By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY September 22, 2006 Whoever said you can’t go home again had it all wrong.
On Saturday afternoon, Liberty Central School Class of 1994 graduate and former National Football League player Kaseem Sinceno returned to his hometown and high school alma mater for a halftime ceremony in which his Liberty Indians #17 jersey was retired, destined to be showcased on the school’s new Wall of Fame.
A couple of his former Liberty coaches came up from their retirement homes down in warmer climates to be part of the special halftime event at midfield.
During his senior season at Liberty, Sinceno was named 1st Team All-State Linebacker, 1st Team All-State Running Back, Cable 6 Player of the Year and the Player of the Year by the local daily newspaper.
Then it was on to Syracuse University, where Sinceno became a four-year letterman and three-year starter. He was tabbed for All-Big East honors as a tight end in 1998.
He played in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1998-99, and then with the Chicago Bears in 2000.
Last Saturday, Sinceno cheered on his former high school team from the sidelines, and during breaks in the gridiron action, offered words of advice and support to the coaches and players, who are 0-3 so far this season.
Last Friday, Sinceno talked to assemblies in the auditorium made up of kids in grades 3 through 12.
“He talked about three things,” said Liberty Central School Athletic Director Jason Semo. “Pride in who you are as a person and where you’re from, finishing anything you start, getting involved and being passionate about something, like sports, music or art.”
How did the students react?
“They were captivated by every word he was saying, and there were tears welling up in their eyes,” Semo said. “It was a very powerful message.”
Prior to Saturday’s non-league game against the Tri-Valley Bears, which the Indians lost by a final score of 49-20, about 150 to 200 kids competed in a pass, punt and catch event.
As Sinceno addressed the crowd and his former coaches, he said, “Jason [Semo] called me up about a month or month and a half ago and asked me to come out, and I replied ‘What day, what time?’.
“It meant a lot to come back and see everybody here,” he added. “A lot of people think the opportunities aren’t here, that you don’t have a chance because nobody will recruit you because it’s a small area… but I had a group of five or six guys and we stood by each other and stood by winning.
“I wanted to be back here where I started, and Liberty made me what I am today,” Sinceno continued. “So you’ve got to have pride in yourself and have pride that you’re from Liberty because you ain’t got nothing else.
“Be true to your heart and say that I come from Liberty, and who I am and who I will be in the future is because of the teachers, the community and the people here in Liberty.
“Pride is number one, it makes you successful… because of pride about where I came from, I reached down deep and made something of myself.
“In life, whatever you do, finish. Start a goal, finish it. Have a winning attitude about anything you do in life.
Ed Riente coached basketball at Liberty High School for about 30 years before retiring to Charlotte, N.C. in 2003.
Sinceno anchored the key position of center on Riente’s varsity hoops team for four years.
“He was very coachable, a very intelligent player, a leader,” Riente said of Sinceno.
In 1970, Floyd Emery started teaching at Liberty HS, and during his career coached junior varsity football, varsity football, varsity boys’ basketball, varsity girls’ basketball and j.v. baseball. Before retiring in February 1995, Emery served as director of athletics and physical education.
After he got a call from Semo, Emery headed up from his home in Verona, Va. to be part of the ceremony honoring Sinceno.
In recalling his football star, Emery said, “He was a middle linebacker, a defensive end, quarterback, tailback, tight end and wide receiver… he was an excellent player who really wanted his team to win.”
After all was said and done, the Indians headed off to the locker room to prepare for their next outing and Sinceno took time to sign some autographs and chat with friends from his high school days at Liberty.
Among the youngsters who met Sinceno was Crystal Torres of Livingston Manor, who is a fourth grade student at Liberty Elementary School. She was thrilled to get Sinceno’s signature on a bright red Liberty Pride T-shirt.