Through hard work, dedication and hours of practice and play, 12 Byram Hills High School student-athletes have risen to the top of their game. Now, these seniors are taking their athletic ability to the next level, and have committed to playing their sport in college next year.
“It’s absolutely spectacular for Byram Hills, a school of our size, to have 12 athletes that are committed to bringing their passions and their talents to the collegiate level,” said Rob Castagna, Director of Health Education, Physical Education and Athletics at Byram Hills. “We’re extremely proud.”
Byram Hills honored the dozen athletes on Thursday at a ceremonial College Signing Day in the high school gym, as fellow classmates, teammates, family members and school officials cheered them on.
“We gather to recognize and congratulate 12 outstanding student-athletes,” Mr. Castagna told the crowd.
Before the students signed a symbolic letter of intent to play next year, each was introduced by the boys varsity soccer coach, Matt Allen. He highlighted the students’ athletic accomplishments, and put each on the spot with a personal question.
Their achievements were impressive and drew repeated applause, while the athletes and the crowd shared some laughs during the question-and-answer period, highlighted by a little gentle ribbing and some unvarnished honesty.
Here’s a look at the student-athletes:
Antonio Aversa, Fairleigh Dickinson University, football. Coach Allen described Antonio as an imposing figure on both the football field and the baseball diamond. In football this year, he scored nine touchdowns, and had over 500 yards receiving, 34 receptions and needed to be double-teamed many times. “He’s going to be a dangerous weapon for F.D.U. next year,” Coach Allen said.
Asked about his most memorable moment at Byram Hills, Antonio said: “For football, I think my best moment was the Harrison playoff game, even though we didn’t win that game, that was probably the best feeling I had playing football.”
J.J. Bancone, Denison University, football. This season, J.J. rushed 316 yards and caught 38 passes for 316 yards. On defense, he had 45 tackles and two interceptions. Coach Allen called him a true all-around player who plays with a lot of emotion.
Asked which famous athlete serves as the best example for him, J.J. cited Derrick Brooks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker, in 2003. “I’ve looked up to him since I was 3-years-old. I always admired him, who he was as a man, and how he played the sport as a football player.”
Daniel DiSano, Union College, baseball. Coach Allen said Union is getting an exceptional outfielder next year in Daniel. “He currently bats leadoff for the team and is batting .500, leading the team in hits, stolen bases and is also riding a perfect fielding percentage, where last year he made 41 putouts without an error. He’s a consummate professional whose main attribute is his all-around skill,” Coach Allen said.
Likening Daniel to Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout, Daniel was asked about which player he tries to emulate and how he views his baseball future. Daniel cited Mookie Betts of the Boston Red Sox. “He’s been my favorite player for awhile now,” he said. “I try to emulate his game. He’s a leadoff hitter who has the most hits in the league right now.” As for his seasons ahead, “The future is bright,” Daniel said to applause.
Christopher Draper, Bates College, swimming. This year for Byram Hills, Coach Allen said, Chris was “a driving force in leading the team to the state championships for the first time in 10 seasons. At the N.S.C.A. Junior National Championships, Chris finished second in both the 200 IM and 200 fly and he is recognized as one of top 70 swimmers in all of New York State.”
Answering his questions, Chris said he didn’t have any superstitions before he competes and doesn’t really prepare differently before an individual or a team event. He does usually stretch beforehand.
Tristan Gibson, New Jersey Institute of Technology, fencing. “Tristan is currently nationally ranked in the United States and was chosen for the 2016-17 All-American team, which currently recognizes the top 300 fencers in the United States,” Coach Allen said. “Just recently, he placed 3rd in the Division 1 Regionals, competing against some of the best fencers in the world.”
Allen noted that unfortunately, most people consider fencing to be a rather obscure sport, and asked Tristan how he became a fencer. “I got into fencing because I hate working with other people in team sports,” Tristan said to laughter. “I don’t trust anyone else.”
Brian Glat, MIT, swimming. Coach Allen joked that Brian found just a little bit of time to swim while he was busy earning a 4.539 GPA and a near-perfect ACT score of 35. He noted that Brian is a four-time state qualifier, a Journal News First Team All-Star, a USA Swimming Scholastic All-American, has broken four school records and was recently named a Con Edison Athlete of the Week award winner.
Brian was asked how he became involved in swimming and what he’s looking forward to at MIT.
“My grandfather used to swim, so when I was younger, he kind of got me into it,” Brian said. “Once I started at the age of 6, I really enjoyed it, so I kept doing it. At MIT, I look forward to hopefully having a good balance of academics and athletics and hopefully making the NCAA swim meet.”
Malorie Lipstein, Duke University, cheerleading. “Malorie is one of the few athletes here at Byram Hills who successfully marketed herself to a college program,” Coach Allen said. “She wasn’t truly, actively recruited. She sent videos of herself training. She did this all by herself and sent it off to the coaches at Duke University. She did it privately.”
Malorie was asked what drew her to Duke and about the tryout process. She said she fell in love with Duke when she visited. “There’s something about it,” she said. “Everyone’s so proud to be there. It’s just really the perfect place for me.”
Malorie cheered throughout high school. “It’s something that makes me really happy that I wanted to continue,” she said. For the tryouts, she said: “I reached out to the coach and did my tryout through 25 different videos. They compared that with the live tryouts and we did it all through email.”
Luke Simon, Fordham University, football. Coach Allen noted how much Luke has grown since freshman year, due to hard work and a love of the weight room. This past season, he had 54 tackles — 32 solo, 5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles.
Besides your size, what’s your greatest strength, Luke was asked. “I think I developed a lot of good technique from my coach, and I’d say my greatest strength on the field would probably be a tenacity that I developed,” he said.
Skylar Sinon, Ithaca College, basketball. “Skylar will graduate as arguably the most celebrated basketball player in our school’s history,” Coach Allen said. He cited Skylar’s achievements: All-Section selection for four years, All-State the last three. He shattered the school’s all-time scoring record by over 500 points, accumulating a total of 1,657 points, has a career record of 90-25, and was a Con Edison award winner this past season.
Skylar was asked at what age he realized he had a special talent for the game and which professional player he tries to emulate. “I probably started getting serious about basketball during my seventh grade year,” Skylar said. “Once I started playing, I played on my parish for awhile and I enjoyed it so much that I knew I wanted to play at the next level. I try to copy my game after Steve Nash. The game comes so easy to him and he’s just a pleasure to watch.”
Ryan Steeg, Oneonta, baseball. Coach Allen said that Ryan has established himself as one of the top pitchers in Westchester. He’s earned All-League honors as a junior. Last year, he led the team in innings with 45, had an ERA of 2.30 and 49 strikeouts. “So far, he’s lived up to his No. 1 pitcher status, with a 4-1 record on the mound, leading the team in innings and has an exceptional 1.40 ERA,” Coach Allen said of this season.
Asked how Byram Hills prepared him for the next step, Ryan said: “I think the staff here at Byram and the teammates have taught me to play the game the right way. Coach Saunders always preaches playing classy baseball. That’s definitely a big part of the next step, where the game becomes more serious and playing sports in college becomes a job. At the next level, I’m just really looking forward to facing better competition, and really seeing what I’m made of, and what training has done for me over the past few years.”
Matthew Turk, Dickinson College, track and field. Coach Allen said Dickinson College will be gaining “one of the most consistent runners in school history” from Byram Hills. This past year, Matt led the team to a top-five finish in the Westchester County Sectional Championship meet.
Asked what factored into his decision to run for Dickinson, Matt said it was the college’s commitment to the environment. “I want to go into something related to the environment, and they’ve been the most environmentally conscience college for six years now,” Matt said to applause.
Nick Weitzman, Union College, tennis. Nick is a four-year varsity player, and is captain of the program this year. He’s compiled a 40-11 record and is becoming the second member of his family to play a sport for Union.
For the final athlete, Coach Allen served up a softball, asking Nick about his favorite breakfast cereal and his pre-game meals. “My favorite cereal is probably Cinnamon Toast Crunch,” Nick said, and the night before matches, mostly tournaments, he enjoys chicken fried rice.