It is a rare occurrence when we have the opportunity to document the story of a person who has become a standout, a generational figure, in the lives of a wide-ranging community.
What made this person different than the rest of us? Was it luck? Was it perseverance?
In terms of history, there have been people who have had stellar attributes in different fields who have traversed the byways of our Sussex County. They include the genius of Thomas Edison, the leadership of George Washington and the sportsman traits of Babe Ruth.
One person who comes to mind for me is Mike Ferrara. Mike came from our county - from the halls of Franklin High School.
He had the Sussex County record for scoring, later finishing No. 2 in all of Division 1 college basketball in the nation while at Colgate in 1981, having his number retired there in 2012. He went on to the NBA and the Washington Bullets.
To have crossed paths with Mike was fortunate for me. And now I have the fortune to have time to get to know him better, to hear about his inner self, and this is providential in terms of understanding what makes the man and how he grew to be the success story that evolved.
This is the first part of several columns that form a kind of autobiography of Mike. What a joy this is.
An early conclusion I can take from Mike’s life story is one of grit and determination. To having envisioned where he wanted to be and to have endeavored continuously, ceaselessly toward that goal. To have drawn focus at a distant treasure and to have enjoined Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” and maintained work toward that goal.
His is a story that might be epitomized by a favorite poem of mine by a favorite poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight,
but they, while their companions slept,
were toiling upward in the night.”
Here is Mike’s story, as told by himself ...
We were one of the first families to move from New York City to the wilderness of Vernon Township on July 1, 1972. When I arrived in Vernon at 13 years old, I switched to basketball from baseball because we didn’t have enough kids in our lake to play any real baseball.
So being a high-energy kid who needed to stay busy so I would stay out of trouble, my dad built me a basketball court at our house and that started what would turn into an incredible sports journey for the rest of my life.
I remember that first day at Franklin High School in September 1972. I remember being nervous because I heard all the stories about Franklin sports that summer and how rich of a sports tradition Franklin High School had in the old days with the Franklin Miners, the Babe Ruth days at Wallkill Golf Club, etc.
Within the first week or so at FHS, I met Mr. (Frank) Virtue, Mr. (Jim) Platukis, Nick Stefkovich, Gary Baldwin, Eric Roskelly and a few other guys. This was the start of the 10- to 12-year training group that would help me reach my crazy goal I had as a kid of getting a legitimate shot to play in the NBA.
Mr. Virtue and Mr. Platukis encouraged that dream and showed me what it would take and what I would have to do. So, I did exactly what they said for the next 10 years. Over the next four years, I don’t recall a single day of not playing basketball.
Mr. Virtue told me a long time ago he knew we had a very special group back then because never once did any one of us ask when the season started. Never once. The reason was the season never ended for any of us.
It was great basketball 24/7/365 days a year and the entire town/area got the basketball virus buzz in 1974, ‘75 and ‘76. I remember those years people having to get to the varsity game in the beginning of the junior varsity games; otherwise no one could get in our gym after halftime of the JV games. It was overflowing with very excited people.
We were playing so much basketball, and doing so anywhere we could play in 1974, that Mr. Virtue just gave me a key to the gym which I have saved until this day.
So after that, I would get on the phone, organize the guys, and we would all get to the Franklin gym whenever.
I also remember Mr. Keegan and the superintendent getting calls because there would be 10 or so cars in the Franklin parking lot weeknights, Sundays and at those quiet times when the lot should be empty.
There were no issues because Mr. Keegan was fully on board and had the basketball virus too. That key paid dividends for my entire career until my retirement in 1982.
I remember all the private basketball tutoring sessions I received from Mr. Platukis, Mr. Virtue, Steve Stefkovich. The thousands of games of one-on-one with Stick Stefkovich.
All the great players we had in the county at that time that would come over and run with us. All I remember is how hard everyone played, how good they all were, and how they just constantly pushed me to make me better and better.
I could not have come up in Sussex County at any other time and accomplished what I accomplished if it wasn’t for that start that I had at FHS.
Contact Bill Truran, Sussex County historian, at email@example.com