BERKELEY – There are parks and athletic fields throughout town that are where kids play, learn, and develop into young adults. It was fitting that in 2022 four locations were named after role models in the community.
The celebrations started in spring, when the new baseball field at Central Regional was christened the Al Kunzman Memorial Field at the Al Leiter Baseball Park.
The field itself is stellar, a short walk downhill from the school campus. Fans can sit in the new bleachers and visit the snack shack. A scoreboard lights up from behind third base, big enough to see from anywhere.
Inducted into the Central Regional Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, the late Al Kunzman had a prolific baseball coaching career. The fact that he was the coach of many other Hall of Famers shows how skilled he was. He was also credited as one of the coaches who started the Ocean County and Shore Conference Tournaments.
Leiter graduated Central in 1984 and went on to pitch for the Yankees and Mets. He was on the teams that won the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays (1993) and the Florida Marlins (1997). Kunzman coached him at Central.
Leiter was thanked for his financial contribution and constant support of youth athletics. He threw out the first pitch alongside family members John, Kurt and Mark. The Kunzman family was on hand to celebrate his legacy. The first game to be played on the field was against Toms River South. Their coach, Ken Frank, was honored for being the winningest coach in New Jersey.
In May, another diamond was named the Norm Selby Softball Field.
Selby’s record was 254 career wins, 95 losses, and one tie from 1981 to 1994. Dozens of fans and former players came out to see their old coach again.
During the dedication ceremony, Selby spoke about the dedication of the athletes themselves. “Approximately 113 young ladies wore the Central uniform with pride and class. They were the best. They all turned out to be fantastic people. I am very, very proud of them. I hope the ladies wearing the Central Regional uniform will bring pride, joy and respect to Central Regional High School.”
Selby became a member of the Central Regional High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 1995. He’s also in the New Jersey Athletic Hall of Fame. He coached a number of other sports and was also a history teacher.
“As far as my legacy, I want it to be merely that we tried to teach the game,” Selby said, “and that we played it fairly and tried to be honest and truthful to our young women.”
In June, the Central Regional High School track was named in honor of coach Steve Healey. As head coach from 1976 to 2001, he had 25 winning seasons out of 26. His career record was 188-51.
“There are no shortcuts to success – in track or in life,” said his daughter Carrie Healey, reading from a speech her father prepared. He was not able to attend. “I’ve watched amazing things they’ve done in life and on the track.”
Similarly, the athletes in attendance told stories about how the Golden Eagle coach took them under his wing, making them better people. They were student athletes, and he cared as much about them being students as being athletes.
Former assistant coach Jay Thevon quoted Healey as saying “Excuses: Don’t give ‘em and don’t take ‘em. If you can’t do it up there (pointing to the school), you won’t do it here.”
Finally, in summer, Robert Taylor was honored for working as a mentor and community leader for decades when the basketball courts in Manitou Park were named after him.
He knew people were coming out to the park for the 30th anniversary of Unity Pride, the nonprofit Taylor started to give neighborhood kids the structure and support they needed to stay out of trouble. It was also Family Day, an annual block party that’s been going on for 27 years. He didn’t know that they were naming the basketball courts after him.
Similar to the others in this article, people told stories of the good things he did for them, and the inspiration he gave to make them follow in his footsteps.
Rob and Shaniyah Taylor started a fundraiser to help support the Family Day efforts at gofund.me/24ce9f86
“I started a basketball program at Manitou Park in 1992 with one basketball court, no playground, and 100 people coming out to play,” Taylor said in a press release advertising the event. In the description of the fundraiser, he wrote: “When I started this event, I wanted to bring the community together (all different races, religions, and beliefs) for a good time! I wanted us to celebrate each other and give the kids something to look forward to. I wanted to create a safe place filled with so much joy, laughter, and the most important thing of them all: love. As a community, we exhibited just that and Family Day became an annual thing that the community appreciated and supported. Here we are, 30 years later, with a beautiful park and a diverse community. To a good time and to 30 years, thank you!!”