldn’t understand.
Chris, Joseph, and Tarrique are and will forever be my brothers until the day I die. I’ve been friends with all of them for so long, and they’ve been there for me through my best days as well as my darkest days throughout life and vice versa.
I can talk to them about anything without being judged, always give me good advice on relationships, try to protect me, and talk about basketball (especially me, Chris, and Joseph), life, and so on. True friends.
When it came to advice about life Joseph was the best, he never sugarcoated anything and always would tell you if you were wrong as well as if you were right. He would always look out for me and have my back no matter what and I would do the same for him, Chris, Tarrique, and all my friends I’ve made through the years.
Those aren’t just friends to me… Those are my brothers, and I will forever have their back.
I also had one other teacher who really stood out as one of the most unique teachers I ever had in my life along with Baloga, Cerniglia, and Metcalf. This time it was a woman, and her name was Nori Negron.
Ms. Negron was just perfect as a teacher, as she taught RCC English, a college class I took to obtain some college credits early on in my senior year of high school that would help me out in college later on.
She was the sweetest human you’d ever meet and was very creative, artistic, and extremely brilliant as a teacher. Negron, like Baloga, made me better as a writer. She wasn’t as strict as Baloga as she had more of a bubbly personality, but she could get serious when she needed to.
She rarely ever yelled, probably only three times during my whole senior year. You had to really work her nerves by being rude or something for her to raise her voice. Her kindness and sweet soul were the best I ever had seen from a teacher, even giving the class treats when we as a class did well on a test, and watching great films as a class for fun.
Negron is one of my top five teachers of all time, with four of them coming in high school, all during my upperclassmen years. I forever am grateful to have had her as a professor.
Lets get into basketball now.
So it’s my final season as a Red Raider. The years flew by quickly. We had tryouts and I already knew who was going to be on the team based on who went to all the summer workouts (I was one of them), with a few exceptions.
That senior year team was the most stacked team I’ve ever been a part of. From seniors such as myself, Carlens, John John, Evan, Jacob, Cincere, Michael Kimble (a tall 6’7 kid who came junior year the year I was hurt), Alejandro (another tall kid who was from the Bronx who stood 6’6), the Amaro twins (Adrian & Alex) were back junior year after one year at Paramus sophomore year.
That was just the seniors. The rest of the team was comprised of some talented juniors such as my guy Brendan who I call Steve Nash due to his elite handle, shooting ability, and passing who I first played with way back spring of my freshman year during Rock Elite where I met him and became great friends with.
The 2017-18 North Rockland Red Raider Boys Varsity Team
Chris Gleaton was a lengthy, highly skilled crafty guard who ended up playing college ball at American. He could do it all, score from all over the court, had a slick handle, and throw some crazy no-look passes. Some I had the honor of catching and finishing.
He was like Cincere in a way but Cincere was a bit more bouncier vertically. We also had Jayden Cook, whose main sport was football as a wide receiver, which he would play at the college level, but he gave us more athleticism and a strong big body outside Carlens and Alejandro.
Brian was another tall big body in the paint who was one of our better juniors. His temperament did get the best of him at times, which caused him to get in foul trouble sometimes, but he was great on both ends of the floor from rebounding, defense, and finishing strong at the rim.
Jack Wren and Robbie were the other juniors. Robbie was a special needs kid with the kindest soul, he loved basketball with everything in him and was a great teammate.
Jack was a baseball pitcher from the school but was tall and played basketball as his secondary sport. He had stylish hair like John Stamos from the iconic family sitcom Full House and was a lady's man.
Overall, we had a great stacked team with my former freshman coach, Coach Ryan coaching us in his second season as varsity head coach after taking over from Coach Roth in 2016.
In practice we had intense battles, John John and Jacob going at it, Carlens guarding Alejandro, me and Mike chirping as he talked a lot of junk, Cincere doing his thing, Chris and Brendan hitting shots and being elite playmakers.
We had a really good team. Having incredibly competitive battles. It was good seeing the team being well rounded, but I can tell I couldn’t move as well without feeling severe pain and soreness in my knee during and after each practice.
I would go to the trainers after each practice to get a cooling knee massage, and ice at home, always tried to make sure my shoes had good grip. Tried everything I could.
(Me entering the game against Salesian on December 1, 2017)
It was wearing on me. At first, it was just tiring to deal with physically, but mentally it was starting to wear on me. In practice running suicides I felt severe soreness on my knee, each turn of direction I felt a sharp pain in my knee and meniscus that were surgically repaired.
Even just in school while walking or getting up at times from my seat I felt sharp pains in my right knee I never felt before in my life. I would grimace constantly. No one knew about it on the team, not even my coach. I never told them what I was dealing with physically and how it affected me mentally.
I wasn’t performing how I wanted to in practice, hesitant to make certain moves of hurting my knee again or even my other knee that I never was hesitant to make before.
It hurt my confidence and self-esteem. I couldn’t move the same way that initial year after the surgery as elusively for a long period of time as I used to without feeling pain. I could practice and play games, but I couldn’t go as long without feeling pain that initial year after the surgery, two years at that as I also felt soreness in my knee my freshman year of college whenever I stood too long on my feet.
After the first few games of that year, I had to do what was best for me and my health as my knee was throbbing after every practice despite everything I was doing and it was wearing on me mentally, especially since I wasn't able to perform at my full best.
My knee wasn’t the same anymore and couldn’t take it… I told Coach Ryan that my knee couldn’t take it anymore, as I went into the office that day my heart was racing, and crying inside. The pain was not only sharp in my knee with every twist and turn that no one knew about, but also mentally and emotionally.
The sport I put countless hours in, my blood, sweat, tears, and soul into, I had to leave for my own health. It wasn’t about the playing time at all (as I came off the bench), I didn’t mind coming off the bench, always been a team player and always will be.
I was dying inside, frustrated my knee wasn’t the same, which cost me to miss my whole junior year athletically and not be able to perform how I wanted to senior year. I was having an internal war inside me.
I also felt all the hard work I was putting in and attending all the summer workouts and not being able to contribute more due to limited minutes frustrated me, as I felt the coach was trying to be cautious with me and my knee.
Senior year was the first time in my entire life I felt anxiety, especially once my teammates found out and people around the school. I felt the weight of the world on my back with everyone watching me. I didn’t even want to go to school. No one knew what I was dealing with physically and how it was draining me mentally.
I also was at a time of my life where I wanted to start making money and have a job as senior prom was that year.
That was the most anxiety and depression I ever felt in my life up to that point, but the library crew of Chris, Joseph, Tarrique, and others helped me through one of the darkest periods of my life and all the anxiety I was feeling.
I wasn’t the only one to leave the team that year that went 11-7 overall and 6-4 in league play, a massive improvement from the previous season. I unfortunately couldn’t finish the season due to my knee, but my teammates eventually understood.
The rest of senior year, despite the pain of not being able to finish a basketball season for the first time ever in my career due to the physical pain in my knee, I just tried enjoying the rest of my final year of high school as much as possible.
I hung out in the library with the crew, took some modelish pictures, and had an incredibly memorable senior skip day with Chris, Joseph, and the crew.
Senior skip day was a great day where we took a great trip to Coney Island we all planned about a month or two in advance. I also had just started a job at KFC near where I live in April of 2018 a few months prior to prom.
(Illy (far left), Christian, Josue, Joseph, Chris, and Me at Coney Island)
The rest of the crew (Cristal & Andy far left, with Leslie between me and Joseph)
I made new friends at KFC such as Malik Freeman, my guy Amorphis, and consider her my little sister in Sandra. I mostly worked there during my college years so I’ll mention them a little more when we get to that era of my life.
Lets get to prom now.
Prom was in June and June came and I still didn’t have a prom date and was getting worried I was going to go solo as I didn’t want to go solo and kept procrastinating who I wanted to bring until March and the two people I did initially think of couldn’t go.
I also needed a creative way to ask someone so I thank Illy, one of the members of the library crew in high school who is an amazing artist who drew me a great poster that read “Would you like to kick it with the DJ at prom?” that was colorful and written neatly that I used to ask Maria Chrobak, a girl who committed to Albany in my grade and was a beautiful person with a great personality.
She said yes. I was thrilled and excited for prom and both decided to go with a blue theme. We took great pictures together and had a great time together at prom. It was overall great to see everyone there at one of the parks in Haverstraw taking pictures, all the people I grew up with in high school as we had our final fun last hurrah as high schoolers.
(Chris Sand( the one who helped me up when I tore my ACL), Ralphy, Christian, and me)
The music was good at the Rockleigh Country Club where the Prom was held, the food was good and all were vibing to the music and all the hits throughout our high school years and years prior from artists such as Meek Mill, Drake, Kendrick Lamar, J Cole, Kanye, Travis Scott, Nicki Minaj, Weeknd, etc.
It was a great overall time, even the after prom where I went to the city and that’s one of two nights of my entire life I ever stayed up the whole night. I lived prom night to the fullest because you only get one senior prom, and I was lucky my class had it way before COVID.
Me in New York City after prom in June 2018
So after the fun of prom, it was time for the Class of 2018 for commencement. I was so tired that morning from being out the whole night from prom the day prior, as I only slept for about three to four hours. I eventually woke up, as I was a young spring chicken at 17 so it didn’t affect me too much.
That was an emotional day, seeing everyone there I grew up with through the years in their cap and gowns with their families taking pictures smiling and laughing proud of their children.
All the seniors lined up in alphabetical order by last name. Coach Ryan came to every single one of his former players, giving us a hug and congratulating us on our achievement. When he came to me he gave me a firm handshake and then hugged me tightly, congratulating me as I hugged him back tightly tearing up a bit but happy tears as I could tell he was emotional as well.
The day had come… My final day of high school. I’m feeling a churn in my stomach of different emotions. The sadness of seeing one chapter end, but happiness looking forward to what's to come in college.
The principal called our names with families of students yelling and screaming with excitement and joy for their loved ones after achieving a significant milestone in their lives.
I didn’t really want to put my cap on cause my hair looked really good and I didn’t want to mess it up. As I’m walking to shake the principal’s hand I hear my family yelling and screaming my name saying “Let’s go, DJ!” and hearing my mom say “That’s my son!”
The Class of 2018 all threw our caps in the air as if we were in a High School Musical movie, with us having the same colors as the iconic Disney movie.
(The Class of 2018 throwing up our caps in celebration on June 22, 2018)
I held that diploma and my hand proudly as one chapter ended. Me and my family all took pictures together. With my family as a whole, and of course some alone and with my mom. We all went out to eat to celebrate me and it went great.
(My mom and I after my high school graduation on June 22, 2018)
(My family and I in a group picture after my high school graduation on June 22, 2018)
High School taught me a lot of life lessons: How to overcome adversity, and peer pressure, learning not everyone is your friend no matter how good or kind a person you are, discovering myself and what and who I want to be, anxiety, trying new things, and overcoming insecurities I had of myself, such as if I had razor bumps on my face I didn’t want anyone to see me up close.
I didn’t want to be seen up close when I had lots of them at times in my later years of high school as I started to grow more facial hair even though I didn’t break out due to acne but more razor bumps.
But now it was time for the next chapter of my life… College: A time when my creativity would reach new heights from creating my own sports podcast and website brand in the DJ’s Sports Show, first car, first love, sports announcing, radio hosting, internships, and being away from home for the first time.
I was ready for the next chapter.