By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
Editor's Note: Throughout the year, Pope John XXIII Regional High School will feature alumni who have excelled in life since graduating and have represented our school with tremendous pride. In this new series, called "Lion Pride," we begin by taking a look at 1975 graduate Hugh Albora.
SPARTA — As he walks down the first hallway next to the main office of Pope John XXIII Regional High School, Hugh Albora can’t help but smile.
“This hallway brings back a lot of memories,” the Class of 1975 graduate said during a recent visit to his alma mater.
A lot of those personal memories for Albora have helped him become one of the top all-around athletes to ever come out of Sussex County, a graduate from the University of Wyoming, and a successful employee in the insurance industry. More importantly, Albora believes the memories and lessons that Pope John taught him made him into a great person.
“The whole experience here was phenomenal,” Albora said. “It’s still hard to imagine that it happened the way it all did. When I came in here as a freshman, the school was just starting to do well in everything. We started winning on the field, the students got involved, and the staff and community were really supportive. Everything just changed in such a positive way.
“Those feelings have always been a part of me to this day.”
Before he came to Pope John, Albora admitted he had been going through some “rough” times while growing up.
But when he arrived, he immediately gravitated toward his teachers, coaches, classmates and teammates, particularly Father McHugh, Father Gacquin, Vic Paternostro (head football coach), Dale Kobler (head wrestling coach), Mike Frick (three-time state champion in wrestling and 1972 graduate), Pat Concannon (1973 graduate), Teddy Hawke (1975 graduate), John Perdisatt (1975 graduate), Bob Spaulding Jr. (1975 graduate), Bob McKeeby (1972 graduate) and Jack Kasiski (1975 graduate). After all, these individuals helped teach him incredible values to get through any tough situation.
“Being here, I realized that setbacks were a part of life. You have to move on and keep going,” Albora said. “You have to work hard, you have to keep believing, you have to have trust and faith, and you have to do it with a smile on your face.
“People at Pope John went beyond the classroom and the fields in their outreach to help people like me,” Albora continued. “The care, consideration and benevolence of this school came from everyone.”
These life lessons showed every time he was in the classroom or competing on the football field, wrestling mat and baseball diamond.
In football, he was a two-time All-State selection at quarterback and safety, and four-year starter at both positions for the Lions, who he helped win the first two state championships in program history in 1971 and 1972. During his time under center, the Lions posted a record of 32-2-1.
In wrestling, Albora was a four-time District champion, a two-time Region champion, a two-time state placewinner and a state finalist at 188 pounds as a senior. In addition, he helped the Lions put together an eye-popping 49-10-1 record and win the District 11 championship in 1975 for the first time in school history.
In baseball, Albora was a three-time All-County player as a catcher and team MVP for the Lions.
As a result, Albora earned the opportunity to continue his academic and football careers at the University of Wyoming for the next four years. During his time in Laramie, Wy., tragedy struck Albora when his brother had committed suicide. When this happened, Albora said he received unbelievable support from his alma mater back home.
“They’ve always been here for me,” Albora said. “The people at Pope John who helped me and my family through the pain and sorrow of those events were there, no questions asked. That is what makes this school stand out and it will always be like that.”
This support system was able to help him play well enough on the college level to earn captain status of the team as a senior, then graduate from the university in 1980 with Dean’s List Honors, which he sais is his “proudest college achievement.”
After graduation, Albora went straight into the insurance industry. He first learned risk management and underwriting methodologies, strategies and techniques while working for various insurance carriers for 10 years. Then, he made a career move to the independent agency side and now works in sales for Phoenix Insurance Group, Inc., at its Sparta office, which is only 2.1 miles from Pope John.
Though it has been 43 years since he was a student here, Albora still cherishes the memories he made at Pope John. More importantly, he has one piece of advice for all the current and future students who will walk down the same hallways that he used to walk through.
“Stay in the moment,” Albora said. “Don’t try to think about the future and know what you are doing down the road. Take the steps to get there. The steps to get there are the key to life. It’s not the destination that matters. It’s the trip to get there. If you set a goal too far down the road and you say, ‘I’m not successful until I get there,’ there’s a whole lot of living in that time that you will miss. Just realize how lucky you are to have this opportunity to be here.”