Writing through the journey
An in-depth look at New York Times Best-Selling Author and Glen Rock Resident Adrian Wojnarowski's story, from getting his first job to writing a NYT Best Seller while working full-time and raising a family.
April 4, 2017
After long, arduous hours of interviews, travelling, transcribing tapes and composing a story, The Miracle of St. Anthony was finally published.
After receiving his book in the mail, author Adrian Wojnarowski flipped through the pages of his very own book in awe. His devotion, his dedication, and his own words were all now tangible.
Writing about an inner-city basketball team at St. Anthony’s high school posed many challenges. Traveling with the team, listening in on locker room speeches and interviewing a plethora of sources, proved that writing this book was a journey.
“I’ll never forget getting the first copy of the book in the mail and how proud I felt holding it in my hands,” Adrian said. “It felt like an amazing accomplishment.”
The shiny glass display window at the front of the Bookends book store faced the sidewalk that lined the street of East Ridgewood Ave. Pedestrians walking up the sidewalk were able to see when the authors of newly released books would be there autographing copies of their work. The Miracle of St. Anthony was behind the glass.
On a Saturday afternoon in late February 2005, the Bookends store in Ridgewood hosted book signing. Person behind person stood in line, waiting to receive a sharpie signature scribbled on a book from Adrian Wojnarowski. Beside Adrian sat St. Anthony’s basketball coach Bob Hurley: a tall, compelling main character throughout the story who is known for his work with the team.
“We had really good crowds, and a big part of that was because coach Hurley was there,” Adrian said.
The third seat was filled by a curly-haired little five year old girl. Tagging along for the book signing was Annie Wojnarowski, Adrian’s daughter. Annie’s signature was a stamp on a piece of paper, but that didn’t stop Annie from signing her name alongside her dad.
The crowd that gathered at the bookstore consisted of strangers new to the book and fans eager to meet him. Amongst the sea full of strangers were Adrian’s friends and family, giving their support for his remarkable accomplishment. A fan, already impatient from waiting in the line, was anxious to get Adrian and Hurley’s signature, but didn’t wait for Annie’to sign her 16 letter long name.
“It’s okay,” the fan said while she was signing the book. He closed it mid-sign and passed it along to Adrian.
Others were thrilled to have received her signature.
“Oh my God, I got Annie,” another fan said.
The experience for Adrian at Bookends was enjoyable, entertaining, and mostly memorable with his daughter.
“When I think of that day, I think of her,” Adrian said.
Yet this signing was only the beginning of the hype. Adrian and Hurley traveled to a Barnes and Noble in Clifton Commons, and then to Eatontown, Jersey City, New York City and lower Manhattan, spreading the story of St. Anthony.
From the fridge to the future
The kitchen fridge is a mainstay in any average American home. It is used and seen by everyone in the household. Whether it be to get food or to simply pass by it, the fridge is a focal point. The kitchen fridge is also a message board for signs of a job well done: report cards, drawings and school photos are hung there as merits.
Excitement rushed through the young Adrian as his mother hung his very own hand-written pencil story up on their kitchen fridge. His stories were now visible to everyone who passed by or opened the fridge. Whether it be a story about sports or history, on any topic, he loved to write. The act of hanging a piece of paper boosted his enthusiasm with writing as a kid.
Starting in grade school, Adrian has always been writing– and it followed him through high school, college and into today. Yet what happened in his high school years gave him the biggest break and best learning experience.
Like any high school student eager to take on numerous classes, clubs, and activities, he took advantage of those opportunities and started writing for the school’s newspaper. He took a creative writing class. Ultimately, his practice writing landed him a job in the sports department at the Hartford Courant newspaper when he was a high school junior. This was his first glimpse at a career in journalism, foreshadowing what was to come.
After high school, Adrian attended St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York, where he tackled a major in mass communications,essentially journalism. He wrote for the school’s paper, The Bona Venture, as a beat writer for men’s swimming, soccer and baseball teams, during their respective seasons. This prepared him to write about the St. Anthony’s basketball team.
“You’re covering the ins and outs of their season, the stories of the players, of the people involved you know you sort of immerse yourself in them,” Adrian said. “It was a great experience.”
Not only did St. Bonaventure provide Adrian with great writing opportunities, but it gave him the chance to meet people who would change his life. One of those people was author and New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro: a now long time colleague and best friend of Adrian’s.
As a college freshman, Adrian was two years younger than Mike, who already had experience with writing for The Bona Venture. At first their relationship was simply staff writer to editor, but soon this relationship blossomed into a friendship.
“We quickly realized we see much of the world through a similar prism,” Mike said.
Upon Mike’s graduation from St. Bonaventure he went to work at the local paper town, The Olean Times Herald. There he was able to introduce Adrian to the sports editor, Chuck Pollock.
“I remember Chuck telling me after talking to Adrian the first time, ‘I know why you guys are such good friends, you’re both after the same thing and my money is on both of you getting there,’” Mike said.
Soon after Adrian’s sophomore year of college, he began to write for The Olean Times Herald. The paper gave him opportunities to cover stories on the community or college, and he would often travel up to Buffalo to cover college games. It was about the journalistic experience the opportunity provided. When writing for the paper Adrian wasn’t paid a normal salary like other staff members, but rather he was paid in mileage. He’d receive 10 cents a mile for the amount of mileage on his car.
“They didn’t pay me for the stories which was fine,” Adrian said. “I was just happy to write.”
After graduation, Adrian married the love of his life, Amy, and they began to start a life together. Like any other graduate, Adrian started to look for a job to pursue a career in journalism. After rejection upon rejection he finally accepted a job at the Waterbury Republican-American, a small paper in Connecticut. He started covering University of Connecticut basketball games, and writing columns there. Then the pair moved to Fresno California where he started writing for the Fresno Bee, but that didn’t last long. Two and a half years later he was offered a job at The Bergen Record in New Jersey and took it.
“If you wanted to move up to a bigger position or to get more money, you want the papers with bigger circulation, so you always had to kind of move,” Amy said. “And so he made that move to The Record.”
Photo Credit: Christine Nappi
Working double time
Pretty neighborhoods, a cute downtown area, a great school system and the sense of community is what makes the town of Glen Rock appealing. A ten foot basketball hoop is fixed on the edge of a driveway of this small town suburban home. To the right of the hoop, lay a pathway which cuts through a front lawn of coarse green grass leading to a big tudor style house. Its multiple windows and it’s big brown front door provide a gateway into the world of an ordinary Glen Rock family. Wooden floorboards travel through rooms of the house, supporting a large dining room table, and large fluffy couches which create a warm setting around a cozy fireplace. Across from the fireplace stands a television, displaying the news, shows, or sports games for the family to watch.
The world encapsulated in this house belongs to the Wojnarowski family: two kids, Annie and Ben, the mother Amy, and the father Adrian. The quaint little town was a great place to raise their family, and it offered an easy commute to New York City. Despite working in the city or flying on a plane to catch a basketball game, this home creates a warm, nurturing, family-oriented environment for the writer.
The family had moved into that house while Adrian wrote for The Record. As he was engaged in a full time job there, he decided to take on an additional job: writing a book.
Publishers were rejecting proposal after proposal; Adrian couldn’t get anyone to purchase his ideas. He was on verge of throwing in the proverbial towel. Yet one idea caught the eyes of several publishers.
The idea was to write about a high school basketball team in Jersey City, a diverse, divided area. On one side of the city there’s a beautiful waterfront and a growing financial district, yet on the opposite side lies an urbanized, gritty community. On the opposite side of the city’s divide, located in the heart of Jersey City, a confined, dimly lit, small bingo hall gymnasium is where the St. Anthony’s basketball team had practiced. With the building’s deteriorating walls, dysfunctional floorboards, and low hanging ceilings,the small gym wasn’t nearly big enough to meet any basketball court standards. Nestled amongst the decrepit conditions of the gym lay a story that Adrian picked up on. This was where he traveled to to compose his story The Miracle of St. Anthony.
“It felt like a compelling story that transcended sports and allowed me to tell a broader story of the perils facing inner-city Catholic high schools,” Adrian said.
The story follows an intense and inspirational main character, the team’s coach Bob Hurley,guiding the basketball squad in anyway he can throughout the season. He was determined to have the team win games, but to also create better lives for the players. The goal of St. Anthony high school was to educate inner city kids. Hurley struggled to make sure teenagers would no longer be lost to the streets of Jersey City and worked hard to get his players scholarships. Adrian followed the journey of how he led his team to victory on and off the court.
A bus packed with the team’s players traveled through the gritty streets of Jersey City. It was headed toward the opposition’s gym. The rickety bus intensified the players pre-game jitters. The dirty black tires bounced over a bump in the road, causing the bus to shake and the passengers to unwillingly stir in their seats. Adrian tagged along on the bus to the team’s away games, helping him to write the moments more realistically. Whether it be on the bus, the school, the gym or the locker room, wherever the team went, Adrian followed.
To learn more about the subject matter, he had traveled around the area with Hurley in his car and spent a great amount of time in the school. He interviewed a range of people: tough-minded driven nuns, teachers, coaches and players. After transcribing the tapes from his interviews that day, the words of the story he was composing came to life.
This was a great deal of work on its own, but Adrian was still managing his other job. On an average day, he’d work like any other columnist at The Record, yet at two in the afternoon he found his way commuting into Jersey City, getting those interviews and following the team to their practices or games. Not only did this double, possibly even triple the extent of the work he needed to do, but it also impacted his family life.
Definition of family
The four-month window given for Adrian to write the book was a precise, forceful and profound period. Annie was three years old, and Ben was only a baby. With their father powering through the most intense four months of his life, their mother Amy stepped up, making sacrifices so Adrian could work towards accomplishing his dream.
“She had to really do everything around the house,” Adrian said. “Just everything in our lives, especially with two young kids. It was just a lot of work to begin with, and I just wasn’t available to do very much of anything.”
The love story of Amy and Adrian began when they met at St. Bonaventure, both writing for the paper. The school, yet again, brought Adrian to meet another person that would soon change his life. The fact that they were both journalism majors was what brought them together.
Amy was only a freshman at the time, while Adrian was a sophomore working as the sports editor. As a result of working on the paper with Adrian, and spending a great deal of time with him, she soon discovered her future husband’s dream career.
“He was a better writer than he was an editor and he’ll tell you that,” Amy said. “But after the sports editor job, he just basically started writing for the local newspaper in town and with the college, and so I knew that’s what he wanted to do for a career.”
Of course, Amy’s hunch turned out to be very true.
After graduating, the pair got married, and Adrian began his adventure of working as a journalist. After years of marriage, making their move to Glen Rock and raising a family, Adrian began to undergo the process of writing The Miracle of St. Anthony.
“It was actually kind of a sacrifice from a family point of view,” Amy said. “I knew it was such a great story that we totally supported him in that.”
After the long period of support and love from Adrian’s family, the 145,000 word book was finally published in 2005.
“He did a phenomenal job he, I mean you felt like you were kind of on the journey with him through the season,” fan and basketball coach Carlo Santaniello said. “Being a sports enthusiast, every time I see the guy I’m in awe.”
The glory and recognition followed Adrian after the publication, which made him appear like a celebrity to some people, yet not to all.
“There’s certainly credibility that comes with publishing a book, but more importantly to me, I looked at myself differently,” Adrian said. “I didn’t know if I had the discipline, staying power, and maybe even the talent, to write a book.”
Most importantly, his family was as proud as ever. Through the sacrifices made, and the understanding Amy had for the writing process, there was nothing but love and support.
“I’m very proud of watching him do it,” she said. “What I’ve learned from his is that writing is such a process that it takes a lot of work and you just have to have a passion for storytelling and putting the truth out there.”
The process of composing the story certainly did propose it’s challenges for the family as well as Adrian, but his writing in general has impacted the family in numerous ways.
“With his career it’s like a part of me because it’s also an identity of who I am, because people see me that way,” Annie said. “That’s a part of who I am because of who he is.”
Photo Credit: Photo Courtesy of Amy Wojnarowski
From here on out
The publication of The Miracle of St. Anthony has prompted remarkable impacts on its titular school.
The school had been struggling financially, but the book brought awareness and helped with fundraising. Since then, many documentaries about the school have been made. Adrian also shared half the proceeds from the book with the school. He is happy to know that he made a difference.
After publishing, Adrian left The Record to accept a job at Yahoo in 2006. He still does what he loves, and his writing is focused on the NBA.
“It was the best professional decision that I ever made,” Adrian said. “Yahoo gave me a national platform and the resources to try and dominate in my coverage of the NBA.”
On an average work day, Adrian will either work at home, commute into New York City or travel to a distant city where an NBA game will be held. Part of his normal workday consists of communicating on the phone with sources and meeting with players.
Yahoo has provided new media outlet opportunities, as well. He now does TV, radio and, of course, writing. With his current job, Adrian has had many travel opportunities. Not only does he fly to the NBA cities to cover games, but he has attended multiple Olympics in the past.
“As a writer, you want drama to cover, and the Olympics delivered you great drama everyday,” Adrian said. “Travelling to Australia, Italy, China and Canada for different Olympic games were great windows into the world for me.”
With the many adventures Yahoo has provided for Adrian, he has been able to bring his family along for the journey for some of them. They had the chance to go to the London Olympics back in 2012. This provided a great experience with many memories for Annie.
“I’d never been out of the country before,” Annie said. “It was really cool because it was like a totally different environment, you see everyone else from different countries, kind of like in the same room. It’s exciting.”
Although his job has brought Adrian to many places around the world, it also follows him wherever he goes.
At nights when the family is out to dinner, sometimes a story will surface and Adrian has to sit in his car and get a story out while the others are dining inside the restaurant. His work has even followed him to Disney World. It was Thanksgiving break and a story had just surfaced. Adrian sat by the bathrooms charging his phone, while he should’ve been on rides with the rest of his family.
“Their patience has been a big help, it’s allowed me to do a lot of what I’ve done,” Adrian said. “ they’ve always been very understanding about it.”
Although the job may seem very hands-on and involves a lot of travel, there have also been advantages. Adrian has a flexible schedule and gets to work at home every now and then. Unlike most people, he doesn’t have to wake up early and take the train to work at 6 a.m. everyday. His family does sacrifice a lot at times for him, but he does get to spend more time with them.
As understanding as his family has been, they also want the best for him. The future has always been bright for Adrian and will continue to be.
“Writing is such a creative occupation,” Amy said. “I’m very proud of him for being able to make a career out of it, and I hope that even in the world of internet now that it still remains a craft.”
With a busier schedule working for Yahoo than writing for The Record, the timing isn’t right for Adrian to write another book according to Amy, although she does think he will write another one in the future.
“I hope my writing can make a difference for a lot of people in different ways,” Adrian said. “Inform them, entertain them, move them to think, cry, laugh.”