Last year, I decided to compile a list of my 15 favorite stories written during the year, rank them, and then tweet them out in ascending order. Included in the tweets was a description of why the piece was one of my favorites, along with the hashtag #ZacchiosTop15.
Like any sports fan, I’ve always loved rankings, and as a writer, I’ve always loved getting behind-the-scenes information on a story (especially one I enjoyed).
Last year’s list included my work with The Journal News/lohud, Thought Catalog, and other sites I may have freelanced for. Since I wrote an article for Thought Catalog ranking my top five there, I decided to make this year’s list — and all lists going forward — strictly lohud-based.
15. Softball superstitions are unorthodox, but effective (Jun. 6)
Athletes are odd birds. Most athletes have a superstition of some kind, however small or extravagant. Aside from the fact that the story features a softball player who smashes raw spaghetti over her teammates’ helmets during games, this column makes the list because I managed to not only get a Jobu reference in there, but in the lede. ‘Major League’ fans everywhere rejoice.
For the past three years, it seemed like there were a ton of fouls called during the annual girls basketball Slam Dunk Tournament. After crunching numbers, it revealed that more than 865 fouls were called in just 800 minutes of play. If you go to a high school basketball game, you’re sure to hear, “Let ‘em play, ref!” or some variation of it. This was a case where there was definitive proof that there were an excessive number of fouls called. I wrote a column (respectfully) asking refs to “let the girls play” in this year’s tournament. Referees weren’t happy about it, but it seemed as if everyone else I came in contact with loved it. Entering the final game of the tournament, there had been less fouls called than minutes played. Progress.
One of the greatest objectives of a journalist is to make an impact through their work. In six years at The Journal News/lohud, I don’t know that there has been a greater example of my work making an impact than in the case of Nicolina Chenard. She was the focus of a column I wrote in September 2015, about how she had zero college offers despite being an incredible volleyball player. Chenard was a three-sport standout who did not play in club or travel programs, which likely kept her off the radar of college coaches. When a local Division II college coach read the column, it put Chenard on his radar and he offered her a scholarship to play for the team.
12. East Ramapo coach Dave Sachs dead at 68 (Oct. 11)
Not only had I never met Dave Sachs, I truthfully had no idea who he was. That’s a shame to admit, considering he had spent 44 years working in a district only a few minutes away from me, but it’s the truth. When he unexpectedly passed, my editor assigned me to write a feature on him. Part of me didn’t want to because I didn’t know anything about the man, and I thought one of my colleagues who was more familiar with him would do a better job with it, but it ended up being a surprisingly rewarding experience. I enjoyed getting to know the man through stories from those who were close to him. It was uplifting to hear what kind of an impact someone can make in people’s lives. It’s horrible that this happened only after he passed, but I think the story was something he would’ve been proud of.
11. Albertus Magnus honors, remembers Joe McGuinness (Dec. 19)
The only interactions I ever had with Joe McGuinness were a, “Hello,” and a, “Goodbye,” whenever covering an Albertus Magnus girls basketball game. I never really had an in-depth conversation with him, but it was always apparent that he was a fixture he was in the Albertus Magnus community. I never really knew just how much he meant until the school dedicated its basketball court to him.
10. Harrison coach Louis Kail ejected before game starts (Feb. 5)
I was in the middle of covering a Westchester Knicks game when I got the call from Kail about what happened during a junior varsity game between Harrison and Eastchester. Somehow I managed to make a ton of calls, take notes, turnaround a story on the Kail situation, and file my Knicks gamer on deadline. It was definitely one of my best performances under-the-gun during my journalism career, which is why it kicks off the top 10.
9. North Rockland coach Ralph Cordisco dies at 97 (Jan. 11)
Having gone to North Rockland High School, you got the impression that Cordisco would be around forever. Deep down, you always knew that would never be the case, but it was a feeling you had. This one hit a little closer to home than most features (specifically those involving the death of a coach) I work on, but it was a great piece of work that really captured Cordisco’s life and spirit.
8. Two-handed bowling is no laughing matter (Apr. 4)
I’m not sure how many people know this about me, but I love bowling. Back in the day, I even wasn’t half bad at it. Bowling doesn’t get a whole lot of love in sports, so whenever I get to do virtually anything on it, I’m pretty excited. Being someone who bowls two-handed, this column was a great way for me to tackle a subject close to my heart. Storm, which sponsors some of the biggest stars in the game — including two-handed sensation Jason Belmonte, even shared the story.
My first year on the girls basketball beat was Saniya Chong’s final year at Ossining, meaning that I missed her going head-to-head with future UConn teammate Breanna Stewart. After hearing that the two had become good friends in college, I wrote a feature about their relationship that actually wound up leading the USA TODAY Sports women’s college basketball page.
6. Mike Nolan family: Killers are ‘cowards,’ ‘punks’ (July 27)
Most of the sportswriters were re-assigned to cover various news beats over the summer, and I was put on the breaking news beat. While covering a court case where Mike Nolan’s killers were expected to plead guilty, I gathered enough quotes and notes to where I felt a strong feature story could be produced. My editor agreed, and it ended up being the 1A centerpiece in the next day’s paper.
5. Something stinks in Somers (May 1)
Easily the most controversial piece of work I’ve ever produced, this column connected some dots surrounding the unexpected firing of Somers girls basketball head coach Kristi Dini months after she led the team to its best season in program history. This was my most-read sports story of the year, and combined investigative journalism with column writing.
It may seem a little odd that one of my favorite pieces of the year is something written as pregame notes for a Yankees game I was covering, but this one had the most sentimental value to me. Growing up a diehard Yankees fan, I fell in love with watching Joe Torre, Tino Martinez, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, and Daryl Strawberry do their thing on the baseball field. Getting to interview Torre during Old-Timers’ Day was one of the highlights of my career, and getting to talk to him about the team that literally made me a baseball fan was nothing short of exhilarating.
3. Alonso children defined by sports, not mom’s death (Sept. 10)
I was simply minding my own business at work when I heard the name “Rob Alonso” come up in conversation among photographers. We were planning to do a project on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the idea of doing a follow-up story on the Alonso family — who lost wife/mother Janet — was brought up. Since I had covered Victoria Alonso for softball, and knew Rob, I volunteered to write the feature if the family agreed to do the story. It ended up being one of the hardest pieces I’ve ever had to write, but also one of my finest.
2. Lauren Bunyan Gould, cheer coach, lived dreams (Dec. 12)
I had interviewed Lauren Bunyan Gould over the summer, messaged with her over Facebook in October, and by mid-December, she was gone. It was surreal. I didn’t know Gould well, but for whatever reason, her death hit me in a way that many local deaths never have. Knowing what she meant to North Rockland community — my hometown — and what she did to build up the sport of cheerleading, I felt it was only right to dedicate my column that week to remembering her. It may very well be the best article I’ve ever produced.
I’m a heavily tattooed individual. That’s not really a secret, nor do I try to make it one. When the idea of doing a story on the increase of visible tattoos on high school athletes was brought up, I pounced on it. This was one of the most mentally draining pieces to produce (endless rewrites and tweaking) that was dragged out over six months, but it eventually ran and it was a product was I proud of. The editorial staff even wanted me to do an on-camera video talking about my views on tattoos, which was a pretty cool bonus.