As state finals near, Piro pleased with NJSFC’s progress over its first 2 years, with as many as 9 champions to be crowned this weekend

The North Jersey Super Football Conference (NJSFC) is closing in on its second full season, as the NJSIAA state championships will be contested this weekend.

And the NJSFC’s president, Joe Piro, couldn’t be happier with the conference’s performance, as 16 member schools have a chance to win a state crown.

Joe Piro, here in his office at Nutley High School, has been very pleased with the progress of the new NJSFC. (Click on photos for larger images).

A total of nine sectional championships are possible for the country’s largest high school football conference, with at least seven member schools assured titles, based on the matchups. Among those games are a battle for possibly the state’s No.1 team, when Bergen Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep meet at MetLife Stadium, on Dec. 1 (for the Non-Public Group 4 championship), at 8 p.m.

“I’m really happy with the way the conference has progressed,” said Piro, who has been Nutley High’s athletic director since 2004. “I believe we’re farther ahead than what I had anticipated we’d be at this point three years ago.”

The conference noted that Friday night’s games at MetLife, which also includes a 5 p.m. game where Union City takes on Montclair for the North 1, Group 5 title, could be one of the best nights in NJ high school football history.

In addition, there are huge games for member schools on Dec. 2, at MetLife, including River Dell vs. Ramapo (North 1 Group 3) and Mount Olive taking on Old Tappan (North 1, Group 4), as well as what looks like two tremendous games at Kean University, on Dec. 2, with rivals Shabazz and Weequahic facing off at 10 a.m., followed by a Non-Public Group 3 matchup between St. Joseph (Montvale) and DePaul.

Piro also noted that West Essex and Hackettstown will carry the NJSFC flag in its respective championship games against Voorhees and Rutherford.

The NJSFC has 113 members, including the newest school, Sussex Tech, which will begin play in the 2018-2019 school year.

“The credit to the league’s success goes to the great athletic directors and coaches, who have believed in what the conference stands for,” said Piro. “We’re completing our second year of playing, but really this is the third year, considering all the work that went into it, to prep (for 2016).”

Piro has long discussed the competitive balance of the league, which continues to evolve, through the work of the member school’s athletic directors.

“This is the best time of the year,” said Piro, as the state finals near. “I’m really happy where we are, as a conference, and I can’t wait to see some of the games this weekend. It speaks to the level of competitiveness, with 16 (member) teams in the finals.”




By mike051893

Wayne Hills football team gives back to community on Thanksgiving, donating turkeys to Father English Community Center, in Paterson

The Wayne Hills High football team once again donated turkeys to the Father English Community Center, in Paterson. The players helped load the food on Nov. 22, at the high school.

Last year, the Hills football program donated 25 turkeys and this year, that number doubled to 50.

While the Patriots’ season ended in the North 1, Group 4 semifinal a week ago, at Old Tappan, the team’s commitment to the needy wasn’t forgotten.

Wayne Hills football team worked hard on Nov. 22 to present food for the needy as Thanksgiving nears. (Click on photo for larger image)

“There are people out there who need assistance, especially this time of year,” said Wayne Hills head coach, Wayne Demikoff. “We’ve tried to help in different capacities and providing food for those who need it, on Thanksgiving, was certainly a good feeling for our kids and this program.”

Hills players donated food in 2016, as well. Click on the link, below.

This year, the food was needed even more, as a fire destroyed the pantry at the Father English Community Center earlier this month.

In October, the team donated to St. Joseph Hospital.

Over the past year, the team has contributed its time and resources to Breast Cancer Awareness; St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital; a fun run to aid autistic children; raising money for the players to go shopping at Toys-R-Us, to pick out holiday gifts for some youngsters at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, in Paterson; hurricane relief on the heels of the devastating storms this past summer, and donating money to the Health Partners Cancer Awareness Walk, with the proceeds benefiting St. Joseph Hospital, as well as funding scholarships for high school students in Wayne. And in December, the players will once again be shopping for gifts to give children at a local hospital.

“It’s important for our players to understand the need to help those in need,” said Demikoff. “We have good kids here, and I think they understand that giving to those less fortunate is what should define them as they move on in life.”

By mike051893

On Veteran’s Day, 2017, Ernie Mezey remembers those who died, on the 35th anniversary of the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial

Fans of Wayne Hills football know well Ernie Mezey’s powerful voice, which has graced the public address system at home games for 18 seasons. He’s seen the Patriots win nine state championships.

What many might not know is that Ernie served his country in the United States Army during the era of the Vietnam War and that Ernie’s brother, Peter, was a Captain in the Army and served two tours in Vietnam, while with the Infantry. (Peter Mezey is now retired and living in Florida).

Ernie Mezey (second from right), in his usual place in the press box, announcing at a Wayne Hills football game. (Click on photo for larger image)

Ernie was stationed in Europe, and worked in Intelligence with the Army, but he knows full well the sacrifice of the 58,479 men and women who died in the war, from 1959 through 1975, as well as those who are still considered Missing in Action a half century later.

Before the opening kickoff at last Friday night’s playoff game against Morris Hills, on the eve of Veteran’s Day, 2017, Ernie took a moment to read a beautiful poem, that he had penned, of a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC.




The Wall, in Washington, DC, a place of healing for so many, was dedicated on Veteran’s Day, 1982. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Having served in the United States Army during the Vietnam era, I know very well the sacrifice of so many,” said Mezey. “My brother served two tours there, and so many others fought and died there. I’ve been to The Wall in Washington, and know what it means to trace someone’s name. It’s very powerful.”



By mike051893

Cedar Grove’s dynamic pitcher, Mia Faieta, gives verbal commitment to attend St. John’s University

Long before Mia Faieta accomplished the 21-for-21 masterpiece which literally put her on the national stage, she had drawn interest from St. John’s University, for her pitching prowess.

And that initial attention went a long way for Faieta, a junior at Cedar Grove High, who gave the Red Storm her verbal commitment to play softball in Queens, New York, come the fall of 2019.

Mia, with her mom, Fran and dad, Paul, at the family home. (Click on photo for larger image)

The eldest of two children, born to Fran and Paul Faieta, and the older sister to Alex Faieta, Mia had an incredible season for Cedar Grove in 2017, guiding the Panthers to a Group 1 championship, and a berth in the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, last June. Along the way, Mia pitched a gem for the ages, throwing a perfect game, in which she struck out all 21 batters she faced, as Cedar Grove advanced in the state sectionals, on May 26.

Faieta’s dominance in the circle, with that wicked fast ball and stirring riser, made her one of the state’s best pitchers in 2017. The righthander struck out nearly 400 batters in 176 innings of work. She pitched to a 0.76 ERA and lit up the state tournament, not only with the 21 strikeout effort, but in hard-fought wins over Verona for the sectional title, Roselle Park in the Group 1 semifinal and another perfect game in the Group 1 final, opposite Metuchen.

At the Tournament of Champions, she spun another beauty, as Cedar Grove edged Robbinsville in the first round. A night later, the memorable season ended with a loss in the semifinals to the eventual TOC champion, Immaculate Heart Academy, 3-0. Despite that loss, Mia was outstanding, holding the potent Eagles offense to one hit. After the game, Faieta went out of her way to credit IHA for a big win, and lauded the Eagles’ senior pitcher, Olivia Sprofera.

Cedar Grove finished the 2017 season with a 23-8 record.

Mia and her friend, Mia Recenello, who plays at Immaculate Heart Academy, grew up in Cedar Grove. The two remain friends today. Here’s an article about the ‘Tale of Two Mias’, written prior to the respective teams playing in the Tournament of Champions.  (Click on photo for larger image)


The incredible run in the state tournament gave Mia a lot of attention, and not just locally. She would appear on television news shows, signed her first autograph, and threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium, on June 10, before a Yankees-Orioles game.

Mia and her parents were all smiles on May 30, after the Panthers edged rival Verona, 2-1, for the state sectional title. (Click on photo for larger image)

“It was crazy,” said Faieta, with that perpetual smile and humbleness. “After (the 21 strikeouts), I had gotten a few calls, tweets and stuff. But then, it just took off. I mean, I’m at school, having lunch, and there’s someone who wants to interview me. I just wanted to eat.

“But it was a lot of fun. I was so nervous throwing out that pitch at Yankee Stadium. Looking back at it now, it was really special. The people in town were great, and so supportive.”

Throwing out the first pitch prior to a Yankees game on June 10 was a huge thrill for Mia. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mia and her teammates met New York Yankees pitcher Chad Green prior to her throwing out the first pitch. (Click on photo for larger image)

She didn’t look nervous, but standing on the mound at Yankee Stadium was a huge moment for Faieta. (Click on photo for larger image)

With her teammates, on the field at Yankee Stadium. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mia signed an autograph for a young fan (left, wearing hoodie) after leading Cedar Grove to a win over Robbinsville in the first round of the NJSIAA Tournament of Champions last June.  (Click on photo for larger image)

When a young fan asked Mia for an autograph after a Cedar Grove win in the Tournament of Champions, she was surprised.

“I was so happy that he asked,” she said. “It was cool.”

Faieta informed St. John’s of her decision this past Labor Day.

“I knew that’s what I wanted, and I said ‘why am I waiting,'” Mia recalled, with her mom, and first pitching coach, smiling near by. “They had first seen me at a camp, they believed in me as a freshman, and I was really comfortable talking with the coaches.”

Fran Faieta was herself a top softball player at Cedar Grove, leading the 1984 Panthers to an Essex County championship, while playing shortstop. Fran played for the legendary coach Ray VanDerMay, who was a big part of helping Mia become a top player. Mia’s summer coach, Phil Delgado, along with high school coach, Nicole Velardi, have also been prominent.

“They’ve all provided a tremendous support base,” said Fran. “There were times I wasn’t able to get to all of Mia’s games, and they’ve always been there. Ray, Phil and Nicole are all tremendous people. They’ve been great with helping Mia become the player she is.”

(Fran Faieta had some health concerns a year ago, but she’s made tremendous strides).

Velardi, herself a top college player on the NCAA, Division II level, was thrilled that Faieta had made her decision so soon.

“St. John’s is a great school for Mia,” said Velardi. “Mia loves New York. She enjoys how busy the city is, and that’s why St. John’s is a perfect place for her. It’s an excellent school academically and has a good program. The Big East is a good conference for softball.”

Mia loves New York City and can’t wait to experience it, as a college student.

Faieta agreed that her love for New York is genuine.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “New York is such a great city. There’s so much going on. The restaurants are great, the people, it’s just a special place. And now I’ll have a chance to experience a lot of it when I go to college.”

Delgado was also ecstatic.

“No doubt,” said Delgado. “I’ve been so blessed to have the chance to coach Mia. I mean, what a great kid, from a wonderful family. Mia is a loyal person. When St. John’s showed interest early on, that meant a lot to her. And she works so hard to get better each day. She’s such a determined kid.”

Mia’s dad, Paul, has stayed somewhat in the background, watching his daughter become a dominant high school pitcher. He’s a constant at the softball games, with a big smile. Recently, he accompanied Mia to Florida for a tournament. He recalls watching her become a stud pitcher.

“I remember being at a game, watching her throw and said ‘wow, she’s really good,'” said Paul. “We’re so proud of Mia, having this opportunity to play at St. John’s and get a great education.”

Mia’s ‘fame’ from last spring still carries on, according to Fran.

“People still stay to me, ‘your daughter is that pitcher?'” said Fran with a laugh. “It’s amazing how many people heard about her last season. But it was nice. Mia kept it all in perspective. Paul and I were proud of her for that. But then again, we’re proud of her for everything she does.”

While playing softball on the collegiate level will be exciting, education is also important to the Faieta family.

“School comes first with Mia,” said Velardi. “She’s a tremendous student, and that’s why she had the chance to make such an early decision. The best part is, she’ll be playing for us for another two seasons. Mia is a team-first person, and her personality is so upbeat.”

Mia enjoys working with younger softball players. She’s participated in clinics for 12U players. She’s also a member of the Key Club and Peer Leadership at school.

As Faieta, who will turn 17 this Thanksgiving, looks ahead, she’s not rushing her high school days, either.

“I’m looking forward to our upcoming softball season at Cedar Grove,” she said. “My family has always been there for me. They’re great. And my teammates are the best. We had a great run, getting to the Tournament of Champions last season. It was a nice experience and we’d like to get back there (in 2018).

“I’m glad to have made this decision to attend St. John’s. It’s the right place for me, and now I can focus on the rest of high school and working hard, on the field and in the classroom.”





By mike051893

A history lesson from 40 years ago could benefit Belleville High football, going forward, but the bottom line is, the team needs to improve

What’s that old saying? Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it?

With that said, Belleville High’s 84-0 setback to Irvington, on Oct. 21, should be nothing more than another football game. I understand the disappointment on the part of many local high school coaches and administrators, saying that Irvington. putting up 84 points, wasn’t necessary. And there were some well thought out features, by local sports writers, expressing outrage at the score.

And I get all that, and respect everyone’s thoughts.

I’m just here to say, as a Belleville High grad, who has been around Belleville football for nearly 50 years, as a fan and writer, that when it comes to the program, try two things.

1-Get Better. Or…2-Disband the program.

It’s time. Really. Enough of the excuses.

Twenty five years ago, Belleville’s schedule included games against the likes to Don Bosco, Bergen Catholic, St.Joseph and Paramus Catholic. There was a time they were all on that schedule in a single season, on a regular basis. There was also a time that Belleville had a winning record in its series with Don Bosco. There were a number of wins against Paramus Catholic, too. And there was a 3-0 loss to Bergen Catholic one year, on a field goal at the final gun.

As late as 1993, Belleville was playing at St. Joseph for a chance to win an NNJIL title. They lost, 28-3, but it was a good effort.

By the late 1990’s,with the (now) non-publics, then called parochial schools, getting stronger and stronger, it made sense to say that Belleville, and many other high school communities shouldn’t be playing those football powers, and actually be competitive, much less win.

Fine, so those schools gradually left the BHS schedule. Paramus Catholic was the last to fall off the slate, nine years ago, after Don Bosco (last game, 1997), Bergen Catholic (2001) and St. Joseph (2005) departed.

The feeling was, with a ‘better’ schedule, the program would compete. And there were a few decent seasons, notably in 2007 and 2008, when the Bucs were 5-4 in the regular season. The ’07 team actually qualified for the NJSIAA playoffs, for the first time in 23 years, under coach Joe Fischer, and the 2008 Bucs, led by first year coach Chris Strumolo, defeated Nutley for the first time since John Senesky’s final game, as head coach, in 1996.

But by 2010, the decline became more noticeable. And now, despite the attempts of an energetic young coach, in Mario Cuniglio, the program has reached a crossroads, with that Irvington game.

Forty years ago, almost to the day, Belleville played, at home, against Seton Hall Prep. (The actual date was Nov. 5, 1977). The final score was 63-0, Seton Hall. The Pirates led, 42-0, at the half, and trust me, the game wasn’t even that close.

There was a certain amount of outrage about that score, too, especially then, when the average high school football score in New Jersey was like 14-6, and a one-sided game was usually 20-0.

It’s ironic that when I heard the score of the Belleville-Irvington game, I was sitting with Passaic Valley head football coach Chet Parlavecchio, following a PV game. Chet was a captain of that ’77 Seton Hall team. He went on to play at Penn State, and eventually was in the NFL as a linebacker, with the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals. More recently, Parlavecchio coached linebackers and special teams, for three seasons in the NFL, with the Tennessee Titans.

Chet and I have talked about that Belleville-Seton Hall game on many occasions. We kid about the Joe D’Ambola hip pad situation, prior to the kickoff, which eventually led to the Pony Pirates really wanting to lay it on the Bellboys after Joe Aulisi was caught not wearing the hip protection during the National Anthem and were tagged with a 15-yard penalty before the game even started.

The Belleville kids left that game 40 years ago, ticked off that they lost, but you know what? They remembered Chet chirping a lot in that game, but they also wanted to be as good as him, too. The program had bottomed out that day, and it was time to get back on track.

Senesky was in his first season as Belleville’s head coach, in 1977. He said after that game that the program needed to get better. Back then, weight lifting wasn’t nearly what it is today, but Senesky had the foresight to implement it into the off-season conditioning program. A year later, the new-look Bucs would improve from 2-6-1 to 6-3. In the seventh week of the season, the team would lose at Seton Hall Prep, 28-6, in one of the worst officiated games I ever saw. And afterward, Senesky rightfully told his kids that the game was not lost because of lousy officiating, it was because Seton Hall Prep was better.

And a year after that, Seton Hall came back to Belleville, and those sophomores, who got their butts kicked in ’77, led the Bucs to a 14-13 win over the Pony Pirates. A year after that, Belleville went to Seton Hall and dominated the Prep, winning, 34-8. And like I said earlier about the ’77 game, trust me, that game in 1980 wasn’t close, either.

Senesky could have scored 60 that day, but that wasn’t his way. The Belleville fans had implored John to run up the score. ‘Remember 63-0’, they said. But that’s not what it was about. It is absolutely amazing how John Senesky taught all of us the meaning of humility and what winning was all about, whether it be on the scoreboard, or in life.

Okay, so let’s get back to the current situation. There were questions posed as to why was Belleville playing Irvington, in the first place, last Saturday? First of all, they’re in the same division, and Belleville already had gotten out of division games with Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills.

Second of all, Irvington is not some juggernaut in high school football. They’re a good team, which made the NJSIAA playoffs last year and at 5-2 this season, will most likely qualify again.

One of Irvington’s two losses this season came against (wait for it), Nutley. At the time, Nutley was 0-3. The Raiders won, 34-12, and if you saw the game, it wasn’t that close. At one point, Nutley outscored Irvington, 34-0, and were within one touchdown of invoking the mandatory ‘run the clock’ rule, in the second half, when a game has a 35 point, or more differential. Irvington scored on the game’s last play to make it 34-12.

As a Belleville High grad, it drives me nuts that Nutley, a one-time rival (not in football anymore, and that’s another story), can go out and play good teams, like Irvington, and not only compete, but win. Nutley is 4-3 now and could very well make the playoffs.

So, after last Saturday’s loss, let’s not play Irvington any more, right? What’s next? Belleville doesn’t play Nutley, after that rivalry, which started following World War I and became a regular contest when FDR was president, became completely one sided over the last three meetings. From 2013-2015, Nutley outscored Belleville by a combined 149-12. The last game, in 2015, ended with the Raiders winning by 50 points, the largest point differential in the history of the rivalry.

Belleville doesn’t play Bloomfield anymore. Glen Ridge is a Group 1 school, whose roster may, on an average year, have about 30 kids. Belleville played Glen Ridge twice, just a few years ago, and lost 40-0 and 30-6. Can’t play them no more. With the advent of the Super Essex Conference, Belleville began playing Caldwell, barely a Group 2 school, a few years ago. The Chiefs won by scores of 49-7 and 60-0. That’s enough of that, right?

At one time, a generation ago, Belleville and West Essex opened the season against each other, with some exciting games. The schools also met for a state championship at Giants Stadium, in 1980. In 2009, the rivalry resumed, and the Bucs lost a well-played, 27-26 decision. But, two years later, West Essex won, 63-0, and after a 48-8 Knights win, in 2013, that series was over.

Is there a list of schools that the Bucs can play? Is there a point differential which is acceptable to lose by? This year, the Bucs played Snyder High, of Jersey City. Two years ago, Belleville beat Snyder, 43-8. This year, Snyder was winning, 50-2, at halftime.

A couple of years ago, Belleville played Plainfield, in an NJSIAA consolation game, at home. Plainfield came into the game winless. Plainfield won, 40-2.

From 1997, through this year’s 1-7 start, Belleville’s overall record is 42-165, in nearly 21 seasons. That’s an average mark of 2-8, per year, with seven different head coaches. That mark includes three winless seasons and one losing streak that extended three years, from the middle of the 2002 season until late in the 2005 campaign.

But, believe it or not, there’s actually a light at the end of the tunnel, and it starts with the head coach.

Mario Cuniglio is a Belleville High educator, and a whirlwind of energy. Ask him about a monsoon, and he’ll say it was drizzling and the sun is coming out soon. If he had the flu and a 102 degree fever, he’d say ‘I’m fine, turn on the air conditioner.’

The man finds positives in everything.

He also doesn’t make excuses, and wasn’t in the mood for a pity party after the Irvington game, when he called me the morning after that game. He offered a no-comment to local reporters who wanted to talk about the game.

With that said, I was at a coaches meeting the other night with another local high school program, and the conversation came up about the Belleville loss. One of the assistants on the staff in question heard Mario’s name, and lit up.

“That guy (Cuniglio) works so hard,” the coach said. “Every (football coaching) clinic I’ve ever attended, there’s Mario. He asks questions, goes from one work shop to another and puts in so much time. He’s everywhere. I really respect him.”

And that’s the general consensus. Belleville has the right coach. He’s so committed to turning this thing around. He didn’t want to talk about last week’s game, other than to say, “I’m not here to comment on how another team plays. I’m here to make my program better. I’ll talk about playing Millburn this week.”

Belleville head football coach Mario Cuniglio has never given up on the hopes of turning the program around.

And when you think about it, who cares if the score was 63-0, or 84-0? It was a loss. Sounding like Bill Belichick, Cuniglio said ‘we’re on to Millburn.’ Good for him. And after Millburn, Mario will coach his team in an NJSIAA consolation game, and then the real season begins.

“Good for Mario,” said another assistant coach, who was also a head coach for many years. “He wants to coach his kids, get them better. He’s the right guy for that job.”

Thanks to some generous BHS alumni, and local people who want to see the program improve, Belleville now has a new weight room. And, to be fair, the football facility, and lockerroom, at Doc Ellis Field, are pretty nice, including a beautiful turf field.

As far as the new weight room, will anyone use it? I’ve been around enough pretty good high school football programs to know that 40 to 50 kids, per day, are working out in their respective weight rooms, beginning in January, maybe earlier, and are there 3 to 5 days a week, through June, when practice can start up again.

How many BHS players were in the old weight room over the past 15 years on a regular basis, for six months? 15 to 20? That’s not enough. Will a new weight room welcome more kids? Maybe, but you still have to the put the work in.

If the players don’t want to make that commitment, in a nice facility, with a beautiful new weight room, and a coach who will do ANYTHING to help them, then, guess what? Stop playing high school football. There’s no need to have a program.

Move on.

I will say it again. Why is it that players from Nutley can beat Irvington by four touchdowns while Belleville was unable to compete with that same team, last weekend, much less win?

And that’s the bottom line. I’m told that hundreds of youngsters in Belleville are playing soccer. Maybe that’s the way to go. The varsity soccer teams, for both boys and girls, are having good seasons this fall.

Belleville recreation director Tom Agosta, himself a BHS grad and a one-time police officer in the township, noted that the Junior Bucs program needs help.

“We have two weeks left, and then we will regroup and work really hard in the off season to get the program back on track,” said Agosta. “I am up to the challenge, but we need dedicated, committed coaches who are ‘all-in’, to make it work. I am up for the challenge because every recreation program is at an all time high, and I won’t stop until the Junior Bucs football program is competitive again.”

Agosta followed by reiterating that the Junior Bucs need football coaches. Currently, there are three levels of junior football, with two coaches per team.

Without a decent feeder program, the high school team will have a difficult time succeeding.

But to make a big deal about 84-0? Why bother? It’s taking away from the real problem. And, if you don’t want to lose by that score, play better.

When it comes to honoring its athletic history, Belleville is the same school system which took nearly 30 years to acknowledge a former Buccaneer, who played in a silly little game called the Super Bowl.

Yes, David Grant not only appeared in Super Bowl XXIII for the Cincinnati Bengals, he played the entire game on defense, against Joe Montana and the San Francisco 49ers, in what was, at the time, considered one of the most exciting games in the history of the Super Bowl. Grant had a six-year NFL career. And until the NFL basically shamed Belleville High, by presenting a gold football to the school, in David’s name, on the 50th anniversary of the Super Bowl, there was no mention of Grant anywhere in the school. No jersey. No name. No photo. Nothing.

In 2016, the NFL presented Belleville High a gold football, commemorating David Grant’s appearance in Super Bowl XXIII for the Cincinnati Bengals. Grant played in the game 27 years earlier and was graduated from BHS in 1983. (Click on photo for larger image)

Belleville High finally has Grant honored in its hallway. (Click on photo for larger image)

If there’s no understanding of history and the knowledge of what the football program, and for that matter, athletics, in general, meant to that community, then there will be no comprehension, with the current student-athletes, of the pride that went into playing for the Blue and Gold.

And a new weight room won’t change that.

To be fair, there’s a new administration at Belleville High, led by an enthusiastic Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Richard Tomko, who wants what’s best for the students, and also demands accountability. Within the past year, Belleville High has a new principal (Caleb Rhodes) and athletic director (March Marra), both of whom have been well received.

This year’s Belleville football squad is made up of a lot of freshmen and sophomores, just like that 1977 team which lost to Seton Hall Prep. And they’re good kids, who are trying. No doubt about it.

Forty years ago, Belleville hit a low with that 63-0 game against Seton Hall Prep. Within two years, the team was 8-1 in the regular season, and in a playoff game at Giants Stadium, against a state power, in Union High, a game which Belleville lost, 15-12, in the final seconds.

The following year, the Bucs had won a first round playoff game, also at Giants Stadium, and were back at the Meadowlands for a state championship game. And, within five years of that 63-0 loss, the Bucs were defeating the number one ranked team in the state, as well as a nationally ranked team, Passaic, 3-2, in what may have been the greatest sporting event in Belleville High history, known to many as ‘The Game’. Later in that 1982 season, Belleville would host its first-ever NJSIAA playoff game, against Union.

Just five years after Belleville lost a 63-0 decision to Seton Hall Prep, at Municipal Stadium, there was a celebration for the ages when the Bucs defeated the state’s top-ranked team, Passaic, on Oct. 2, 1982, in ‘The Game’.

I’m not saying that will happen in this era, but if the football program hopes to compete (much less win), then it needs commitment and resolve. There have been seven different head coaches since the geniuses on the Belleville Board of Ed forced Senesky out after the 1996 season. (That’s another story, for another time).

Senesky, when contacted this past week, was hopeful for the future of the program. John not only coached at BHS for nearly 30 years, he was also a player for the Bellboys, from 1961-1963. And, after he left Belleville as a coach in 1996, he found more success as a high school head coach 3,000 miles away, in Suburban San Diego, by winning a conference championship a decade later.

John Senesky (pictured here, in 1982) guided Belleville to four NJSIAA playoff appearances, 10 winning seasons and a school-record nine wins against arch rival Nutley, in a 20-year head coaching career. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Coach Cuniglio has the proper approach in not looking back, but focusing on the goal ahead and taking each opponent, one at a time,” said Senesky. “At times, we may find that our greatest victories may often follow our worst defeats. I’ve often heard that success in sports, and in life itself, comes when we can take our Stumbling Blocks and turn them into Stepping Stones.

“I hope the current kids will be able to stick together as a team. I know what it’s like when there are struggles. When our teams, at Belleville, didn’t do as well, I found that those players formed a stronger bond, and hopefully that will happen with the current group of young men. When we lost to Seton Hall 40 years ago, those kids were down, but they were determined. I wish the same good fortune for the 2017 Bucs, and beyond.”

Class exudes class. And with Senesky showing his support toward Cuniglio, also a top guy, maybe the future will be bright.

The time to find out is now.



By mike051893

Looking back at 50 years of umpires working home plate for Game #1 of the World Series, and this year, it’s Phil Cuzzi

Belleville’s own Phil Cuzzi will join a list of impressive names who have umpired Game No. 1 of the World Series. Here’s a list of those men who have earned that honor over the past 50 years.

Good luck, Phil, from your Essex County pals.

Here’s an article on Phil and the Belleville friendships that never end.

1968-Tom Gorman

1969- Hank Soar

1970- Ken Burkhart

1971- Nestor Chylak

1972- Chris Pelekoudas

1973- Marty Springstead

1974- Tom Gorman

1975- Art Frantz

1976- Lee Weyer

1977- Nestor Chylak

1978- Ed Vargo

1979- Jerry Neudecker

1980- Harry Wendelstedt

1981- Larry Barnett

1982- Lee Weyer

1983- Marty Spingstead

1984- Doug Harvey

1985- Don Denkinger

1986- John Kibler

1987- Dave Phillips

1988- Doug Harvey

1989- Rich Garcia

1990- Frank Pulli

1991- Don Denkinger

1992- Jerry Crawford

1993- Dave Phillips

1995- Harry Wendelstedt

1996- Jim Evans

1997- Ed Montague

1998- Rich Garcia

1999- Randy Marsh

2000- Ed Montague

2001- Steve Ripley

2002- Jerry Crawford

2003- Randy Marsh

2004- Ed Montague

2005- Joe West

2006- Randy Marsh

2007- Ed Montague

2008- Tim Welke

2009- Gerry Davis

2010- John Hirschbeck

2011- Jerry Layne

2012- Gerry Davis

2013- John Hirschbeck

2014- Jerry Meals

2015- Bill Welke

2016- Larry Vanover

2017- Phil Cuzzi

By mike051893

As World Series assignment nears, Belleville pals, including The Fightin’ 73’s, gather to honor their man, Phil Cuzzi

Phil Cuzzi’s hard work and perseverance landed him the ultimate assignment for a Major League Baseball umpire. Cuzzi, a Belleville, NJ native, will be behind home plate for Game #1 of the 2017 World Series, starting on Oct. 24.

Those who know Phil well, will say it’s not a surprise that he’ll be on the big stage, quite possibly at Dodger Stadium, assuming L.A. wins its NLCS series with Chicago, and behind the plate for the start of baseball’s biggest game.

Friends gathered at LaSicilia to congratulate Phil Cuzzi on his World Series assignment. Phil is sitting far right, dark shirt, second from front. (Click on photo for larger image)

While Cuzzi has attained a level of success in his profession, he’s never left his Essex County roots. He still lives locally, gives back to his community regularly, and has never forgotten his friends.


Phil Cuzzi selected for the 2017 World Series

When Cuzzi got the call from Joe Torre last week that he was chosen to umpire in the World Series, Cuzzi, a man of deep faith, shared the moment with his family, beginning with his wife, Gilda, sister, Patricia, in-laws Domenica, Antoinette and John, along with their spouses.

Phil had the chance to meet President George W. Bush during a game earlier this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

And then, as Cuzzi said to me when he had a chance to catch his breath, he had to send a group text to ‘The Fightin’ 73’s, consisting of his friends, from Belleville High’s Class of 1973, to let them know of his wonderful accomplishment.

Many of those friends gathered at LaSicilia, a wonderful restaurant in Belleville on Oct. 18, to congratulate their pal. And they did it in the only way they knew. By raising a glass, telling some stories, and wishing a favorite son the best  in yet another adventure.

Rich Giordano, a close friend of Phil’s, and a member of the Fightin’ 73’s, commented on Cuzzi’s World Series assignment last weekend.

“The true meaning of the ‘Fightin’ 73’s is that a guy named Phil Cuzzi never gave up, and always fought his way back, and up,” said Giordano. “Great things happen to good people.”

Cuzzi earns 10th post-season assignment

When Cuzzi read those words, his emotions rose.

“That jerk,” said Cuzzi, jokingly of Giordano. “He made me cry with that one.”

The reaction from friends on social media was overwhelming for Cuzzi’s success. Everything from ‘Phil’s a great guy’, to the usual congratulations and memories of growing up with a man who has really never changed, were the common theme.

Phil Cuzzi, and friends, ‘on the steps of our beautiful Town Hall’, as Phil said. (Click on photo for larger image)

Phil Cuzzi is a man of his word. He’s done so much for ALS research, in a very personal, yet, well-documented way. His love for dear friend, Robert Luongo, one of the Fightin’ 73’s, who died in 2004 from Lou Gehrig’s Disease, led to the formation of a fundraising dinner in 2005, which will celebrate its 14th renewal this coming winter.

Read more about Phil’s commitment to his friend, Robert, by clicking on this link.

While the Robert Luongo Fund Dinner is spectacular, Cuzzi also speaks to local groups about baseball and life, and tries to make himself available for his community, as much as possible.

Cuzzi’s determination to succeed in an occupation which doesn’t allow for a lot of success, speaks of his fortitude, as well as his family’s support and encouragement.

I’ve had the chance to travel with Phil to 17 cities since 2000 to watch him umpire. There’s been some great times in places like Milwaukee, Minnesota, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, Boston, Houston, Chicago and Kansas City. I’ve met some really good guys who Phil has worked with, including the great Tim McClelland (“That’s enough, Ralph”), Jerry Crawford, Bruce Froemming, Ed Rapuano, Jerry Meals, Greg Bonin, Terry Craft, Brian O’Nora and Joe Brinkman.

Here’s an article I wrote on McClelland, on the 30th anniversary of the epic ‘Pine Tar Game.

And now, Phil will be saying ‘Play Ball’, for Game #1 of the 2017 World Series.

All the best, Phil.





By mike051893

Jacob: ‘Time Is Limited’, as Patriots get back to work, ahead of huge game at Ramapo on Sept. 8

Forty eight hours removed from a 38-0 loss in the season opener to Canon McKinley High School in Canton, Ohio, the Wayne Hills Patriots were back home, watching film and getting ready for practice on Labor Day.

There’s no time to dwell on a loss, with arch rival Ramapo on the immediate horizon, in a 7 p.m. kickoff in Franklin Lakes on Sept. 8. Following Ramapo, the Patriots have a home game with Roxbury then travel to Old Tappan, before a bye week at the end of September.

Head coach Wayne Demikoff discussed the mistakes on defense, which led to big plays by a good Canton McKinley team.

“Were they good?” Demikoff asked his team. “Yes, they were. Did we make them look better? We sure did. How many times did they start with the ball inside the 50 and score? You can’t give a team like that chances and expect to win. Their speed was a factor, but when we did our job at the line of scrimmage, we made plays. I thought our line play was okay.

“But we have a lot of work to do.”

Offensive coordinator John Jacob took his turn in talking about the team’s performance.

John Jacob talks to the Wayne Hills players before practice on Sept. 4. (Click on photo for larger image).

“This is on me,” said Jacob. “I’m in charge of the offense. We have to make corrections, and we will. We lost last year’s opener (at Pahokee, Florida) and came back with a good season. It’s still there for you.”

Jacob then issued a challenge to the team.

“Time is limited in this game,” said Jacob. “The best players in the NFL average four years. It’s a tough game. You’re here now, playing a game you love. Every snap (in practice) should mean something.”

Claudio Canonaco (center), Wayne Demikoff (back turned) and John Jacob overseeing practice. (Click on photo for larger image)

Line coach Claudio Canonaco also chimed in.

“I see our best player, on every play in practice, trying to get better,” said Canonaco. “That’s what you should all be doing. The focus is on Friday’s game, at Ramapo.

“Get better. It’s as simple as that.”




By mike051893

As a new season begins in Canton, Ohio, no time to rest for Wayne Hills’ Demikoff; Patriots have trips to 4 college campuses en route; JV game on Aug. 31, Varsity game set for Sept. 1

Wayne Hills had just completed its last home practice on Aug. 29, before preparing for a trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Patriots’ season opener, on Sept. 1, against Canton McKinley High School.

Head coach Wayne Demikoff explained, with the heavy travel planned, starting on Aug. 30, practice time leading up to the game on Sept. 1 would be limited.

The Patriots bus is scheduled to depart Wayne Hills High around 7 a.m. on Aug. 30. The players are expected at school by 6 a.m. to complete the final preparations and loading the equipment van, which assistant coaches Mike Zaccone and Matt Bogert will be driving out to Ohio.

The first stop, en route to Canton, is a 225-mile ride to Penn State University, where the team should arrive around 10:45, or so. There, the Patriots will practice, visit the college, then have lunch.

After Penn State, it’s back on the bus, this time for a 175-mile ride to Youngstown State University, in Ohio. After visiting Youngstown, the team heads to its hotel in Canton, near the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Hills will play at the legendary Tom Benson Stadium on Sept. 1. That trip will take about an hour.

Wayne Hills will add its ninth state championship banner to its fence of fame this fall. (Click on photos for larger images).

“It will be about a nine-hour day,” said Demikoff.

On Thursday, the team will have breakfast at the hotel, visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame from 9 a.m. to noon, followed by lunch at the prestigious Gold Jacket room, from 12-1. The Patriots will practice at the University of Akron, in the afternoon. That evening, the Wayne Hills JV team will play Canton McKinley’s JV, at 6:30 p.m., at Canton McKinley High.

“That’s a big part of our trip, too,” said Demikoff. “It will be a great experience for our JV kids to play in Ohio, as well.”

Wayne Demikoff addresses his team following practice on Aug. 29. (Click on photos for larger images)

And finally, on game day, there will be a walk through at Kent State University, then it’s off to the newly renovated Tom Benson Stadium, for what should be a charged up atmosphere against Canton McKinley, which plays most of its home games at Benson Stadium. In fact, Canton McKinley opened its season last week, with a 29-7 win, at Benson.

While the travel should be a great experience for the players, Demikoff has been quick to note that this is game week. And the Patriots, coming off a 12-0 season in 2016, are traveling to Ohio to play a tremendous team, with the only expectation to win the game.

“That’s what we’re going there for,” said Demikoff. “To win, plain and simple. And there’s no question that Canton McKinley is an excellent team. We’ll need to play well.”

Wayne Hills captains for 2017, left to right, Mike Zaccone, Jason Modak, Coach Demikoff, Dario Sirni, Pete Dellechaiaie and Scott Fischgrund. (Click on photos for larger images)

The preparation time is long for the coaches. Demikoff has been up until 3 a.m. the past few days, working on game plans and watching film. Following practice on Aug. 29, he and assistant coach Mike Kelly, were working on game plans while the players received an update on good nutrition and the proper food to consumer on the trip.

Demikoff’s coordinators, John Jacob and Jermain Johnson, have also logged in long hours, as has Zaccone, the special team’s coach and Mike Peischl, who is a key offensive coach. Other coaches, like Chris Dowling, have been doing the logistical work for the trip.

Tony Giampapa, Anthony Giampapa and Walt Johnson were scheduled to fly to Canton ahead of the team’s arrival, to get everything set at the hotel.

Pat Cosgrove, Hills’ long-time assistant coach, will fly to Canton on Aug. 31 to join the team in time for Friday’s game.

Just getting out of the parking lot at Hills is an adventure. There are the permission slips that all the players needed to complete, the packing of all the equipment, checking the players to make sure everything required was packed, as stipulated.

“We practiced on Aug. 29, then had the kids come back that evening to make sure all their stuff was packed,” said Demikoff. “This way, when we gather on Aug. 30 to leave, they should be dressed in their travel gear, have their phone, and get ready to board the bus. When the buses arrive, we load everything and we’re out by 7 a.m.”

The Wayne Hills cheerleaders will also be traveling to the game, but they’ll be on different buses. The young ladies will meet the team at Penn State for lunch and, of course, will cheer on the team this Friday night.

And, of course, there will be plenty of parental support at the game, as a number of the player’s parents will travel to Ohio for the game.






By mike051893

Mondadori Llauget calls West Essex’s softball success over the years a tribute to Coach ‘Jay’ Ahmed

West Essex has enjoyed a level of success under head coach Andrea Mondadori Llauget over the last 13 seasons, including multiple state sectional championships, a pair of Essex County Tournament crowns, a few titles in the ultra competitive Super Essex Conference and over 230 victories.

While ‘Mondo’ is the head coach, she is quick to credit her long-time assistant, and good friend, Jason Ahmed, known as ‘Jay’ to his friends and West Essex players, past and present.

Jason Ahmed (back row center) has been a big part of West Essex’s success over the past 13 seasons. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mondadori also credited other assistant softball coaches in the Super Essex Conference, including Nutley’s Mike DiPiano.

“Those guys don’t get nearly the credit, outside of their teams,” said Mondadori Llauget. “Jay and Mike are highly respected within their teams, for sure. The parents and kids know the hard work they do. And I’m not just mentioning them. There are some tremendous softball programs in the SEC, with some outstanding head coaches, and most will say they all have had success because of a great coaching staff.”

When Coach Mondadori won her 200th career game in 2016 (Jay is in the background) she called all the wins “Jay’s and mine”.

For Mondadori Llauget, the camaraderie with Ahmed goes back two decades.

“Jay and I both went to Rutherford High School,” said Mondo. “He graduated in 1999, me, two years earlier. He played baseball and I played softball. Our fields were opposite each other. We had a mutual friend, Mike Anderson, who comes to most of our games now. I was friends with Mike growing up, because our moms played in a woman’s softball league together.

“When I got approved as head coach (at West Essex) in the Fall of 2004, I asked Mike to coach with me. He couldn’t so I asked Jay. I was 24, he was 22. I’ll never forget the first game we had. Mind you, we had a stud pitcher, Danielle Bertscha. but a very young team. We went to play Morris Knolls and were 10-run ruled so fast that we didn’t know what hit us. We sat down and said ‘what the heck are we doing’?

“We needed to figure it out. We had a parent on the team, Mr. Disanti, who was probably the best guy we’ve ever met and his daughter (Jackie) was the starting shortstop. We were spoiled with him because not every parent is like that. He was so helpful and supportive. Every step of the way, Jay and I made decisions together. But my name is always in the paper, and my name is always the one getting the credit, but every win and loss we had was together, so all of the success we had, was not to my credit only. We’ve made incredible friendships along the way with past and former players, and I can honestly say Jay is the brother I never had.” (Mondo is the oldest of three girls).

West Essex celebrated its second ECT title under Mondadori, and fourth overall, in 2016 at Ivy Hill Park. Jay stands back row, center, in this photo. (Click on photo for larger image)

As the years progressed, Jay and Andrea’s lives made a natural change.

“A few years ago my husband (Mike) and I wanted to start a family,’ Andrea said. “And I never knew what the timing had in store, so if Jay ever had to take over, he would have to coach third base. After Bridget Betley hit about 12 foul balls ripped down the left field side, I knew my days were numbered over there. So, we made the switch. (Andrea and Mike welcomed their first son, Colt, in September of 2016).

“But we have the perfect arrangement in the way we run this program. We have so many responsibilities that we each do. I can’t even imagine being a head coach and not having someone like that. I give all the credit in the world to the people who do it all themselves. Jay calls the pitches, coaches third base and breaks down scouting.

“But the people who have gone through the program know what Jay is all about. He is the most genuine, caring person I’ve ever met and if I could do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a single thing.”

Nice words from a head coach who will forever cherish a great friendship.

By mike051893