Monday, September 14, 2009

And To All, A Good Knight

Irvington New Jersey is a tough town. Actually, grading on the curve of toughness - it is a really, really tough town. How tough is it? Well, tough enough that although Irvington has its own fully-manned, damned earnest police department it is one of the urban areas in New Jersey where the locals invited the State Police in so that they could assist with patrols and the general fighting of crime. You could pick up the newspaper daily for a year - watch the late local news faithfully every night for that period of time as well - and come away feeling almost overwhelmed by the number of stories involving Irvington that involve one unspeakable crime or another. According to the FBI Uniform Crime Rate database for 2004, Irvington has a violent crime rate of 2373 incidents per 100,000 people. This compares with a rate of 391 in New Jersey and a rate of 596 nationally. Irvington was also reported - in that same FBI database - as being in the 100th percentile in New Jersey for violent crime, which means of course that 100% of cities in New Jersey have crime rates equal to or lower than Irvington, or said another way, 0% of cities in New Jersey have crime rates higher than Irvington.

In spite of its well-earned reputation as a place where hope goes to die (and takes a number to line up behind everyone and everything else that is already queued up waiting in the same line), not all is lost in Irvington. This weekend, as schools around the State of Jersey Gardens (and too many other shopping plazas to count), celebrated the first weekend of high school football season, the Star-Ledger ran a story on the young man, Nijee Leverett, who is the quarterback for the Irvington High School football team.

Leverett is - according to the story - one hell of a fine football player. As a freshman he stepped into the breach when the team's starting quarterback was injured and performed so well that the coach looked forward to the happy dilemma he would face in Leverett's sophomore season of how to get both kids on the field. A dilemma that never arose because in March 2008 - at age 14 and smack dab in the middle of his freshman year of high school, Nijee Leverett was diagnosed with testicular cancer. While undergoing the second of two surgeries, he died. For three to five minutes he flat-lined.

It is an absurd understatement to say that Nijee Leverett has come one hell of a distance from that March day eighteen months ago. On Saturday, Irvington had a disappointing beginning to its season on the field - losing at Pope John XXIII in Sparta XIX to VI (sorry, I so love the Roman numerals). But you will have to forgive Irvington's coach, players and parents if they did not view the day as a disappointment. They were all a bit too busy celebrating the return of their quarterback. Nijee Leverett was back under center and calling signals for the Knights eighteen months after....well, after he was dead for three to five minutes.

A lot of news comes out of Irvington New Jersey and the overwhelming majority of it is bad. Not all of it though. Not by a long shot.


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