According to many of those who know him, recent North Shore High School graduate Jack Gottfried, of Glen Head, personifies everything it means to be a team player. His selfless attitude and focus on making everyone around him better made it an easy choice for varsity basketball coach Kevin Carpenter and district Athletic Director Don Lang to nominate Gottfried for the Dr. James Tolle Hero/Heroine Award this year, Carpenter said.
Last month, Gottfried, 18, was notified that he was one of only two student-athletes in Nassau County to win the award and its $1,000 scholarship. It is given to athletes who impact their teams in ways that go beyond winning, by making an emotional contribution and bringing joy to their teammates.
“I’m extremely humbled by it,” Gottfried said. “I really couldn’t believe that I had won such a huge reward. I’m honored.”
“My husband [Peter] and I were very surprised, and words cannot express how proud and grateful we were that he was recognized in that way,” said Gottfried’s mother, Allison.
Jack, who also played golf and soccer at NSHS, said his path to the varsity basketball team wasn’t an easy one. He was under 5 feet tall as a freshman, and also dealt with a variety of injuries, among them Osgood-Schlatter disease, whose symptom is painful bumps below the knees. That kept him from playing soccer his freshman year, and contributed to his inability to make the junior varsity basketball team as a freshman and sophomore.
But basketball is so important a part of life in Jack’s family, Allison said, that he remained determined to make the team. His father and grandfather, Frank Romeo, both played basketball in college and coached at the high school level, and he had the full support of his family throughout his journey.
“He has this way about him that nothing’s going to stop him, and that there’s nothing that’s going to set him back too much,” his mother said.
Jack’s time to shine came in his junior year, when he made the varsity team. Although he was still relatively undersized, growing to 5 feet 9 by the end of his senior year, and didn’t get much playing time, he was determined to make an impact in any way he could. He gave his teammates emotional support, he said, encouraging them and offering advice on developing their strengths and overcoming their weaknesses.
“I felt it was very important to be that guy who, off the floor, was very supportive,” Gottfried said. “I figured that since I’m not going to play a lot, I have to help these guys off the floor, help them mentally, support them and make sure they do the best they can on the floor.”
One of his teammates, Will Scarola, said that Gottfried is the kind of guy who will do anything to make his team better. He always gave 100 percent in practice, and took time to ensure that every teammate was being the best he could be, a quality that Scarola said is hard to find.
“Jack really fought and worked hard over the years to make the team and contribute,” Scarola said. “Jack wasn’t always the biggest and all that, but he always worked the hardest.”
Scarola said he couldn’t think of a better recipient for the Tolle scholarship. “I grew up with Jack for our whole lives,” he said, “so I’m very proud of him, and I think everybody should be, too.”
Carpenter said he saw the hard work Gottfried put into everything he did, and that he came to practice every day with the mentality of being the best teammate possible. He didn’t care about statistics, Carpenter said. He just wanted to make the team better, and was a pleasure to have on the squad.
“Jack’s a great kid,” his coach said. “He’s a team player. He’s got a real passion for the game of basketball, and I think his journey at North Shore, and being part of our program, has shown a lot of growth.”
In the fall Gottfried will attend Marist College, where he plans to major in digital arts and animation degree, a passion he said he discovered when he began taking more art classes as a sophomore at North Shore. “I fell in love with it,” he said, “and I realized this was something I wanted to do, and I might be able to do it for the rest of my life.”
Although he will be leaving organized basketball for the time being, Allison said that her son’s grit and determination would help him succeed at anything he sets his mind on.