Newark Arts High School is celebrating the recent signing of student Justin Velez, 17, to play collegiate baseball for Southern Vermont College.
Joined by parents, sister, Arts High School Principal Ricardo Pedro, Athletic Director Freeland, Coach Silvestri and nearly 50 students who observed him sign to the college that he plans to play the next four year of his college career.
"Even with his dad and I showing a significant amount of support, it still took a village and an entire community to assist in keeping Justin focused and dedicated" Justin's mother Milly said. "This is a great day for me watching my son continue to do well academically and athletically. I have the opportunity to appreciate what every parent living in Newark wants to experience while raising a son".
In a statement by Arts High School's Principal Ricardo Pedro, he acknowledged Justin's character as being nothing more than a leader.
"I want to thank Justin for being a real gentleman and displaying quality leadership not only on the field but, most importantly around our school building. It has been a pleasure having Justin in our school" Principal Pedro said.
For 5'7" tall, 160 pound Justin, the emotional signing moment was finally the day he could officially pay respect for a man who he said stays close to his heart.
Born in the Bronx, Velez moved to Newark's North Ward at a young age when his parent purchased a house then called New Jersey home.
Velez began playing baseball at the age of 7 and fell in love with his extended North Newark Little League baseball family, particularly his coach, Joe.
"Not only did Coach Joe teach me the game but, he also taught all of his players to respect ourselves and have pride in where we live. His words have stayed with me for a long time, and I can't thank Coach Joe enough for what he has instilled in me".
Coach Joe Devincintis and his twin brother Coach Vinny managed the North Newark Baseball League (NNBL) in which they were involved in the community for nearly 30 years according to Velez.
In 2016, after a bout with Cancer, Coach Joe transitioned, leaving his legacy in the hearts of hundreds of Newark children including Justin's.
"I miss coach a lot. There wasn't a moment this past year while playing that I didn't think of Coach Joe and all he meant to me" Justin said.
A ceremony is planned for later this month to rename a street located in the area of North 5th Street and 3rd Avenue after Coach Joe according to reports.
Justin is prepared to attend Southern Vermont University after playing in approximately 500 baseball games since the age of 7. He has attended nearly 1,000 practices and about 1000 at bats – not to mention all of the private lessons and his individual time in the cages and on the field.
Located on a mountainside campus overlooking the Green Mountains, Southern Vermont College aspires to be a model of an enlightened educational community: diverse, supportive, environmentally respectful and socially responsible according to the college's website. Its athletic program is a member of the NCAA Division III and the New England Collegiate Conference (NECC). These affiliations have enabled Southern Vermont College to compete against many of the best teams in New England and New York State the college's website said.
Justin will receive a $14,000 a year academic scholarship.
"I chose Vermont because it reminded me a lot of the small community that I am used to at Arts High School. The campus is beautiful and has rigorous academics" Justin said.
"Arts High School, under coach Silvestri, has tweaked my purpose for playing in the game and prepared me to play in college. I am thankful for the experience Coach Silvestri has given and taught me".
Justin has batted .571 in 2014, .462 in 2015, and .500 in 2016 according to school records. A Television Production Major at Arts, Justin will major in Criminal Justice in the fall.
He wants to thank his parents, coaches (Joe, Vinny, Silvestri), The entire Arts High School community, and his baseball family at Arts.