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April 4, 2013


 Declared “Team of the Year” by The Star-Ledger

(Newark, NJ) – During its Wednesday, April 3, 2013, meeting at the Hall of Records, the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders honored the Malcolm X Shabazz H. S. Girls Basketball Team of Newark for winning the 2013 Group 2 State Championship and the Tournament of Champions.  The Board’s commendation was sponsored by Freeholders Blonnie Watson of Newark, Rufus Johnson of Newark, D. Bilal Beasley of Irvington, Carol Clark of East Orange and Gerald Owens of South Orange.

Members of the N. J. Group 2 State Champion Malcolm X Shabazz H. S. Girls Basketball Team, also winners of the Tournament of Champions, were honored by the Board.  The players are pictured above with their head coach, Vanessa Watson (1st row, 3rd from right), assistant coaches and Freeholders Blonnie Watson (1st row, 2nd from left), Carol Clark (1st row, far right), Gerald Owens (back row, far left), Rufus Johnson (back row, center) and Leonard Luciano (to the right of Johnson).  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

Freeholder President Blonnie Watson told the team how proud she was of them, adding, “…although we consider you to be ‘Newark’s Team’ and ‘Essex County’s Team’, you truly are ‘New Jersey’s Team!’”  Watson also encouraged the seniors, as they get ready to head off to college, to  “…always remember what you were taught by your parents and your coaches, and once you’ve accomplished your goals, come back to Newark to teach and nurture other young women such as yourselves.”

“As a proud Newarker myself”, said Freeholder Rufus Johnson, “I am so happy to congratulate and honor you for your achievements.”  He also spoke glowingly about his neighbor, Head Coach Vanessa Watson, and of her outstanding leadership qualities.  Johnson joked about the school running out of room to display all the commendations from the freeholder board, saying, “We love you here at the County, because you’re here quite often!”

Freeholder Carol Clark, a former basketball player and coach at Essex County College and East Orange’s Clifford J. Scott H. S., spoke of having known Coach Watson “…since she was in pigtails”, and joked that she refers to the annual state tournament as “the Shabazz Invitational” due to the program’s unparalleled success.  “As a former basketball coach who will love the game until I die, I respect and appreciate all of your hard work and what it took for you to get here… you are champions and this is a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge you.”

Head Coach Vanessa Watson spoke about her team having proven the naysayers wrong and of how proud she was of the players because “…they gave it all they had”.  She added, “Hopefully these girls have grown and know what it takes, and are ready to move forward and continue to be the best that they can be… and that’s all that we can ask.”  Thanking the Board “for always taking the time to recognize us”, Coach Watson presented the freeholders with “Lady Bulldogs New Jersey State Champions” t-shirts.

Speaking on behalf of her teammates, senior captain Naqaiyyah Teague (who will attend UNC-Wilmington in the fall on a full scholarship) thanked the Board for taking the time to congratulate and honor the team saying, “We worked long hours to achieve our goals in the classroom and on the court, and being acknowledged by you has helped us to know that our hard work is appreciated.”

Shabazz Head Coach/Athletic Director Vanessa Watson (center) presented Lady Bulldogs “New Jersey State Champions” t-shirts to all the members of the Board, which are proudly displayed by (l. to r.) Freeholder President Blonnie Watson and Freeholders Rufus Johnson, Gerald Owens, Carol Clark and Leonard Luciano.  (Photo by Glen Frieson)

In state tournament competition, the Malcolm X Shabazz High School Girls Basketball Team first defeated Caldwell H.S. (61-42), Ridgefield Park H.S. (50-23) and then Lincoln H.S. of Jersey City (65-25) to win the North 2, Group 2 Sectional Championship, before going on to defeat Glen Rock H.S. (64-23) and then Willingboro H.S. (71-44) to capture the Group 2 State Championship on March 10th.   The team then went on to compete in the Tournament of Champions where it first defeated Point Pleasant Beach H.S. (65-50) and then Rancocas Valley Regional H.S. (66-54) to capture the Tournament of Champions title on March 19th.

The Lady Bulldogs finished their season with an outstanding record of 33-1, during which they also went undefeated (12-0) in the Super Essex Conference as its champion, won their 5th straight Essex County Tournament Championship (its 16th overall and 11th in the last 12 years), and also won the Newark Public Schools Holiday Tournament Championship.  They were also ranked by The Star-Ledger as the #1 team in New Jersey and as its 2013 “Team of the Year”.

This year’s team was further recognized by honors bestowed upon three of its members: Zaire O’Neil was named to the 1st Team All-State, All-Conference and All-Juniors, as well as The Star-Ledger’s Essex County Girls Basketball “Player of the Year”; Naqaiyyah Teague was named to the 1st Team All-Seniors and All-Conference; and DeAshia was named to the 1st Team All-Juniors and All-Conference.

The Malcolm X Shabazz High School girls basketball program, which has long-established the standard for excellence for girls basketball in New Jersey, previously won Group 3 state championships in 1983, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2009, before moving to Group 2 where it has won four consecutive state championships in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Coached by Head Coach Vanessa Watson and Assistant Coaches Jania Sims, Deborah Wilkerson and Simone Baskerville, the team is comprised of the following members: Seniors Naqaiyyah Teague and Mayowa Olubakinde; Juniors Doniyah Cliney, Zaire O’Neil, DeAshia Jones, Altiliyah Butler, Naquaisha Rattray, Syonah Williams and Briana Franklin; and Sophomores Acestra Robinson and Robin Engleman.

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For Additional Information:
Gary Kroessig, Public Information
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders




Board of Chosen Freeholders, County of Essex
Hall of Records - Room 558, 465 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd., Newark, New Jersey 07102
Tel: (973) 621-4486 Fax: (973) 621-5695