Former Sachem basketball coach said it all in the opening line of his speech about Saturday night: “How bout this? Sachem girls basketball, big crowd and lots of media, it’s like the ‘90s all over again.”
Thousands packed the gymnasium at Sachem High School North as Kaczmarski had her No. 23 basketball jersey retired to the Wall of Fame, becoming just the fifth athlete and first female in the district’s 56-year history to receive the honor.
She is the first athlete since to have his or her number retired. His No. 26 lacrosse uniform was retired in a ceremony in 2010. Prior to that (basketball No. 43), (baseball No. 16), and (football No. 75) had their numbers retired.
Kaczmarski, affectionately known as Kaz, spent part of the evening working as she handled the color analysis for MSG Varsity’s broadcast of the between Sachem East and Sachem North.
“I think everything will start to settle in as time goes on,” Kaczmarski said. “It’s a tremendous honor to be able to share with the Sachem family, East and North. For me, it’s all one. It was great to be here with the whole community.”
Kaz said she was having flashbacks during the National Anthem, looking up at the same big American flag that she did for countless games in Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. from 1994-1999.
“I’d be standing out there with my team and feeling pumped about the game,” she said, “and looking at that flag it brought back a lot of good memories.”
An icon as a teenager, Kaczmarski took the nation by storm and put Sachem basketball on the map. Famous college coaches like Connecticut’s Geno Auriemma and Tennessee’s Pat Summit made their way to Sachem to watch one of the all-time greats. Kaz eventually settled on UCLA, but played only one season on the West Coast before transferring to Georgia and eventually home to Stony Brook. She did not play after UCLA until the New York Liberty drafted her and she spent some time playing professionally in Europe.
Kaczmarski holds the Suffolk County career scoring record with 2,583 points and ranks second all-time in Long Island history behind Garden City’s Bethany LeSueur (3,167).
Leandra Reilly helped document the daunting and sometimes unassuming days of Kaz’s high school career in the film “,” and it wasn’t until Kaz re-watched the film last year did she start to relive the magical moments of her day.
“It was great and I really appreciate it now,” she said. “The team we had, the memories we had and it’s really starting to hit me as an adult, much more than it did when I was playing.”
Riley, along with husband Mike Lardner, the Executive Producer of MSG Varsity, were on-hand to present with a poster from the film, which will now hang proudly in the halls of the school.
Atkinson remembers Kaz as far back as sixth grade and he said not much as changed.
“All the attributes she has now were present back then,” he said, “beautiful girl, beautiful smile, energetic, enthusiastic and then you watched her play and it was wow. The athletic ability, the skill level, the flare for the game, and the understanding of how to play the game were all there.”
Sachem East’s Jamie Doherty and Sachem North’s Shayla Cosgrove were currently wearing No. 23 this season, but happily gave it up and presented Kaz with those jerseys during a halftime ceremony.
“It’s long overdue,” said Sachem Athletic Director Pete Blieberg, who was instrumental in having the jersey ceremony. “You listen to all of her accomplishments, plus with East playing North, it was a perfect night.”
There were many similarities present for Kaz from when she played at Sachem. The air was thick with Flaming Arrows pride, the stands jammed with the Sachem faithful there to see her as always and the same traditional and historic championship banners hanging on the walls.
Sachem North football coach Dave Falco, a freshman basketball coach in the 1990s and the stat keeper for the varsity program back then, was there for all of Kaz’s magical moments and he was proud to see her honored. He put 23:23 on the clock during the halftime presentation.
“The time that Nicole was here was amazing,” he said. “The people in the gym, the college coaches, it was truly the Sachem experience. To have her added to the wall of honor here with Heaton, Ruland, Shanahan and Elliott, is very fitting and very deserving. Tonight was one of those very special Sachem nights.”
Atkinson said he remembers two distinct things about Kaz: her love of the game and her enthusiasm for her teammates.
“It was an honor to have coached Nicole,” he said. “It was so much fun. It was great having her as a player. She joins a great group of Sachem athletes and adds to the legacy that is Sachem athletics.”