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3 high school sports super fans prove you don’t have to be loud to be loyal

Here is a feature I’ve been working on with Peter Kramer on some of the biggest “super fans” in the Lower Hudson Valley. You probably know the two basketball fans, but even if you don’t, give a read to the dedication of these three fans. This will be running on the front page of Friday’s edition of The Journal News. I handled the two basketball sources, while Peter interviewed the the bowling fan.

By Mike Zacchio and Peter Kramer


As eyes turn to the Westchester County Center for this week’s basketball section semifinals, fans are front and center.

Fans come in all shapes and sizes, but you don’t have to paint your face or blow a vuvuzela to show team pride. As three “super fans” from the Lower Hudson Valley demonstrate, being a fan is more about showing up than showing off.

‘I’m always here’

In the past decade, Ossining High School has gone through four name changes for its sports teams: Indians to RiverHawks to the short-lived Ossining “O,” before settling on the Pride.

One thing has remained constant: Jean Schweizer, her red hair matching her fiery personality. If you’ve been to an Ossining game, you’ve likely seen her, almost always sporting Ossining garb. Usually, a gaggle of students welcomes her to whatever match she’s at.

Schweizer, 81, made her debut as a fan — at age 5 — at an Ossining football game in 1938. She has been coming to Ossining games of all kinds regularly since the early 1960s.


“From September until the end of June, I’m always here,” said Schweizer, a 1950 Ossining graduate and former three-sport athlete. “I love the kids. They’re always excited and they work hard. They’re just special kids — it’s a special school.”

“I love it. … I feel young again for a short while,” she said. “I can’t say enough about the kids at Ossining High School.”

“She’s a mainstay at Ossining,” said Dan Ricci, who heads Ossining’s football, girls basketball and girls lacrosse teams. “I’m coaching three sports now, plus I’m the athletic coordinator — she’s always there. … She used to try and get on the (team) bus.”

Schweizer makes her own way to Ossining’s home games, and even some away contests, but says night driving is becoming more difficult. The alumna still made the trek to Troy last year on a fan bus to see the girls basketball team win its first state championship.

Should the Pride advance to Troy this year, she says: “I’m ready to go!”

Lifelong infatuation

Lacing up at the County Center — host to thrilling games, lifelong memories and future stars — is the goal for high school basketball players in the Lower Hudson Valley.

For J.R. Bergman, it’s the place where a lifelong infatuation with the game was born.

A self-described “hoops junkie,” Bergman, a 61-year-old mailman in White Plains, said he was first hooked on the game when his father took him there in March 1959.

“As a 7-year-old, I was wide-eyed,” said Bergman, trying to recall details of the game. “It’s been so long. … I believe it was (a Class) A game.”

Bergman has spent more than a half-century in gyms across the tri-state area, racking up a tally of more than 10,000 games.


He can rattle off the top local team he has ever seen — the 1971 Mount Vernon boys basketball team, its starting five and coach — along with the names of top coaches and players, right down to positions and heights. He has built this encyclopedic knowledge with nary a note. It’s strictly from memory.

His favorite game?

“It wouldn’t be fair to give just one game,” Bergman said, before indulging. “It was at the County Center: Peekskill vs. FDR (High School of Hyde Park), back when they were in Section 1.”

It was the 1968 Section 1 Class A championship game: top-seeded, 20-0 Peekskill against No. 6-seeded FDR, which was 12-8. The game wasn’t close by any means, but it was memorable to Bergman.

“The final score was, I believe, 94-64,” he said of Peekskill’s win. “But Roosevelt had a player named Greg Kohls, who went on to play at Syracuse; of the team’s 64 points, he scored 51.”

(For the record, the final score was 92-64, but the Woodlands High School alumnus can be forgiven a two-point discrepancy after 46 years.)

Through the years, Bergman has seen a change in the stands, with derogatory terms chanted and fans yelling at referees to the point where they are ejected from the gym. Most of these encounters involve parents, not students.

“A lot of parents like to live vicariously through their kids,” he said.

Bowling brownies

Intense fans aren’t limited to basketball.

Her friends call her “Big Val,” but the only thing that’s really big about tiny Val Manzione is her love of North Rockland High School’s bowling teams.

A district special education aide, Manzione is a fixture in the rowdy Red Raider fan base. Boys or girls, home or away, Big Val is there.

Her four boys — Nick, James, Paul and Michael — all rolled for North Rockland. The youngest, Michael, graduated in 2012, but Manzione is still there, cheering on every bowler on every frame and baking the brownies the Red Raider faithful have come to expect over the 15 years she’s been making them. At the boys sectionals against Yonkers earlier this month, things didn’t go North Rockland’s way, but there was Big Val, cheering them on, furrowing her brow when pins failed to fall and urging the boys on.

TJN 0214 Section girls bowling

“I love these kids,” she said. “They’ve got a lot of pride in North Rockland. They just fight and fight and fight till the end. They’re a bunch of great kids and they have beautiful parents who support them.”

Joe Casarella, North Rockland’s athletic director, says there’s no questioning Manzione’s loyalty.

“The fact that her boys have all graduated and she’s still there makes her legitimate,” he said. “Anyone can root when their kid is on the team.”

When Manzione and special ed teacher Joan Gromack suggested that a couple of their students be allowed to try out for the bowling team, coach Joan Nelson OK’d it. The result: Vincent Scaglione, 19, and Jarell Parker, 17, made the JV squad.

“She’s the best. She’s not going to cause any problems,” Casarella says. “Anything she complains about, or points out, is for the good of the kids.”

Schweizer photo credit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News

Bergman photo credit: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News

Manzione photo credit: Joe Larese/The Journal News

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