A year later, it’s still hard to comprehend that Anthony LaRezza has left us, but his spirit is alive and well in his loved ones, friends and those IHA softball players

The text message from Jim Stoeckel in the late morning of Feb. 4, 2016 was as subtle as a sledge hammer.

But to be honest, there was no easy way to say that Anthony LaRezza had passed away suddenly on that overcast Thursday morning. And a year later, it still seems surreal, as Anthony’s family, friends and Immaculate Heart Academy softball  players, past and present, take a moment to reflect.

The stories have been many, from the lunches at Rutt’s Hut, to Anthony’s favorite sports teams and love of movie trivia. Parents made sure their daughters could somehow enjoy the 2016 high school softball season in New Jersey, and those girls pulled through like champions, winning a second straight Non-Public A championship, with a 31-1 record, as well as a 30-game winning streak.

There’s been a lot of  laughs, because that was what Anthony was all about. And there’s been tears, and I’m talking tears from grown men, who still can’t quite comprehend this loss.

Somehow, it seemed like Anthony made sure everything would be in order. Diana Fasano took over as head coach and quickly set the tone for her team. Many in the IHA community would come together to remember Anthony, whether it be lighting a barbecue grill at a tournament game, or just cheering on their  kids.

We saw Anthony’s older brothers become a huge part of the softball community, a big step considering Allen, Joe and Billy never really went to the games when Anthony was the head coach.

Opposing coaches like Sergio Rodriguez, Phil Delgado and so many others throughout the state, did their best to remember their mentor, and friend.

I had dinner recently with IHA parents Bob Jones and Kevin Kenerson, and while time has a way of healing, a little, just remembering the good times with Anthony brought back a lot of raw emotions.

Pictures tell a thousand words, so I thought it would be nice to remember the past year, with dedications to Anthony, as well as the man, himself, because we all had a lot of good times talking to him.

On this one year anniversary of Anthony’s call home, I’d like to say thank you for the chance to know you, Anthony. I’m sure you know of your team’s successes in 2016 and that you’ll be there, again, for those kids, their families and friends in 2017, and beyond.

Click on photos for larger images.



al2team champs

df1iha2alaiha3sproiha1iha teamihareagankenlarlarezzapgiha-2iha2-2iha-shirtryeihaihaslew and taylor




By mike051893

Joe D’Ambola: A Great Man, with a Heart of Gold; A Belleville legend who reached so many in the Township

The reaction on social media was swift and somewhat repetitive.

Joe D’Ambola’s passing has indeed left a void for his family, as well as many friends, including a host of former Belleville High football players, who revered the man who loved all his kids, and realized that gruff exterior was nothing more than the hope of seeing those guys go on to productive lives.

D’Ambola ran the defense for some tremendous Belleville High football teams. When Belleville won perhaps the greatest sporting event I ever covered, the 3-2 win over Passaic on Oct. 2, 1982, head coach John Senesky was quick to credit D’Ambola’s work with the special teams, which set up the clutch field goal early in that game.

Senesky and D’Ambola were the ultimate frick and frack. Senesky would be the calm, laid back guy, who barely raised his voice. D’Ambola was the perfect complement, a highly charged man, who loved to stir the pot.

fbSome great times with Belleville High football coaches, and William ‘Doc’ Ellis (back row, far right), circa 1978. (Click on photos for larger image)

Just ask Chet Parlavecchio, who loved telling the story of the 1977 game between Chet’s Seton Hall Prep team and a young Belleville squad. Seton Hall had a legendary team that year while the Bellboys were just starting to learn Senesky’s system.

Before the kickoff, D’Ambola informed the officials that one of Seton Hall’s players, Joe Aulisi, wasn’t wearing the required hip padding. The official concurred and hit Seton Hall Prep with a 15-yard penalty, before the opening kickoff.

“We went nuts,” recalled Parlavecchio, who was a senior on that Seton Hall Prep team and would go on to an outstanding career as a linebacker at Penn State, before playing in the NFL. “We’re all yelling across the field at Joe, he’s yelling back. It was great.”

fb1John Senesky (second from right) and Joe D’Ambola, second from left, in this 1976 photo, along with then-head coach Tom Testa (center).

Seton Hall used that anger to put a 63-0 walloping on Belleville that day. Two years later, Seton Hall Prep came back to Belleville and this time, the Bucs would win, 14-13.

“That was the type of kid that played at Belleville back then,” said Parlavecchio, himself a highly successful high school coach today. “Those kids were tough, and coaches like Joe D’Ambola and John Senesky, were the reason why.”

When Parlavecchio was informed that D’Ambola had passed away, the wistful coach was quick to laud a competitive and well-loved coach.

“What a good man,” said Parlavecchio.

Chet’s sentiment about Joe was pretty conclusive. A really good man, as well as a second father to many kids. He was also as good a friend as there ever was, with a big heart.

“A good coach, and a great man,” said Ron Charles.

“That hit like a ton of bricks,” said Perry Mayers, upon learning of Joe’s passing. “What a great guy and coach…I know he impacted a lot of his players lives…mine included.”

me-and-joeD’Ambola (center) watches players warm up prior to 1978 season finale at Kearny, on Thanksgiving. That’s me, far left. (Thanks Perry Mayers for supplying this picture).

“So sorry to hear this,” said Ted Hahula. “A great guy and friend. We worked many years together.”

“Sorry to here this news,” said Chris Chiaromonte. “A great man and a terrific family. Prayers are with the D’Ambolas.”

“I’ll never forget that smile,” said Ken Burde. “Joe was an awesome guy.”

me-and-joe-1Getting together with Joe (light blue shirt, middle of picture) back in 2014, at the Chandelier.

“Prayers to his family,” said former player Frank Kokos. “I’ll tell you the truth, when I played I didn’t like him, he was a tough coach, got on you a lot, but years later you realized it was to make you better.

“A couple of years ago, at the dinner they had for Coach Senesky, Joe and I sat together and had a lot of fun talking about the old times. I saw a part of him I never saw before. He’ll be missed.”

“Joe D’Ambola asked me at graduation, what are you going to do after graduation?” recalled Luke Silletti. “I replied I have no idea. He then said ‘Luke, you’re going to wake up one day, 40 years old with kids, and wonder where the time went.’ I never forgot this.

“(When I was a kid) I said to myself, I have the meanest teacher at BHS. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Joe changed students lives,  including mine.”

Heartbreaking news,” said Rocco Balsamo. “Joe was a great man, and coach for many of us. He was one of the best and he will be sorely missed.”

“Terrible news,” said Carl Corino. “I feel real bad. Joe was a Belleville guy, in and out. He was a good friend, coach, teacher and family man. We busted him for his grumpiness at times , but when he laughed, it was great. Joe and (the late George Zanfini) where oil and water, but the stories and the laughs were great.”

“Joe was top shelf in my book,” said Anthony Gammaro. “He was always up front, kept us all on the straight and narrow path. What a great guy.”

“Oh man, very sad news,” said James Mickey. “I have great memories of this guy for many many years, from when I was a little kid, until  playing bocce not too long ago. Great, great guy.”

Perhaps it was Nancy McDonald, a Belleville High alum (and a classmate of mine) who said it best.

“Joe is part of some of my finest memories in high school,” said McDonald. “He was a great man, with a heart of gold. RIP.”

Through that Andy Sipowicz-like exterior, there was indeed a heart of gold. Joe loved his children, was devoted to his wife, Patricia, and was a steadying influence to so many

My life is better for having known Joe D’Ambola.

He was a man’s-man, a no-nonsense, hard-working guy who would do anything for others.

I will miss him, tremendously.

Rest in peace Joe.

Until we meet again.
By mike051893

Merry Christmas, Anthony….IHA softball is following in your legacy quite well; Rutt’s Hut not the same without you, but the memories endure

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

Why’d you have to leave so soon?
Why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you the most?


‘Cause I don’t really know how to tell ya
Without feeling much worse
I know you’re in a better place
But it’s always gonna hurt

It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again


It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again Oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh oh
Oohh When I see you again
See you again
When I see you again

Christmas is right around the corner, and with that, the year will shortly conclude.

It’s a time of happiness and, for sure, a few melancholy thoughts cross most of our minds, thinking back on the past year and remembering loved ones who have departed this life.

alaAnthony had celebrated his 50th birthday with his older brothers (left to right), Billy, Joe and Allen in January, 2016. (Click on photo for larger image).

A year ago, fans of the Immaculate Heart Academy softball team were beginning to think ahead to the 2016 season, in the hopes that the Eagles could repeat its state championship. The team’s legendary head coach, Anthony LaRezza, had been battling a form of oral cancer, but he was as fired up as anyone, looking ahead to the first day of practice, even though Christmas, 2015, hadn’t come yet.

Anthony had called me right before Christmas to say hello and let me know he was doing pretty good. “We’ll get to Rutt’s Hut, soon,” I remember him telling me. “Sounds good,” I said. “Merry Christmas, talk soon.”

This stirring tribute to Anthony was put together by his friends at IHA.

On February 4, 2016, the news of Anthony’s sudden passing hit with the subtly of a sledge-hammer. The text message from Jimmy Stoeckel, III, came late that morning and the feeling was certainly surreal. There’s no really good way of breaking that kind of news.

larAnthony always knew what a special person he had with former IHA player Diana Fasano on the coaching staff.

Anyway, IHA’s softball team endured, especially in the early going of that 2016 season. But Diana Fasano proved to be the rock, as Anthony’s one-time assistant took over the reigns and guided the Eagles to a 31-1 season, which included a 30-game winning streak to end the year, as well as a  conference, county and, ultimately, a state championship, on June 11, at Kean University.

cakeIHA players coveted the Triple Crown in 2016, for Coach LaRezza. (Click on photos for larger images)


And, oh yes, the Triple Crown. And how ironic was it that IHA would seal that crown on the same day as the Belmont Stakes. (Anthony loved to chime in on my racehorse theme for some of the state’s best softball players).

The Eagles had won a second straight championship on the same field that Anthony was exuberantly jumping on after a 1-0 win in the 2015 final, as Reagan Jones scored the game-winning run.

lareSean Reilly gets all the credit here, for capturing this moment after IHA won the 2015 Non-Public A championship.

Along the way, the Eagles got some new fans in Anthony’s brothers, Joe, Allen and Billy. Strangely enough, Anthony’s older brothers hadn’t attended many IHA games when their little brother was coaching, but the three, especially Joe and Allen, provided the perfect remedy for a team, and family, which needed each other’s support.

ihaJoe LaRezza was a regular at IHA games in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

iha1Anthony’s older brothers were a big part of IHA’s ride to a state title in 2016, as was Ed Bates.

(Here’s the article on the LaRezza brothers and what the 2016 season meant to them. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/its-truly-been-a-team-effort-for-iha-in-2016-from-parents-coaches-friends-and-some-brotherly-love-larezza-style/)

iha3Taylor Kenerson (white hat) celebrates the 2016 state championship. (Click on photo for larger image)

And now, here we are, at Christmastime, and Anthony, the ultimate little kid in an adult costume, comes to mind once again. Anthony’s final resting place is just a half block from my residence, in Belleville, NJ, so stopping by to say hello once in a while isn’t difficult, yet remains surreal.


iha2Remembering Anthony in 2016 came in many forms at IHA.

iha1Below, IHA players gather at Paramus Catholic before season opener on April 1, 2016, to remember their coach. (Click on photos for larger images).


So, with Christmas coming, just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Anthony. I know you’re keeping an eye out on your family, friends and countless softball players at IHA, past and present.

And as Coach Fasano said in early April, during the many remembrances which accompanied the start of the season without you, physically being there, “Anthony would have hated all of this.”

al2IHA players never doubted coach LaRezza was on hand for the 2016 state final. (Click on photos for larger image)

We made a toast to you at Kevin Kenerson’s house the night of June 11, led by Coach Fasano, after the state championship win. Your senior players are already making their college plans, and all have high hopes and big goals, along with winning a third straight state championship in 2017.

iha2IHA players relished a second state championship at Kean U in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

Hey, there’s going to be a Reagan in Washington, DC next fall. How great is that?

reagan(Above) Reagan Jones and her dad, Bob, after a game last spring. Jones scored the game-winning run in the 2015 state final and was a key to last year’s Triple Crown, as she celebrated last June. Reagan will be attending Georgetown University in the fall of 2017. (Click on photos for larger image).


I wish I could have seen your reaction to the past presidential election.

Any time I showed up with a specific team jacket, or a jersey, at an IHA game, I loved your comments about a former player from that team. (Jerry Reuss, Dick Ruthven, Nestor Chylak and Doug Buffone came to mind right away).

I miss the Memorial Day speech.

liv sproTaylor Kenersion (left) and Olivia Sprofera celebrate a state title with Allen LaRezza (second from left) and Joe LaRezza. (Click on photo for larger image)

I miss the scorecard being thrown in the air after a rare IHA error, although Diana did that pretty well at times last spring.

The softball tournament, in early April, which you worked so hard to make popular at IHA, now bears your name.



iha teamWinning the Bergen County championship was a huge accomplishment for the Eagles in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)


I’ve made some great new friends in your older brothers. We even had a tremendous dinner at Allen’s restaurant last summer.

dousingTaylor Kenerson (16) and Reese Guevarra doused LaRezza with water after the 2015 title. A year later (below) Fasano got the bath. (Click on photos for larger images)


Your good friends in the coaching ranks continue to honor your memory by their hard work.

Then again, you already know all of this.

Merry Christmas, Anthony.

‘Till we meet again, I’ll keep having that hot dog at Rutt’s, and will be forever thankful for all the great times.

ihaTrips to Rutt’s Hut with Anthony were special. (Click on photos for larger images)







By mike051893

Former Wayne Hills quarterback Mike Giampapa recalls state championship game with Wayne Valley 9 years ago

Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley will meet for the fifth time in the NJSIAA playoffs, and the second time in a state championship game, on Dec. 4, at MetLife Stadium, in the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

Hills has won three of the first four playoff matchups, and has an overall 10-2 lead in the series.

The first-ever meeting between the schools was in the 1991 sectional final, which Valley won, 7-0, before an overflow crowd at Wayne Valley.

Ten years later, Hills defeated Valley in a sectional playoff, 41-6. The Patriots also defeated Valley in a 2010 playoff game, 48-0.

The last time the schools played, with a state championship on the line, the Patriots won a hard-fought game, 27-7, on Nov. 30, 2007, at Giants Stadium, in a battle of two 11-0 squads. Chris Olsen was, of course, the Wayne Hills coach while Brian O’Connor was the Indians’ coach. (Wayne Demikoff, now the head coach at Hills, was an assistant to Olsen from 1999-2012).

(The teams didn’t start playing each other in the regular season until 2009, and the series has been held regularly since, with Hills winning seven of eight games, including an exciting 25-24 win on Oct. 28).

Mike Giampapa was the quarterback of that ’07 Hills team, and with his alma mater preparing to play Valley on Dec. 4, Giampapa took a few minutes to recall the last championship tilt with Valley.

mg-under-centerMike Giampapa shouts signals during state championship game with Wayne Valley on Nov. 30, 2007, at Giants Stadium. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I can’t believe it’s been nine years already,” said Giampapa, from his home in San Francisco. “I remember there being a lot of hype leading into the game. Back then, we didn’t play each other in the regular season, so there was just two (playoff) games between the teams leading into our (2007) championship game (in 1991 and 2001).”

Giampapa noted that the emotions were running high, especially on game day.

“By the time we got to Giants Stadium, I remember just wanting to go out and play,” Giampapa recalled. “We all said we have to just trust our guys and we’ll be okay. We were so fired up, and I’m sure Wayne Valley was, too.”

2007-st-champsThis is one of eight state championship banners lining the fence by the football field, at Wayne Hills. Patriots hope to add a ninth on Dec. 4.

The ‘hype’ that sometimes gets associated with a game like this is usually not a sentiment shared by the players, according to Giampapa.

“The fans really get into it, and obviously, the players want to win, but you have to remember, a lot of the guys on Valley were good friends. Some of my best friends were on that team. We all grew up, and played together on the youth level. We had a lot of respect for them, and they did, too, for us. That year, we were both undefeated and, I’m pretty sure, neither team had lost a game on any level (freshman, JV and varsity) that season, heading into that final.

“I remember it being the longest two weeks of my life, leading up to the game. I had dreamed about playing in that type of game since I was a water boy for my older brother’s (Anthony) team in 1999, when (Wayne Hills) played in the championship game at Giants Stadium (against Hoboken). From that point, I became obsessed with getting back there, and winning. I thought about it every day.”

Giampapa recalls running out of the tunnel “was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was loud.”

Most fans there recalled that the lower bowl of Giants Stadium was completely full, something which should be the case this coming Sunday at MetLife. (Giants Stadium closed after the 2009 season and MetLife opened in 2010).

“All of our players were business-like,” recalled Giampapa. “We had played in these games before, and that gave us a lot of confidence.”

In 2007, Hills was in the midst of the legendary 55-game winning streak, which had begun six games into the 2004 season and would last until nearly midway through the 2009 season. Hills would win five straight state championships from 2004-2008.

“I think that this group of seniors at Wayne Hills could feel the same way,” said Giampapa. “They played at MetLife last year in a state championship game.”

Hills scored first in 2007, but Valley rallied to tie it in the second quarter on a touchdown run by Matt Dortch.

Giampapa felt the key to the game was on the ensuing kickoff, when Carlton Marcin, who played a tremendous game for Hills, returned the kick for a score, to give Hills the lead for good, 13-7.

“That was huge for us,” said Giampapa. “Valley had just tied it, and we got the lead back quickly. I thought it was the key to the game.”

Hills would score a touchdown each in the third and fourth quarter to seal the 27-7 win. Marcin rushed for 65 yards that day, scored two touchdowns, had an interception and recorded five tackles.

Tim Waller, a linebacker for Hills, was a force, with 15 tackles and a quarterback sack.

Dan DeCicco rushed for 92 yards in the game to lead the Hills offense. Dortch rushed for 52 yards in the game to pace Valley.

“Winning that game, almost 10 years ago, is still one of my fondest memories,” said Giampapa.’ “I still have the game ball on my dresser.”

Giampapa feels this year’s contest will be a tremendous game.

“These types of games always go the distance — you can bet it will be an emotional roller coaster. The team who can block out the ups and downs and just focus on executing the next play typically comes out on top.

“Your stars certainly need to perform, but there’s always someone you may not expect who needs to step up and make a big play. It will be a total team effort.”


By mike051893

A class conversation between a West Morris football parent and Wayne Hills’ kicker, Dario Sirni

Bad news has a way of traveling quickly, and when someone messes up, it’s all over the proverbial front page.

But when a football player from Wayne Hills, and a parent from West Morris Central, Hills’ opponent from last Saturday, have a simple, but classy conversation, that should get more than a few glimpses.

With that said, social media can be fun, when done right.

West Morris Central and Wayne Hills played a high-quality football game on Nov. 26, in a state sectional semifinal. Hills won, 31-14, but the game was much closer than the score would indicate.

darioDario Sirni shows the form which accounted for a huge field goal in a state sectional semifinal on Nov. 26.

A key to the win came late in the game, when Wayne Hills’ Dario Sirni kicked a 41-yard field goal to give Hills a 17-point lead and, in essence, ice the game.

Anyway, one of the parents of the West Morris players, Steve Draghi, whose son, Cole, is as good a running back as Hills had seen all season, read a post I had written about Dario’s clutch field goal, on social media, after the game.

Steve reached out to Dario, on medium, to say what a good kicker he is, and wished Dario luck at MetLife Stadium this Sunday in the sectional championship game.

“Great game Dario! You’re a great kicker. Congratulations and good luck at MetLife,” said Steve.

And Dario wrote Steve back to say “Thanks a lot! Cole played a very, very good game!”

A simple conversation between a young man and a grateful parent.

Says a lot about human nature.

By mike051893

Holidays bring out the compassionate side of Wayne Hills football program, as players go Christmas shopping for hospitalized children

It’s certainly been a hectic season for the Wayne Hills football team. Back on Labor Day weekend, the Patriots were in Pahokee, Florida to open its season, and lost a 34-23 decision to a team that remains unbeaten and will be playing for a state championship next week.

Once back in New Jersey, Wayne Hills hasn’t lost since, winning 10 straight and earning a berth in the NJSIAA, North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 championship game on Dec. 4, at MetLife Stadium.

The road to that 10-1 record has been well documented. Solid play on the field was offset by an off-the-field issue which almost ended the team’s season three weeks ago, but Hills persevered.

The Hills players and coaches have also taken part in a number of charity events. On Nov. 6, it was a 5K walk for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, an event sponsored by the Wayne Valley High Dance Team. (See related article https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/wayne-hills-football-team-walks-for-st-judes-childrens-hospital-in-5k-event-at-wayne-valley-later-joined-for-group-photo-by-wayne-valley-dance-team/)

Prior to the Thanksgiving holiday, the Patriots donated 25 turkeys to the Father English Community Center. (See related article https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/charity-first-for-wayne-hills-football-team-as-patriots-help-donate-food-to-the-needy-for-thanksgiving/)

And on Nov. 27, the football program raised money for the players to go shopping at Toys-R-Us, to pick out some gifts for some youngsters at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital, in Paterson.

The players wanted to do the shopping and will be giving out the gifts soon.

geoffreyThe Patriots enjoyed a nice day at Toys R Us, buying some goodies for children. (Click on photos for larger image)


By mike051893

Wayne Hills heading to the state final as Sirni, DeVera, Tyler Hayek, Costello (11 tackles), Hunter Hayek (2 new records), Salley, Grave (101 yds rushing), Modak, Petracco, Moussa, Tskhovrebov and Njoku (catch for the ages) lead way to MetLife Stadium

As Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff surveyed a critical situation late in his team’s North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 semifinal against West Morris Central, the coach called for his trusted assistant coach, ‘The Czar‘ of the special teams, Walt Johnson.

The situation was simple. Hills had a 28-14 lead with 3:30 left, and faced a fourth down at the West Morris 24. The Patriots could either go for a first down, or try a 41-yard field goal.

“I asked Walt if he thought Dario (Sirni) could make it, and Walt said ‘yes’.,” said Demikoff with a smile. “That was good enough for me.”

 darioDario Sirni has had a tremendous season for Wayne Hills. (Click on all photos for larger image)

Sirni, a junior, stepped onto the field and calmly booted a 41-yard field goal, off the snap from Jason Modak and a solid hold by Zach Zachmann, giving Hills a three-possession lead, and the Patriots went on to win, 31-14.

specialsThe Wayne Hills special teams, led by (left to right) Zach Zachmann, Dario Sirni, the Czar, Walt Johnson and Jason Modak.

The win was the 10th straight for top-seeded Wayne Hills (10-1), which will move onto the sectional championship game, at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands, on Sunday, Dec. 4. There, it will face third seeded Wayne Valley (9-2) at 7 p.m. West Morris finished an excellent season with a 9-2 record.

“Once Dario made that kick, I knew we had the game won,” said Demikoff. “Let me tell you this. West Morris was tough, and I mean really good. Those kids can play. They run the Wing T really well, kept us off balance, and made us work really hard for this win. I have the highest respect for their coaches, and their players. A game like this will only help us prepare for the final.”

hills4Wayne Demikoff addresses Patriots after a win over a really good West Morris team on Nov. 26.

Wayne Hills will seek a ninth state championship on Dec. 4. It last played Wayne Valley in a state final nine years ago and won, 27-7. The schools also met in a 1991 state championship game, which Valley won, 7-0. Hills leads the all time series with Wayne Valley, 9-2, which includes a 2-1 record in the playoffs. Hills has won the last four meetings between the schools, including a 25-24 win on Oct. 28.

Wayne Hills will be appearing in its 16th state championship game since 1997, as the team seeks a ninth state championship and first since 2011.

Demikoff knew that West Morris would be a tough customer.

“I told our kids this was going to be a physical, hard-hitting game, and that’s just what it was,” the coach said. “Even with a 21-7 lead at the half, we all knew what a really good team West Morris was.”

Hills opened the scoring on a 59-yard run by Tyler Hayek in the first quarter, followed by Sirni’s point after kick. West Morris countered on a three-yard run by Ryan Finlay, off an excellent drive, to tie it. Hills regained the lead late in the first quarter on a 32-yard scoring strike from Brendan DeVera to Luca Grave which gave the Patriots a 14-7 lead.


lucaLuca Grave was back in top form for Wayne Hills, after an ankle injury slowed him down four weeks ago.

tylerTyler Hayek scored Wayne Hills’ first touchdown against West Morris.

Before the end of the first half, the Patriots added a key score, which was highlighted by an incredible catch by senior wide receiver Evidence Njoku, who hauled in a one-handed pass, in traffic, which set up a key first down. Hills later scored when DeVera scored on a 14-yard run, making it 21-7 at the half.

The Patriots extended to a 28-7 lead in the third on a DeVera touchdown pass to Hunter Hayek of 34 yards. West Morris closed to 28-14 early inn the fourth quarter on a run by Cole Draghi, on fourth down. Draghi was outstanding for the Wolfpack, rushing for over 200 yards.

“That kid was tremendous,” said Demikoff of Draghi.

Hills’ running game, led by Grave, who rushed for 101 yards, controlled most of the second half, and Sirni’s field goal sealed the deal for Hills.

DeVera was outstanding again and tied Christian Olsen’s school record for career touchdown passes, with 56. DeVera also has the new school record for passing yards in a season, with 1,919.

NOTES: On defense, Tyler Costello had 11 tackles, Nick Petracco finished with 10, Ky Salley and Omar Tskhovrebov had eight each and Modak had six tackles and a quarterback sack.

costelloTyler Costello

kyKy Salley

petraccoNick Petracco

Modak has 10 sacks on the season. Hunter Hayek set a new school record for receptions in a season, with 53, and now has 863 yards in receptions this year, also a new school record. Bill Monan held the old marks, which were set in 2001.

hunterHunter Hayek


By mike051893

Charity first for Wayne Hills football team, as Patriots help donate food to the needy for Thanksgiving

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff thought that the past few weeks of turbulence in his team’s program could best be attributed to his players by remembering what the holiday season is all about.

“Yes, it got hectic for us,” said Demikoff. “But in the end, a lot of people supported us through the process. And what we want our players to always know is that helping others, in need, will go a long way in their own lives. This is a high school football team, and our kids work hard.

hills3The Wayne Hills High School football team took a few minutes before practice on Nov. 22 to donate turkeys to the Father English Community Center, in Paterson. (Click on photo for larger image)

“But there are people out there, living their lives and struggling. If we, as a team and representing our community, can step up and provide smiles and a nice meal to some needy people, especially this time of year, it’s a great feeling. And I think it meant a great deal to our kids.”

The team donated 25 turkeys to the Father English Community Center, which is located at 435 Main Street, in Paterson.

Carlos Roldan, the Pantry Director at the Center, was on hand to receive the turkeys. The players also helped to load them onto Roldan’s van.

hills2Team captain John Stadler (59) receives turkeys to place in van from teammates Tyler Costello (53) and Ky Salley.

Wayne Hills is preparing for the semifinal round of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 tournament on Nov. 26, when the top-seeded Patriots play host to fourth seeded West Morris Central, at 1 p.m.

“It’s a busy week, especially with Thanksgiving, but we’ll get our practice time in,” said Demikoff.

The Patriots have done a lot to help others during the fall. The team competed in a 5K race on Nov. 6 for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, an event put together by neighboring rival Wayne Valley High’s dance team. (See related article. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/11/06/wayne-hills-football-team-walks-for-st-judes-childrens-hospital-in-5k-event-at-wayne-valley-later-joined-for-group-photo-by-wayne-valley-dance-team/)

In October, the team took part in a Fun Run to help autistic children.

“It’s what we’re about,” said Demikoff. “There’s always time to help others, especially in our community. I’m proud to coach these kids. They mean the world to me.”

By mike051893

Chris Pusterla will miss rest of season for Hills; Demikoff lauds senior’s contributions and accomplishments

In winning a conference championship on Nov. 4, against Irvington, the Wayne Hills High School football team finished an 8-1 regular season on a high note. However, not all the news was good.

Senior Chris Pusterla went down with a serious knee injury late in that game, and will miss the rest of the season.

Pusterla is the third Patriots player in 2016 to be sidelined with a season-ending knee injury that will require major surgery. Team captain Jacob Casale, a senior, hurt his knee in a non-contact drill in June, underwent surgery a month later, and amazingly enough, might be able to get back on the field for a game before the end of this season. (See related article https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/11/16/its-all-business-for-wayne-hills-football-as-patriots-prepare-for-roxbury-and-welcome-back-team-captain-jacob-casale-after-incredible-return-from-surgery-moussa-costello-looking-good-in-practice/)

Sophomore lineman Gabe Dellechiaie injured his knee in an August scrimmage at Montclair and recently had surgery. He’s hopeful to be ready for practice by June.

pusterlaChris Pusterla

Pusterla had been an outstanding linebacker for the Patriots, according to head coach Wayne Demikoff.

“Chris was playing really well for us,” said Demikoff. “You hate to see any player get hurt and need surgery. For the last four years, Chris has been a hard worker and committed young man to this program. I can’t say enough about his tenacity, team-first attitude and the attributes it takes to be a Wayne Hills football player.

“I’ve often told the kids that not everyone is supposed to play football here. It’s not easy. But when a young man comes through those four years, hopefully he’s learned a lot about life’s lessons and that will carry him into the next phase of his life. I’m confident Chris is one of those guys. He’s still a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish here, as far as winning a (state) championship. We’ll continue to rely on his leadership and toughness.”

Pusterla will most likely have surgery on his knee in a few weeks and start rehabbing.

By mike051893

Back on the field, Wayne Hills in its element, as Polgar, Ruby, Modak, Njoku, Hayeks, DeVera, Couso, Stadler, DiCarlo, Costello and Tskhovrebov stand out in 33-7 playoff win; Patriots into The Roar

The past two weeks were certainly adventurous for members of the Wayne Hills High football team.

But once the Patriots got back on the field for the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs on Nov. 20, it was business as usual for the top-seeded team in the first round of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 playoffs, with a 33-7 win over Roxbury, in Wayne.

Hills got another tremendous game from quarterback Brendan DeVera (14-for-21 passing, 260 yards and 4 TD’s), as well as wide receivers Hunter Hayek, Tyler Hayek and Evidence Njoku.

evEvidence Njoku (click on photos for larger images)

jakesBrendan DeVera, here with offensive coodinator John Jacob.

hunterHunter Hayek caught 6 passes for 118 yards against Roxbury.

The Patriots also got some big hits, including a beautiful tackle from Bence Polgar on a Roxbury kickoff return and Njoku’s marvelous block on an offensive drive. John Stadler, a team captain, continued his tremendous season on the offensive line.

benceBence Polgar

standlerJohn Stadler

There was also some marvelous defensive work by Chris Ruby, who was back after a shoulder injury two weeks ago, Jason Modak, Anthony Couso, Tyler Costello, Dom DiCarlo and Omar Tskhorebov.

domDom DiCarlo

cuosoAnthony Couso

And because of a team effort which head coach Wayne Demikoff appreciated more than ever, Wayne Hills is two games away from winning a ninth state championship in school history.

demWayne Demikoff addresses Patriots after walk through on the morning of game with Roxbury.

Demikoff lauded his team in the pre-game lockerroom. “I love you guys,” he told them. “I’d do anything for you.”




By mike051893