Circumstances sent John Rowe from Lyndhurst, New Jersey, to Northwestern Oklahoma State College in Alva, Oklahoma, in 1963. The small town and the small college within it would never be the same. And neither did John.
John, a 6-4 basketball star at Lyndhurst, was rumored to be traveling to a major southern school, possibly the University of South Carolina, to play basketball, but a change of coach resulted in the last minute withdrawal of a scholarship offer. So he ended up with two of his classmates from Lyndhurst at the small NAIA school about 200 miles west of Tulsa and 150 miles north of Oklahoma City.
He graduated four years later, never having played college basketball, but having served as sports editor and editor of the school newspaper and director of sports information for the college. Shortly after graduating, he returned home to Lyndhurst and joined the Herald-News sports department a month later. He spent two years in the military, writing for Stars and Stripes, before returning to the Herald-News in 1969.
John Rowe died on December 31, 2021 at Hackensack University Medical Center at the age of 76 after battling the disease for several years.
John moved from the Herald-News to The Record in early 1973, remaining there until his official retirement on February 21, 2016. He then returned to help cover the Jets, Giants, and varsity sports before the pandemic. of COVID only lead to his last stories being written in April 2020. For over 15 years, until his first retirement in 2016, he also served as sports editor and associate sports editor.
Fittingly, his last stories published in The Record on April 24-25, 2020, covered the Jets draft, a commentary on how the NBA’s G League wouldn’t hurt college basketball, and a commentary on the Alex Rodriguez’s daily impact if his group was successful in buying the New York Mets.
John Rowe could do it all, cover any sport you could name and do it well, at any level from high school to college to all the big pro team sports, with a bit of horse racing to side.
Former Record Local Sports editor Jeff Roberts called him “the best editor I’ve ever had” and marveled at his ability to tell a story, both on paper and orally.
âHis stories were original and hilarious, even the ones you could print,â Roberts said. “We’ve lost a lot of good people recently, but this one really hurts.”
John has covered iconic events such as the NBA Championships, World Series, Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, Kentucky Derby, and the NCAA Final Four. He was a member of the Heisman Memorial Trophy committee and an honorary life member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. In 2012, he appeared in Chuck Wepner’s ESPN Films documentary, “The Real Rocky”.
And he had the best connections of anyone in the North Jersey area. He had stopped covering high school sports decades earlier, but if there was a big event in Bergen County and he wasn’t on assignment elsewhere, John would be in the stadium, on the field or in the gym.
John is survived by his mother, Annie (nÃ©e Mullins), his nephew, John (JP), and his wife, Gosia Rowe, and his great nephew, Daniel. He was predeceased by his father and sister, Sheila.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday at 11:30 am at the Ippolito-Stellato Funeral Home at 425 Ridge Road in Lyndhurst. Interment will be in Hillside Cemetery. Friends will be received Wednesday from 9:30 am to 11:30 am. In lieu of flowers, please donate to St. Benedict’s Prep, 520 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd., Newark NJ 07102.
Paul Schwartz, sports writer
The biggest thrill for a high school sports writer like me was not just having a great story that no one else had, but having it before John Rowe knew it. And it was not easy. He knew everyone, wherever and wherever they could be.
This likely came from his father, Walter “Hawk” Rowe, a longtime resident of Lyndhurst, who was the chief clerk of the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, where he worked until his death in 1981 and who served six terms on the Lyndhurst Board of Education and wrote a sports column for the Herald-News and the Lyndhurst Commercial Leader for many years.
My best memory of John is his ability to keep the scorecard AND run the clock for many years at one of the biggest pickup basketball tournaments to ever exist, the Hawk Rowe Memorial Tournament. This is where some of the best basketball I have ever watched was played. You never knew who might walk through the gate of Lyndhurst High School and play for one of the trophy hunting teams, a big post-tournament celebration at a local bar (likely the late Wee Willie’s in town) and the pride of a game well played.
It could be an NBA player like Tony Campbell or Rory Sparrow; a high school star in the making; a college standout; or just a 40 year old guy so out of shape he didn’t look like he could get up and down the floor three times – but hey, he could pass.
The games were great, the money won went into a scholarship for a Lyndhurst athlete and there was John, making sure every moment was a tribute to his father – with little knowledge of how many players (and of volunteers) who were there to pay tribute to him. .
As a result, John has plenty of other independent survivors, all of them sports enthusiasts, who will come together when he’s sure to celebrate his life the way it should be – telling stories about John and what he meant to all of us. The arrangements are pending.
Greg Mattura, sports writer
John Rowe gave more of himself to his job – more hours of his life – than anyone I’ve worked with in the sports department in my 33 years at The Record.
John has covered everything from high school sports to Major League Baseball to the NFL. He was our basketball and college football expert, and his weekly â10 Burning Questions About College Footballâ was a favorite with readers.
John rose to the title of Assistant Sports Editor. And during the 1990s, when our department was busy winning numerous awards, he was for days, weeks – even months – our true sports writer. He mastered just about everything, including sports in high school.
When I had an office job for two miserable years in the late 90s, John was the first person in sports to come into the office in the morning. There he was at his desk, with a coffee and a donut, reading the paper from cover to cover. That night he could cover a college or professional game.
He knew more than anyone about the North Jersey sports scene and beyond. He was from the old school. He was gruff. He rarely gave a compliment. But of all the people I’ve worked with in the sports department since I joined in 1989, John Rowe is one of my five incumbents.
Daniel Sforza, editor-in-chief
John Rowe has been the backbone of The Record’s sports pages for decades. His insight and boundless knowledge have made him a legend among sports journalists. What he added to our coverage made it the flagship sport journalism operation in New Jersey.
John and I always had a conversation at the start of the college basketball season. Invariably, I would be overly optimistic about my alma mater, Villanova. And John, with his keen analysis and innate knowledge of the game, would always bring me back to earth. I will miss those conversations.
Deirdre Sykes O’Neil, Former Editor-in-Chief
John Rowe had an encyclopedic knowledge of New Jersey sports, from the exploits of an obscure young pitcher to the statistics and traditions of players and coaches on decades of high school and college teams. He knew everything. John didn’t have to search – it was all in his head.
He also covered professional teams with the same kind of precision and perspective. And don’t even get him started in horse racing! They don’t do them like John Rowe anymore. He was one of a kind and both loved and respected by all of us.
Dave Rivera, sports writer
I worked side by side with John Rowe as an editor for 15 years at The Record, but saw it more as an education for me. John was always one step ahead of the news and taught me what the story should be tomorrow. He understood exactly what the sports fan wanted to know.
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And it seemed like John knew everyone in the history of the sport. He would share the most entertaining stories about the athletes, coaches and executives of “the era.” He had a million. John was the best storyteller of all.
John Balkun, former sports editor
Most people will remember John as a sports writer and columnist who could do it all, or as an editor and writing coach who has mentored so many young talents for decades; but I will remember him most of all as a friend and colleague for almost 30 years, whose insight and quick wit have been an inspiration every day we have worked together.
Mark Ruskie, Former Assistant Sports Editor
I first met John Rowe when Hasbrouck Heights football was the only game in town on Fall Friday nights in the late ’60s and early’ 70s. Members of the Herald- sports teams- News and The Record were hanging out on the sidelines whether we’re covering the game or not.
We played softball together on the sports department team and had basketball games on Saturday mornings at Saddle River Day School against SRDS and at Eastern Christian against some members of the university and coaches.
John saved my earned run average on numerous occasions by making up for the gaps, especially at Pascack Brook County Park in Westwood where there was no fence. On the basketball court, you knew that if you passed the ball to JR, you wouldn’t get the ball back.
We even played a touch football match against SRDS University when the Rebels were playing in a six private school football league. We went there thinking it would be a pickup game, and when we got there we found the whole school waiting to see the game. SRDS athletic director Lee Wilson even hired officials and we used chains from first to bottom. In a way, we didn’t embarrass ourselves. We lost, but the final score was only around 21-13.
Another memory is the day John hit the Daily Double. or maybe it was the winning trifecta, both at Monmouth and The Meadowlands. Racing writer Jenny Kellner, who placed the Meadowlands bet for him, had to be escorted to her car at the Big M that night with JR’s big winnings.
RIP, my friend.