Joe Franceschini: An original Belleville Buccaneer, husband, father, grandfather and friend

A generation ago, he helped shape the future of Belleville High football.

And now, his legacy will carry over to his children and grandchildren.

Joe Franceschini, a 1979 Belleville High graduate, passed away on July 7, 2020. He was 59 years old.

“Joe was a wonderful guy,” said Perry Mayers, also a member of that Class of ’79 and a football teammate of Joe’s. “We had some real good times playing football and growing up together.”

Joe Franceschini (bottom row, third from left, #71) was a tremendous football player at Belleville High from 1975-1978.

Franceschini was a defensive tackle for the Bellboys and then became the first of the Belleville Buccaneers, when the program changed its moniker in the fall of 1978.

He was also a tremendous baseball player for the Bellboys and Bucs, playing for the late George Zanfini.

“Joe was one of the toughest guys I was ever around on a football field,” said Mayers, himself a standout tight end for the Bellboys and Bucs. “Great guy off the field, but as tough as they were on it.”

Mayers recalled how the 1978 Buccaneers helped set the tone for a series of great seasons, including playoff years in 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984, as well as eight winning seasons in a nine-year span, beginning in ’78.

“I’d like to think that team set the tone,” said Mayers of the ’78 Bucs, which finished 6-3 and just missed out on a playoff berth. “Guys like Joe, Angelo Santinelli, Joe D’Agostino, Tom Henry, Anthony Dondarski, Jerry Fazzini, Alex Donna Maria, Anthony Castelli, Carl Garafolo, John Pravata, Mike DeMayo and Jimmy Galasso were all in our class and were great guys to be around.

“I’m telling you, growing up in Belleville. There was nothing like it.”

The ’78 Bucs won some big games. It opened the season by upsetting Livinston, 28-14. The team then won a huge game, two weeks later, blanking Nutley, 31-0, for Belleville’s first win over the Raiders, at home, in 12 years.

Wins over Irvington (27-7), Essex Catholic (19-0), Clark (16-7) and Kearny (21-0) helped produce Belleville’s best season in nine years, and set the stage for the 1979 squad, which earned the program’s first playoff berth.

Franceschini’s football coach at Belleville, John Senesky, also recalled a good man.

“Joe was one of the last of the Bellboys, and one of the first Buccaneers,” said Senesky, who coached Franeschini in his first two years as Belleville’s head man. “He was a defensive standout, both years.”

Joe (71) along with teammates Joe D’Agostino (60), Angelo Santinelli (50) and Perry Mayers (87) walk onto the field at Seton Hall Prep, prior to a game in 1978. Head coach John Senesky (wearing hat) is between Franceschini and Santinelli. (Photo courtesy of Perry Mayers)

Mayers and Franceschini played four years of high school football, starting with the freshman team, which was coached by Carl Corino and Bill Bakka, in the fall of 1975.

Joe Franceschini had married his childhood sweetheart, the former Donna Malanga, herself a cheerleading captain and BHS classmate, some 36 years ago. The couple resided in Toms River, and raised their son and daughter, over the past quarter century.

Joe and Donna also have two grandchildren.

“Joe was a quiet guy,” said Senesky. “He did his job on the field and was a good teammate. I read in the obituary that he coached little league baseball, and I’m not surprised about that. I’m sure he did a good job with the kids.

“He really helped our football program take off. That 1978 team was special.”

“We’re going to miss him,” said Mayers. “I know Donna and Joe enjoyed living in Toms River. But deep down, we’ll all be from Belleville.”

By mike051893

Wayne Hills football trip to Mississippi, for the season opener, has been canceled

For the sixth straight year, the Wayne Hills football team was scheduled to open its regular seaosn, with an out-of-state game, this time, in Olive Branch, Mississippi, on Aug. 28.

But with so much uncertainty with the pandemic, and the NJSIAA’s decision not to play on ‘zero week’, the Patriots game with Lewisburg High School, has been postponed.

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff was disappointed, but understood the situation.

Wayne Hills football is always looking ahead for a chance to add another state championship trophy to its collection.

“The decision (by the state) was made not to play on zero week, so that pretty much ended that,” said Demikoff. “I’d like to thank the coaching staff at Lewisburg. They were great to talk with since we first announced the game.

Read here about Wayne Hills’ past out-of-state openers.

“I hope we can get the chance to play them next year. They have a good program and it would have been great experience for our kids this season to visit Mississippi.”

Of course, the status of the fall sports season in New Jersey this fall is a continuing cycle.

Wayne Hills won a Bowl championship game, in 2018.

“We’re doing what we’re told,” said Demikoff. “Obviously, there’s so much to focus on. Keeping everyone healthy is first and foremost and things are going to be different this season.”

This year’s schedule might be the toughest in the program’s storied history. The Patriots play Teaneck, at home, on Sept. 11. The schedule also includes North Jersey powerhouses, including Old Tappan, Ramapo, Passaic Tech, Wayne Valley, Northern Highlands, Ridgewood and Irvington.

“It’s a tough one,” said Demikoff of the schedule. “A lot of state champions from last year, and teams that were within a game of a title, as well. But that’s fine. It’s what we play for at Wayne Hills.”

Wayne Hills’ home games this season include Teaneck, Wayne Valley, Irvington and Ramapo.

By mike051893

Chet Parlavecchio recalls a long-time football relationship with Belleville High, and a friendship with John Senesky and Joe D’Ambola

Reminiscing with Chet Parlavecchio about football is easy, especially for me, since I covered Chet’s teams, for various media outlets, during his 25 years as a New Jersey high school head coach.

Parlavecchio coached at Bloomfield High (1987-1990), Irvington (1991-1992), Passaic Valley (1994-1998 and 2015-2019), Clifton (1999-2003) and Elizabeth (2006-2009). He finished with a 123-117-1 record and won a state championship, at Elizabeth, in 2006.

Chet Parlavecchio had a tremendous football career, as a player at Penn State and the Green Bay Packers and later as a coach, with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, as depicted in this sketch.

In many of his coaching stops, he took over struggling programs and turned them into playoff caliber teams, within three seasons.

Oh yeah, that one tie on Parlavecchio’s coaching record? It came in 1988, at Foley in Bloomfield, against Belleville.

“Still drives me crazy, to this day,” said Parlavecchio with a laugh the other day. “You know, the more I think about it, I’ve had some crazy times against Belleville, as a player and a coach.”

Left to right, Chet Parlavecchio, pro football Hall of Famer, Mike Munchak, Chet Palravecchio Jr. and Dr. Marc Parlavecchio.

In 1988, Bloomfield and Belleville played to a 6-6 tie, in a rare Saturday night game. A year earlier, Parlavecchio had been named head coach at Bloomfield, and went through an 0-9 campaign, which extended Bloomfield’s losing streak in football to 39 games. One of those losses came to Belleville, 24-0.

After losing its season opener in 1988, the Bengals finally snapped the futility streak at 40 games (0-39-1), which had begun in 1983, with a 7-0 win over Paramus Catholic, on Oct. 1.

Anyway, the connection to Belleville began in 1977, for Parlavecchio. At the time, he was a star linebacker for a powerhouse football program at Seton Hall Prep. The Pony Pirates defense in ’77 was marvelous, and on Nov. 5, 1977, Seton Hall came to Belleville to play the Bellboys. Seton Hall was 5-0-1 coming into that game, and were in a surly mood to begin with because a week earlier, it had finished in a 0-0 tie with JFK High, of Paterson.

Belleville High quarterback Ed Aulisi (12) had his share of playing against Seton Hal Prep, from 1977-1979.,

“We did everything but score in that game against Kennedy,” said Parlavecchio. “I don’t think Kennedy ever got to the 50 yard line, but we couldn’t capitalize, either.”

Belleville was being led by a first-year head coach, John Senesky. The team was very young and inexperienced that season. However, it had won its first two games of that season heading into the game with Seton Hall, and were gaining some confidence, with a 2-4 record.

Seton Hall Prep was loaded, but two public high schools, Westfield and Barringer, were at the apex of the Top 20, and were led by a pair of future NFL players in Butch Woolfolk, an NFL first-round draft pick of the New York Giants, in 1982, and Andre Tippett, who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, after a great career with the New England Patriots.

Chet is enjoying his time as a grandfather now.

The playoff format in ’77 was in its fourth year, and it looked like Barringer and Westfield would meet in the North 2, Group 4 final, which eventually happened, before a record crowd at Giants Stadium, for a high school football game.

For Seton Hall Prep, a Non-Public ‘A’ team, it defeated arch rival Bergen Catholic for a state championship, 15-0.

Before the opening kickoff between Belleville and Seton Hall, the fireworks would begin.

Parlavecchio and his teammates were especially incensed when Belleville assistant coach Joe D’Ambola pointed out to a game official, before the National Anthem, that Seton Hall’s Joe Aulisi wasn’t wearing the required hip pad.

Joe D’Ambola (wearing hood and hands in pocket) was a long-time assistant coach at Belleville.

The referee concurred and hit the Prep with a penalty before the game began.

“We’re yelling across the way at Joe,” said Parlavecchio years later. “At that point, we said ‘let’s go and really win this game.’ A week earlier, we had that scoreless tie with Paterson Kennedy, and our team was already in a foul mood.”

Seton Hall led, 42-0, at the half and scored three more touchdowns in the second half, to win 63-0. Parlavecchio scored a touchdown in that game, on defense.

“That shows you what kind of game it was, when I score a touchdown,” said Chet. “I remember throwing up in the end zone after I scored.”

In 1988, Parlavecchio’s Bloomfield team finished in a 6-6 tie with Belleville.

It was a family affair, sort of, too. Joe Aulisi, a marvelous player for the Prep, would launch a huge sack on Belleville’s quarterback, Ed Aulisi, then a sophomore, during the game. Joe and Ed are cousins.

“That was some pop,” Parlavecchio recalled. “But Eddie kept battling.”

Ed Aulisi, today a renown neurosurgeon in Washington, DC, also recalled it.

“Joe was kind of helping me up after that hit,” said Ed, with a laugh recently. “We had a tough time that day. Honestly, it was 63-0 and could have been worse. They let up on us in the second half.”

Read more about Ed Aulisi’s marvelous career here.

Instead of whining about a lopsided loss, those Bellboys, who a year later became the Buccaneers, would use that game as motivation. Two years later, Seton Hall returned to Belleville and the Bucs won, 14-13, as Aulisi threw the game-winning touchdown pass in the game’s final minute.

A year after that, Belleville dominated the Prep, 34-8, in South Orange and could have scored more that day.

The Belleville High coaching staff featured head coach John Senesky (top row, third from right) and Joe D’Ambola (to Senesky’s left)

“That shows you what a good coach John Senesky was,” Parlavecchio would say years later. “We had some good teams at Seton Hall. Those Belleville kids were tough.”

As for D’Ambola pointing out the hip pad incident in ’77, Parlavecchio also laughed.

“I loved Joe,” said Parlavecchio of Belleville’s long-time assistant coach, who passed away in 2016. “He was a great guy. We all got along pretty good. It was one of those things we could laugh about years later. You competed on the field, and respected people off it. That’s the way it was back then.

“And the same is true about John Senesky. Talk about a great guy, a gentleman, and a tremendous coach? He was outstanding.”

Parlavecchio would go on to play at Penn State, after leading the ’77 Seton Hall Prep team to a 10-0-1 record and a state title. After Penn State, where he was a team captain in 1981, Chet was drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers and played two years at linebacker there before a year with the St. Louis Cardinals, in 1984. He retired following the ’84 season after a serious knee injury.

Parlavecchio’s coaching career, at Bloomfield, against Belleville, also a included a pair of victories against Senesky-coached teams in 1989 and 1990. A generation later, he would guide Passaic Valley to wins over the Bucs, in 2016 and 2017.

Himself an Essex County guy, having grown up in Irvington, Chet always had respect for Belleville.

“They were tough kids,” said Parlavechio. “My brother (Dr. Marc Parlavecchio) was a wrestling (assistant) coach at Belleville for many years, and Belleville had some great wrestlers and a tremendous head coach in Joe Nisivoccia.

“And now, one of my former players (at Bloomfield High) Jermain Johnson is the head football coach at Belleville, and he’s doing a good job there,” said Chet.

Jermain Johnson (center) here conferring with Parlavecchio, took over as Belleville’s head football coach in 2018. Johnson played his high school football at Bloomfield, when Parlavecchio was head coach.

“It’s funny, when you think about it, the connection I’ve had with that town for a long time now. And they’re all good memories.”

By mike051893

Nutley High’s Abigail Scheidel kept an avid fan base on the edge of its seat, this past winter, now the talented senior bids farewell and prepares for the next phase of her life at Muhlenberg College

For over three months, Abigail Scheidel mesmerized a fan base at Nutley High with her outstanding play on the basketball court.

She would lead the Raiders to a 19-9 record and advancement in the Essex County Tournament, as well as the NJSIAA sectional tourney, in the 2019-2020 season.

The Raiders would win a Super Essex Conference title, as well.

Abby scored her 1,000th career point this past season, joining an elite fraternity at NHS.

This all happened before the coronavirus would dominate the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.

As Abby prepares to graduate from Nutley High, and soon enroll at Muhlenberg College, she took the time to write a stirring farewell in the Nutley High periodical, ‘The Maroon and Gray’.

She was kind enough to share the piece for this blog. An excellent writer, she will pursue a degree in Media and Communications, starting this fall, as well as playing basketball at the next level.

The daughter of Denise and David Scheidel, Abby always carried herself with class, either in a thrilling victory (and there were many) as well as some tough defeats.

Abby has left a legacy that future players would be proud to emulate.

By Abigail Scheidel

I vividly remember my first day at Nutley High School. The butterflies walking into the building and the uncertainty of upperclassmen made me scared to be a freshman. It was before block scheduling and when homeroom was still a thing. I’ll always have memories of my first day of high school, however, I really don’t recall my last. All that comes to mind is hearing the announcement that we won’t be going back for two weeks and me believing that would be the case. I was wrong, and I will never get the opportunity to walk around the building one last time to cherish all the moments I spent in NHS. The class of 2020 won’t get the closure they may need in order to move on to their next chapter. 

NHS has given me so many memories, both good and bad, that I know will stay with me as the years go on. Struggling in APUSH, running the mile on Fitness Fridays, our Powderpuff game getting cancelled, ends of friendships and a lot more rough ones. Looking back now though, I laugh. I was definitely given many more happier moments. Scoring my 1000th career point, becoming CPR certified, Senior Cruise, Senior Fashion Show, Junior Formal, Senior Night, and making memories with my classmates that we will reminisce about for years to come. Nutley Basketball has made a huge impact on me and I hope I have left a mark on it as well. It has given me friends both older and younger that I know I will remain close with. 

The CoronaVirus has challenged the class of 2020 in more ways than one and it will continue to do so. Personally, it taught me to appreciate the students and staff at NHS. Knowing that I will never walk the building as a student again upsets me. I have learned to not take my education for granted. During this difficult time, our teachers have supported our class and are trying their best to make the most out of what we have. Recently, all Nutley teachers, elementary through high school, dropped off our caps and gowns as well as put our senior portraits in our lawn in order to celebrate us. They also put all of our senior portraits in front of Nutley High School for everyone to see. Their gesture made me appreciate them even more and realize how much I will miss them. 

In the fall, I plan to begin my college education at Muhlenberg College where I will be studying Media and Communications and playing on the women’s basketball team. Because of the staff at NHS, I feel prepared for my next steps and know I will transition well. I could not have gotten where I am today without my friends and teachers at Nutley High School. I am thankful to have had them throughout my four years especially the ones who have impacted me the most. 

Thank you Coach Mitschow for teaching me how to drive and for having confidence in me as a point guard before I ever had it in myself. To Ms. Greco, for helping me pursue journalism. To Mrs. Rainone who taught me how to enjoy reading while still interpreting the greater meaning. Thank you Mrs. Stine for unintentionally making me apply sociological perspectives to every movie I watch. To all my Math teachers for giving me all the extra help that I needed. Thank you Mr. Francello for always brightening a room when he walks in and for giving great Netflix series suggestions. To my two best friends, thank you for pushing me to be the best version of myself. To my cousin who I have been in school with since we were in pre-k, thanks for always being there for me through everything. Lastly, thank you NHS for everything you have taught me my (almost) four years here. 

Andy Bernard from The Office, says, “ I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” I never thought I’d miss Nutley High School until I realized that I will never be going back. I wish it didn’t have to end this way, but I choose to believe there are only better things ahead.

Goodbye Nutley High School, thank you for the incredible high school experience. 

By mike051893

Get your popcorn ready ! No Essex County high school softball campaign is complete without a Livingston recap, season or no season; Senior leaders Chloe Saperstein, Gracie Bent, Julie Moresco and Briana Melucci praised by Coach Daily for tremendous leadership

Livingston High has put together one of the most successful high school softball programs in the history of Essex County.

For the past 20 seasons, the program has been led by head coach Jason Daily, who has guided the team to multiple Essex County, Super Essex Conference and state sectional championships.

In 2019, the Lancers finished 19-9 and captured the Super Essex Conference’s Liberty Division title. In 2020, the team was scheduled to return to the familiar American Division.

“Playing in the Liberty Division last year was good for us,” said Daily. “We had finished last in the American in 2018, and we were moved to the Liberty. With a young team last year, we got a chance to play a lot of kids and the experience helped. I was looking forward to what we could do this year.”

The Lancers had four senior leaders, as Daily calls them, in Chloe Saperstein, Briana Melucci, Julie Moresco and Gracie Bent. Saperstein plans to play on the collegiate level, at Montclair State, starting this fall while Moresco will attend Sacred Heart University, in Fairfield, Ct., and is considering trying out for the team there.

Bent will be attending the University of Tampa and Melucci is off to Penn State. Melucci is also the recipient of the Brian Piccolo Award and Saperstein earned the Mickey Litvak Scholarship.

Livingston coach Jason Daily confers with team after the 2016 Group 4 semifinal, at Montclair State.

Moresco won the Big L Senior softball award, sponsored by Kelli Rehm, and Bent was named softball’s spring sports ‘Best Teammate’ Award.

Livingston last won a state sectional title in 2016 while its last county crown came in 2013.

Livingston has brought home its share of championship trophies.

This year’s team was looking good in practice, before the pandemic shut everything down in mid March.

“We had gotten some practices in,” the coach said. “I don’t like to look too far ahead, but was pleased with what I was seeing. The kids were getting along well and working together very effectively. More importantly, the younger kids were getting better, and that was good to see.”

The Lancers had gotten their team photo taken a day before the season was halted and eventually, canceled.

In his first 19 seasons, Daily has won 348 games at Livingston.

“We’ve had some great kids here, for sure,” said Daily. ‘This year was obviously different. Once practice, stopped, we did our best to keep in touch with the kids through Zoom and Google Classroom. But when it was announced that the season would not happen, that was tough.”

Daily also praised seniors Mia Bucich and Zoe Lanel.

“Mia was a 3-year player,” said Daily. “As a senior, she was going to be our practice manager and in charge of game stats.

“Zoe was also a 3-year player. As a senior, she was going to be our game manager and also handle stats.”

Bucich will be attending Ohio State University this fall while Lanel will be a student at the University of Colorado.

Here is the 2020 team roster.

Freshmen   Position
Stephany AznarOF
Laurie BedoreP3B
Katie HarrellLFRF
Caitlin MullenP1B
Emma Breschard   1B3B
Kelci Bullion   2BSS
Janee Chestnut   RFLF
Emily Hunter   3B/LFP
Lindsay Kling   3B1B
Isabella Lopa   3BRF
Kelly Lyons   2BOF
Chelsea McCormack   RFLF
Haley Meierhofer   C3B
Ruhi Tawde   OFOF
Giulia Wilson    LF3B
Jessica Bullion   P 
Nathalia DiIanni   CFLF
Megan Downey   1B3B
Hailey Reuter   SS2B
Deja Robinson    RFCF
Sarah Smith   LFRF
Gracie Jade Bent   2BOF
Briana Melucci   3BOF
Julie Moresco   1B1B
Chloe SapersteinC3B

By mike051893

Long-time educator and coach, Bill Johnson, retires after a distinguished career at Passaic Valley High

After 22 years at his alma mater and 35 years overall as a coach and educator, Bill Johnson has decided to retire from Passaic Valley High.

“I felt it was time,” said Johnson, a long-time track and football coach at PV, of his decision to retire. “I’ve really enjoyed my years at Passaic Valley. I remember when I got the job there (in 1999) and I was really excited to be able to return to my school. It worked out very well.”

Bill is feeling pretty good with his retirement and new phase of his life

Johnson, a 1975 graduate of Passaic Valley, returned to his home town in 1999 when he was named the school’s head football coach, as well as a History teacher.

While teaching continuously at Passaic Valley, from 1999-2020, Johnson was head football coach for two tenures with the Hornets, as well as an assistant coach for three years. He was head coach from 1999-2003, then worked as an assistant, to Al Cappello, from 2009-2011.

After Cappello resigned following the 2011 season, Johnson returned as head coach and held the position from 2012-2014. In six seasons as head coach, he led PV to multiple playoff appearances.

His 2002 team had a tremendous playoff game, at Wayne Hills, the top seed in the section, before losing a heartbreaker, in overtime, when future NFL great Greg Olsen made a huge TD catch in the end zone.

Johnson was also a long-time winter track and girls spring track coach at PV.

Johnson is joined by PV track athletes Julie Goldberg (left) and Megan Rich.

“I loved coaching football at Passaic Valley,” said Johnson.”There were two tenures, plus a few good years working with Al, and that was fine. I loved coaching track, too. The kids were tremendous, and we had some good success.”

Johnson attended Rutgers University, in New Brunswick, and earned his undergraduate degree in 1979. While a student there, he got a chance to see some tremendous Rutgers athletic teams. The 1976 Scarlet Knights football squad was 11-0 and the ’78 team appeared in the program’s first-ever Bowl game.

Johnson, with his daughter, Meghann and son, Tommy, getting ready for a NFL game at MetLife Stadium. Bill is a big San Diego Chargers fan.

The R.U. men’s basketball team was also undefeated in the 1975-76 regular season and eventually finished 31-2 after the program’s lone appearance in the Final Four, to date.

“It was a good time to be a sports fan there,” said Johnson.

After graduating, Johnson began his football coaching career, from 1979-1983, at Montclair State and then went south in 1984, coaching at Georgia Tech for a season.

Bill and his wife, Angela.

In 1985, Johnson started his teaching career, as well as continuing as a football coach. Johnson worked as an educator, at JFK High in Paterson (1985-1990) as well as Paterson Eastside (1991-1998) while serving as an assistant football coach at Montclair State, from 1985-1998.

A year later, a dream job, more or less, came around when the head coaching position at Passaic Valley opened up.

When Johnson left Passaic Valley, as head football coach after the 2003 season, he had the chance to work as an assistant coach at Bloomfield High, under head coach Mike Carter.

Johnson, in his early days as head football coach at PV, with his children Meghann and Tommy.

“I’ll tell you what, he’s one of the tremendous minds I’ve come across in football,” said Carter. “He really understands the game.

“As a friend Bill is as good as they get. Class all he way. He and I became friends about 30 years ago, when he was at Montclair State, and we would bring our high school team to a summer football camp at Montclair.”

Johnson returned the compliment.

“Mike is a great guy,” said Johnson. “We enjoyed working together on the Bloomfield staff and we’ve become very close friends. Mike introduced me to my wife (Angela).”

Family is a huge component for Johnson. He has two children, Tommy and Meghann and two step-children, Chris and Ashley.

“I have a wonderful family,” said Johnson. “I’ll be looking forward to spending more time with then now. My daughter, Meghann and her husband are expecting their first child (and Bill’s first grandchild) in August.”

While he’s retiring from teaching, Johnson is far from leaving the coaching ranks. He’s been on the staff at St. Peter’s Prep the past few seasons and earned his second state championship ring in 2019. (He also earned a piece of jewelry at St. Joseph).

“I really enjoy working with (St. Peter’s Prep head coach) Rich (Hansen), said Johnson, who coaches the safeties at the Hudson County-based school. “I’m looking forward to the upcoming season.”

Johnson helped two schools, St. Joseph (Montvale) and St. Peter’s Prep, win state championships in football He takes a lot of pride in both rings.

After his second tenure as the head coach at Passaic Valley ended following the 2014 season, Johnson went on to become the defensive coordinator at St. Joseph (Monvale) in 2015 and 2016 and held a similar role at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, in 2017. The past two seasons, he’s been at St. Peter’s Prep.

Johnson speaks with admiration of the people he met at Passaic Valley, as both a student and then an educator and coach.

“It’s a good place, and I’m so happy to have been a part of the community here,” he said. “I think of John Wallace, and what a really good man he was, as an athletic director, and later principal. (Former Superintendent of Schools) Dr. Viktor Joganow was always supportive. Nick Sauter, Patty Lynch, Rob Carcich and Joe Benvenuti were good to work with (in their role as athletic director). It’s been a great time.”

In the classroom, Johnson had put together a nice project, where his students decorated their lockers around Memorial Day, to remember those United States servicemen and women, who made the ultimate sacrifice in battle, as well as having the students research Medal of Honor winners.

Bill, here with a locker decorated by a student a few years back.

He would also design tee-shirts, with a patriotic theme, with the PV school logo.

“I’ve been very lucky,” said Johnson “I met a wonderful woman in my wife, Angela, and to be a part of two state championship teams in football, the past few years, is something I’ll always be proud of. And I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”

Passaic Valley High and Bill Johnson were a good combination for over two decades.

Here’s wishing Bill all the success and good fortune in the next phase of his life.

 Dr. Viktor Joganow,

By mike051893

What could have been ! Coach Velardi looks back and thanks seniors Jules Cicala, Gianna Kubu, Alyssa Coletta, Chloe Weinstein and Brittney Taylor on outstanding championship careers and a 75-19 record

Everyone knows the story by now.

The 2020 high school spring sports season in New Jersey never got off the ground. And because of it, a host of senior student-athletes were unable to enjoy their final season of competition.

For many of those student-athletes, it will be the last time they’ll take part in organized athletics while for some, there will be more games to play in college.

A tremendous senior class for Cedar Grove softball.

At Cedar Grove High School, five seniors in 2020 were a part of a wonderful career for the softball program. Jules Cicala, Gianna Kubu, Alyssa Coletta, Chloe Weinstein and Brittney Taylor led the Panthers to three straight NJSIAA sectional titles (2017-2019), an Essex County championship (2018), a pair of Group 1 crowns (2017 and 2019) and two appearances in the prestigous Tournament of Champions, where the Panthers won two games and played in the 2019 title game.

Gianna Kubu (left) and Jules Cicala join head coach Nicole Velardi after announcing their college selections in November, 2019.

Cedar Grove was 75-19 the past three seasons.

And that makes head coach Nicole Velardi and the entire team wonder what could have been in 2020?

“We’ll never know,” said Velardi. “I feel so badly for these kids, especially the seniors, but all the athletes, and not just for our team, but all of them. You only have one senior year, and this year’s seniors lost out on that.

“They’re great kids and will go on to tremendous things in college, and beyond. I am so grateful to have coached them for four years. They all come from wonderful families.”

Velardi recalled looking at the 2020 schedule, and talking with assistant coach Pete Velardi (her dad).

“We would look at the schedule and say something like ‘today we’d be playing Mount St. Dominic, or Livingston, or something like that,” she said.

Gianna Kubu and Jules Cicala will both continue playing in college, and in the same state, albeit different schools. Kubu, an outfielder, is off to the University of Hartford, in West Harford, this fall while Cicala, a catcher, will play at Post University, in Waterbury.

Cicala was not only a marvelous defensive catcher, but she also hit the ball very well. Same is true of Kubu, who swung a lethal bat and played a great right field. I always said her heads up play in the first inning of the 2019 Tournament of Champions final, when she backed up an errant throw, kept Cedar Grove in the game early.

Clockwise, from left, Alyssa Coletta, Gianna Kubu, Brittney Taylor, Jules Cicala and Chloe Weinstein.

Weinstein was named the Cedar Grove High Athlete of the Year for 2020. A 3-sport athlete, she’ll be attending Stockton University in Galloway, NJ.

Coletta, who is off to Montclair State University, played first base for the Panthers, and Taylor will be attending the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in New York City.

A strong junior class hopes to carry the winning tradition going in 2021, led by Sam Ryan, Paige Lemongello, Maria Kelly and Katie Peterson. The sophomores this year are Paige Scheid, Mia Nardiello, Keanna Grande, Talia Recenello and Melanie Heim.

The incoming freshmen this spring are Vanessa Messinger, Sara Rowland, Valentina Carpinelli and Madison Lemongello.

“We’ll be rebuilding next year,” said Velardi. “It’s a good group coming back, but we’ll have a lot of key players to replace.

“I’m hoping we’ll get the chance to see the returing players in the summer, but right now, who knows? In the fall, I’d get the chance to see the younger kids, the future of the program, play, and we’re hoping that will be the case. Right now, it’s still wait and see, but we’re hopeful.”

By mike051893

Belleville’s own Dr. Edward Aulisi, the ‘QB of the O.R.’, heads a neurological surgical team which recently performed a groundbreaking procedure

Forty years ago, Edy Aulisi was wearing the Blue and Gold of Belleville High, playing quarterback for the football team, guard on the basketball squad and as a standout pitcher on the baseball team. 

In addition to being a stalwart athlete, Aulisi also excelled in the classroom, so much so that he was the valedictorian for Belleville High’s Class of 1980. 

The son of Mildred and the late Joseph Aulisi, Edy grew up with four older sisters, Donna, Annie, Flora and Barbara and a younger sister, Lisa.

Ed Aulsi (12) in a 1979 home footbal game against Passaic.

He would take that extraordinary talent as a student-athlete, to Princeton University, where he began his quest to become a neurosurgeon while playing four years of baseball, including being a team captain in 1984, and two seasons on the football team. 

After graduating from Princeton, in 1984, Aulisi would go on to medical school at George Washington University, in Washington, DC. 

Ed Aulisi and his wife, Gabriele.

Four decades removed from his days at Belleville High, Dr. Edward Aulisi is a renown neurologist, serving as Chairman of Neurosurgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in downtown Washington, DC. A husband and father of three, Aulisi and his medical team made history on June 10, 2020, performing the first spinal surgery, in the nation, using Brainlab’s Cirq Robotics. 

“It’s exciting technology, and I’m proud to be chosen as the first neurosurgeon to try it out,” said Aulisi. 

Ed, in the huddle with his teammates, in a 1979 game at Nutley. Bucs won the game, 7-0, on a 41-yard TD pass to Lenny Mendola, in the third quarter.

And in true Belleville High football lingo, he followed that up by saying, ““Keep moving the ball forward!”

The procedure was centered around a surgeon-controlled robotic arm, designed to increase precision and accuracy, while speeding the recovery process for patients who undergo spine surgery. 

The Aulisi children, daughter Ariana and sons Joseph and Domenic.

“It was really something,” said Aulisi. “The patient knew she was going to be the first to undergo this surgery, and she was excited about it. We were able to perform a Cat Scan (or CT Scan) when the wound is still open. The recovery process is also faster, and the accuracy of the robot, when it comes to spinal surgery, which is so important, is incredible.”

Aulisi went on to perform the same surgery on other patients, on June 11 and 12, as well as into the following week. 

In the long-running Broadway show, ‘Jersey Boys’, one of the first lines is ‘It all started in Belleville, NJ.’ And for Aulisi, that was so true. He was a star quarterback for the Belleville Bellboys in 1977 and continued that as a Buccaneer in 1978 and 1979.

“(Assistant coach) Joe D’Ambola was handing out jerseys (in ’77),” recalled Aulisi. “When he saw me, he tossed jersey number 12 at me and said I looked like Joe Willie (Namath).”

Aulisi would guide the ’77 Bucs, as a sophomore, after earning the starting quarterback job five games into the season. 

On a huge stage, Aulisi (12) played well at Giants Stadium, in a 1979 playoff game against Union. Farmers won in the last seconds, 15-12.

“(Belleville head coach) John Senesky had the foresight to run the Delaware Wing T,” said Aulisi. “He was so far ahead, when it came to preparation. He was an amazing coach.”

Auilsi also spoke with pride of all the assistants on the staff during his time at BHS, and what they meant to him.

Bill Bakka was my freshman coach,” he said., (More to come on that later). Carl Carino used to put the pads and helmet on and scrimmage with us, Coach Mike Welsh was a man of few words. (William) ‘Doc’ Ellis always said to me, ‘Edy, just relax, you’ve got this’. Carl Papaianni was always relaxed and confident. He knew my dad when he was younger, but never gave me an inch of favoritism. 

Ralph Borgess Jr. was legendary. He had us so amped up for our first game, in my senior year. We were all crying when we came out on the field. Coach Vitiello always said to me “Edy point your toe where you want to throw, and I used that advice all through college. Great memories from all those guys.”

Aulisi spoke fondly of the Belleville High coaching staff of 1978 and ’79.

He recalls his third start at quarterback, in 1977. The Bellboys were host to the Pony Pirates of Seton Hall Prep, a marvelous football team, which came into the game with a 5-0-1 record. 

“My two cousins, Joe and Ed, were on that Seton Hall team,” said Aulisi. “Anyway, it wasn’t going very well. Seton Hall was up 42-0 at halftime and actually took their foot off the pedal in the second half, and we lost, 63-0. My cousin Joe sacked me on one play and he kind of lifted me up afterward.”

Eddie, throwing a pass in a 1977 home game.

Those ’77 Bellboys were a young group. Many had found early success as a member of the Belleville Broncos youth team. But once in high school, with a new coach, it took time to develop. The ’77 Bellboys finished 2-6-1 and the following year, the team, in its first season known as the Buccaneers, improved to 6-3.

“We worked hard in the off-season, got stronger and by our senior year, we were pretty good,” said Edy.

Two years, nearly to the day, after the 63-0 loss, Seton Hall Prep would return to Municipal Stadium. This time, the Buccaneers would win, 14-13, when Aulisi threw a touchdown pass to Lenny Mendola in the game’s closing minute, and Ralph DiPasquale kicked the point-after to secure a memorable game.

“Probably the biggest win of my high school career,” said Aulisi. “I remember throwing a touchdown pass earlier in the game to Jerry DiGori, and then Lenny made a great move to the end zone and I was able to hit him with the winning touchdown pass.

A young Ed Aulisi, at Municipal Stadium, with his father, Joseph. The elder Aulisi passed away in 2007.

“Two years earlier, Seton Hall had manhandled us, and they had a pretty good team in ’79, too. It meant a lot to win that game.”

The 1979 Buccaneers would finish 8-2 and earn the program’s first-ever playoff berth. On Nov. 17, it played Union High, at Giants Stadium, and lost a heart breaker 15-12.

“Playing at Giants Stadium was really something special,” said Aulisi.

Aulisi also spoke with fondness of his other high school coaches.

Danny Grasso, my basketball coach, is a really good man. He started working with us at a young age, and really took the time to help us learn the game. I remember he always dressed real well for the games. And my baseball coach, George Zanfini was someone really special. There’s nothing any of us wouldn’t have done for him.”

Edy also praised his teachers at Belleville High, most notably Angie DiMaggio, the long-time history teacher at the school.

“I remember once when I wrote a paper, and I thought it was pretty good,” said Aulisi. “And Mrs. DiMaggio said to me, ‘you can do better, Edy. ,You’re going to Princeton next year. Believe me, you can do better.’ That really meant something. And she was right, too.”

Aulisi’s ascent to Princeton University was certainly challenging.

“I was a good student in high school, a valedictorian and then I get to Princeton and I’m taking some really tough classes, like organic chemistry and other neuroscience classes. I’m also playing on the football team (in the fall) and the baseball team (spring time) as well as competing in the classroom with other students, many of whom were also valedictorians of their class. It was a big step.”

MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, where Aulisi works, is just a three mile drive from the Smithsonian Institute. There another Belleville High success story, Lonnie Bunch, is Secretary of the Smithsonian. In his position, Bunch oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries and the National Zoo, as well as numerous research centers and several education units and centers. Bunch was graduated from Belleville, in 1970, 10 years before Edy

“Lonnie’s career has been incredible,” said Edy. “Think about what he’s done to get to where he is today. I’m so happy for him.”

While Aulisi resides outside of Washington, his Belleville roots remain strong. He speaks fondly of his days at School #5, where Mike Nicosia and Lenny Mendola were among his classmates and future teammates on the football team. 

And having grown up in a large family, it’s easy to say that Aulisi takes tremendous pride in his own family. He and his wife, Gabriele have three children, son Joseph (25) and twins Ariana and Domenic, 21. 

An interesting story, with a Belleville twist. In 2008, Aulisi was on call in a Washington DC emergency room when a young woman was rushed in, unresponsive. Aulisi would diagnose the patient and then had her transported to Georgetown University for further analysis.

Unbeknownst to him at the time, it turned out the woman was the daughter of Edy’s freshman football coach, at Belleville, Bill Bakka who Edy hadn’t seen in at least 30 years.

Aulisi’s quick thinking on Bill’s daughter’s condition ultimately saved her life.

When it comes to his work, Aulisi’s primary concern is that of his patient. He also, like a true quarterback, praised his teammates, in this case a very talented medical staff .

“My team works so hard,” said Aulisi. “I guess you can call me the quarterback of the operating room, but I work with some great people. For my entire career, it’s always been about the patient. What’s best for the patient is what’s best for Ed Aulisi.”

By mike051893

Gwinnett lauds a fine senior class for West Milford softball, led by Anna Brand, Courtney Cienki, Kayla Siemer and Ashley Stein while looking ahead to defending a sectional title in 2021

For nearly 30 years, championships and winning seasons have been the norm for the West Milford High softball program.

The Highlanders are among the leaders for most Passaic County Tournament championships, with nine, and have won its share of state sectional crowns, including an eighth chapionship in 2019, under coach Nicole Gwinnett.

Gwinnett’s predecessor, Jim Dransfield, won over 500 games as the team’s coach before turning over the reigns to his top assistant.

So when the 2020 season was ready to commence, back in early March, the hopes were high for another run at a state sectional title, not to mention a possible county title for the first time in nine years.

Of course, the season was cut short, just a little over a week after practice began, and it never resumed.

Gwinnett, like so many of her colleagues in the coaching business, was disappointed and felt extremely bad for the players, especially the seniors.

“I just feel so bad for these seniors, everywhere,” said Gwinnett. “I really do.”

The Highlanders were 14-11 in 2019. After advancing to the finals of the Passaic County Tournament, it went on to win a state sectional title in North 1, Group 3, defeating a good West Essex squad, in the final.

In seven seasons as head coach, Gwinnett has known nothing but winning records, including back-to-back 20-victory campaigns in 2015 and 2016. She took a career mark of 117-61 into this season.

This year’s senior class featured some talented players, beginning with captain Anna Brand, a third baseman.

“Anna was returning from an injury last season,” said Gwinnett. She’s a team-leader and motivated to succeed. Anna has played softball for 14 years and will be attending Roger Williams University, in Rhode Island, this fall.

“Anna is a recipient of the VFW voice of Democracy contest,” said Gwinnett. “She was also nominated as West Milford Athlete of the Month.”

Courtney Cienki, also a captain, was a pitcher and first baseman for West Milford. She will continue her softball and academic career at Keystone College, in Factoryville, Pa. Like Brand, Cienki has been playing softball for 14 years and was a big contributor to the state sectional title in 2018.

Kayla Siemer, an outfielder, will attend the University of New Haven, in Connecticut where she’ll play field hockey.

“Kayla was also West Milford’s Nominee for Passaic County Female Athlete,” said Gwinnett.

Ashley Stein, an outfielder and utility player, has aspirations to be a pre-med student in college. “She was dedicated and a hard worker,” said Gwinnett, of the first-year player.

The juniors include Emily Ginder (catcher), Rehna Khan (1B), Amanda Gerold (SS) and Ava Dragonetti (OF).

The sophomores are Samantha Araujo (OF), Rachel Chandler (OF/C) and Victoria Holm (IF).

The early practices, before the state shutdown, went well.

“We were showing potential,” said Gwinnett. “My concern for the younger players is that they will lose a year and experience.”

The coach is proud of the way her players handled adversity this spring.

“Unfortunately the 2020 season was cut short by Covid 19 and the girls were very disappointed. This group of players were very dedicated, they worked hard in the off season, and were ready to be challenged this season.

“The bigger picture is how well the players have handled being away from their teammates, and most importantly, school. The seniors have set goals, not only softball-related, but very academically oriented, and they will be successful in all their endeavors.”

By mike051893

New Passaic Valley High baseball coach Jason Tiseo was proud of his team, even though it didn’t play in 2020; Congrats to senior Billy Pinckney, who put together a wonderful video, highlighting a great class

He had just been hired as an educator and head baseball coach at Passaic Valley High. So, when Jason Tiseo began practice with his new team in early March, he couldn’t help but be excited about the opportunity.

Just 10 days into practice, the coronavirus pandemic shut down school and spring sports, throughout the state. Six weeks after that, the season was officially canceled.

“I guess you can say I was optimistic, but realistic,” said Tiseo when the season was suspended in March. “I was hoping we’d be able to get back on the field, but wasn’t all that confident.”

Despite the brief run as coach in 2020, Tiseo was very proud to have coached the Hornets, and, of course, looks to a more normal run in 2021.

“They were really a good group of players,” said Tiseo. “Even after school stopped, we were able to keep in touch, through Google Classroom and on Zoom. It was good to see the kids, that way, and stay in touch. The kids remained optimistic. I wish they could have played.”

The Hornets were also scheduled to travel to Florida in March, for a series of practices and scrimmages, but that was also canceled.

Adjusting to a new job at Passaic Valley was easy for Tiseo.

“Things were going well in school,” said Tiseo, who hails from Bloomfield. “The administration and staff at Passaic Valley have been great.”

In the past, the Hornets have played summer baseball, but Tiseo isn’t sure that will be possible this summer.

“If we can get out there, I’ll look forward to coaching them,” said Tiseo “But we have to wait and see.”

The senior class was led by captains John Groh, Pat Roche and Vin Colavitti. There were 11 seniors on the roster, as well as 11 juniors, 12 sophomores and 12 freshmen.

The seniors commented on their time at PV.

“To be a PV baseball player, it means you work hard, we play as a team, and we have fun.” Angelo Coiro.

“It means a lot, every coach and every staff, it was very nice to be a part of this team for a little. PV baseball, it’s amazing.” Carfred Rodriguez

“Never take anything for granted! For the incoming seniors, and the rest of the guys, continue to work hard, work together, and do great things, not only for yourselves, but for us too, since we never got the senior experience.” Christopher Manzi

I wish we were able to play our senior year. I’m confident that we would have won it all.” Dante Christoforatos

“Enjoy the rest of your baseball career,  it goes faster than you imagined.” Dom Destefano

“Never forget that feeling of stepping out onto the field in the biggest game.” John Groh (Captain)

“We had so many great memories together, from only having two wins our freshman year to being in the county finals our junior year. We have grown so much as ball players and most importantly, as young men. We had so many fun times, whether it was during practice, games, or even on bus rides. When we had to be serious, we were serious. But at times someone would always lighten the mood up, which I think is very important to have on a winning team. Nick Madonia

I would just like to thank all the coaches throughout the years because I know dealing with me these last years was not the easiest, with me being so stubborn. I’m grateful (PV baseball) was able to shape me into the man I’m going to be for the next four years at college.” Pat Roche (Captain)

“:I have enjoyed spending four years of hard work, dedication, and determination on the baseball field with you guys. I’m upset we had to go out this way, but the memories we made will last forever. Good luck in the future, I wish nothing, but the best, for all of you.” Vin Colavitti (Captain)

“I’d like to wish the best of luck to the younger players in our program, and know there is a very bright future for PV baseball.” Billy Pinckney

D.J. Mariconda was also a senior on the 2020 PV roster.

Pinckney also put together a tremendous video, highlighting the 2020 season.

“Obviously we lost our baseball season, so I produced a video with all of the senior players and the coaching staff,” said Pinckney. “I also included some other pieces of exciting content with the seniors. I wanted to send it over in case you wanted to utilize it in any way since it’s something nice for the community and it was dedicated to our PV Class of 2020.”

Here’s the video. It is well worth watching.

Here’s the remainder of the 2020 roster.


The coaching staff, in addition to Tiseo, included A.J. Flores, Rob Adams, John Pelosi, Steve Smith, Joseph Feinstein, Alex Madonia and Michael O’Brien.

By mike051893