Carl Corino had said numerous times that the greatest overall era of Belleville High sports (to date) began in the early 1980’s.
And Corino, who coached the softball program to unparalleled success from 1980-2005, would know. He coached some marvelous athletes while leading the Bucs to multiple Essex County Tournament championships, conference titles and a pair of state sectional crowns.
Corino’s time at BHS was so good that the softball complex at Clearman Field was named for him, in 2016.
The beginning of that great era coincided with the arrival of Dina DeAquino to Belleville High, in the fall of 1980. ‘Dina De’, as I often called her, would go on to lead the Bucs to its first two county championships, as well as four incredible seasons.
With that said, it’s hard to believe that a year has gone by since Dina passed away, on June 17, 2018. She was 52 years old and had battled, ferociously, against an illness for many years.
The daughter of the late Marie DeAquino and ‘The Duke’, Tony DeAquino, Dina was a 1984 graduate of Belleville High, where she played and excelled on the varsity tennis, basketball and softball teams.
While I first met Dina in late 1980, I had known about her long before that, since her dad, Tony, was my gym teacher ‘back in the day’ at the Belleville Junior High.
“Dina was the cornerstone of our program,” said Corino, after hearing of Dina’s passing last June. “I had taken over the head coaching job in (the spring of) 1980, and we had a good team that year. But I knew we needed a really good pitcher to make us a legitimate program. Dina came to us as a freshman in the spring of 1981. She had never pitched before, but she had shown potential as a freshman, and I remember her dad getting her pitching lessons. By the spring of 1982, she had become a pretty good pitcher and I knew, then, with such a talented team, that we’d be really good that season.”
Belleville would finish 24-2-2 in 1982 and won the Essex County Tournament championship. If not for a bad call in the state sectional semifinals, the Bucs probably would have won a Group 4 championship that spring.
Dina led Belleville softball to a 23-4 record a year later, along with a second straight ECT crown. She would finish her athletic career in 1984 with another tremendous softball season. The Bucs won close to 90 games during that tenure.
And don’t forget, Dina was a member of four BHS basketball teams that put together a 74-27 record. Those basketball teams were also led by Jennifer Apicella, Loreli Wells and Tracy Buono.
Dina would go on to have a phenomenal career as a pitcher at Montclair State College, and, after graduation, would become an educator, as well as a pitching coach at Princeton University and later, William Paterson University. Dina would also earn a Masters Degree in Administration from Montclair, and rose to the rank of principal in the Belleville school system.
One of Dina’s best friends was Donna Campana, a BHS teammate. Donna was an incredible centerfielder. I’ll never forget the catch she made in the 1982 ECT semifinals, an over-the-head, Willie Mays-type catch, of a long drive against Verona, at Pulaski Park. And there was Dina, who was pitching that night, jumping up and down in the circle with joy, and pointing out to centerfield.
Dina and Donna had always remained close.
“Dina, Jackie Vitiello and I were the three musketeers,” said Campana last year. “We had a friendship that very few people get to experience in life. My son and Dina’s son (Jake) are six months apart. They call each other brothers, as I considered Dina my sister. This is life changing, for Jackie and I. We were both by Dina’s side, 100 percent.”
Kim Valenti, the former Kim Piscatowski, was a standout pitcher for Belleville’s softball team about a decade after Dina played at BHS.
“Dina was an awesome pitcher,” said Valenti. “She was my inspiration.”
Many others registered their love and respect for Dina, and her family, with most calling Dina one of the nicest people they had ever met.
“It’s hard to find words,’ said Mark Foley, a classmate of Dina’s and the softball team’s statistician. “Dina De was one of the sweetest human beings and toughest competitors I have ever known.”
While the softball program went on to a quarter century’s success, including over 500 wins by Corino, the now-retired coach said it all began with Dina.
“There’s no question,” said Corino. “Dina was the key. We had really good players, great kids, for sure. But without that pitcher, we’re not the team we ended up being, and Dina started that. She made this program legitimate.”
My friendship with Dina included many a trip to a local Chinese restaurant, the Jade Fountain, for chicken chow mein, before going to high school basketball games in the early evening. We had such a good time. Dina loved watching sports and that’s why she became such an excellent coach herself, later on.
After graduation, Dina and I remained good friends, and often reminisced about those days at the Jade Foundation, and talked of getting together again, for another round of Chinese food. I last spoke to her in the spring of 2017, when she was coaching softball at William Paterson.
In April, 2019, the Belleville High softball team hosted ‘A Day for Dina’, honoring DeAquino’s legacy, during a tournament at the Corino Softball Complex. It was great seeing Tony DeAquino and his family, there.
And here. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/essex-softball-belleville-7-0-off-to-its-best-start-in-a-generation-as-marin-nicosia-colon-and-medina-excel-kudos-to-coach-cantarella-and-his-staff-for-hosting-a-day-for-dina/
It is understood that life goes on, and that we all see each other again, in the better place that Dina now enjoys. But in the meantime, we miss you Dina De.
Pass the chicken chow mein, one more time.