Just another day at IHA’s LaRezza Field: A Former President, Southpaw Secretariat and Dick Ruthven in town

It’s never just a trip to Washington Township to see Immaculate Heart Academy’s softball team play.

It’s an adventure.

Take, for instance, the March 25 home scrimmage opposite Northern Valley-Demarest High School at what I like to call LaRezza Field, on the campus of IHA. It didn’t matter what the score was, it was just being there that makes the day enjoyable. I often call Livingston’s home field, the ‘ShangriLa’ of Essex County softball, but going to IHA is more like watching the ‘Gong Show’. (Some of us won’t remember that show, but it was a classic).

There’s never a dull moment. Head coach Anthony LaRezza sees me wearing a Philadelphia Phillies jacket (I’m actually a Cardinals fan), and says “who are you, Dick Ruthven? Tug McGraw?”

drDick Ruthven

With Mr. Ruthven’s name now secured in the annals of famous people who have (somewhat) visited IHA for a softball game, he joins the likes of Jerry Reuss, Charley Lau, Doug Buffone, Willie Stargell and the great umpire, Nestor Chylak.

startReuss Jerry PP74-381_FL_NLB McWilliamsPittsburgh Pirates greats Willie Stargell (top) and Jerry Reuss.

chylaknestorbioNestor Chylak has worked his share of games at IHA.

When it’s not about legends, the conversation can be about capitalism and the famous snack stand that thrives during the annual IHA tournament, the ‘chicken and the pig’ analogy, or which player has whatever race horse nickname I’ve given them.

You can also learn about where the term ‘upset’ came into sports conversation and the legend of the Sopranos or famous ‘Godfather’ quotes. (‘Leave the gun, take the cannolis’, or ‘They’re gonna pick you up in front of Jack Dempsey’s joint in an hour and a half.’)

While it’s still the exhibition season, the 2015 version of IHA is starting come around. The great Stef Thomas has been graduated, but there are two young pitchers, both lefties, who look pretty good in the circle. I’m even calling one of them a ‘Southpaw Secretariat’.

Secretariat The PhotoCan the name ‘Secretariat’ be making a comeback in high school softball, this time at IHA?

The kid throws so hard you can hear the glove pop BEFORE the ball arrives. No decaffeinated coffee with her.

Among the players in a hard-hitting lineup is a young lady with a classic first name. Won’t say what that is, yet, but let’s just say one of the greatest presidents of the 20th century would be very proud.

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And there’s the young lady who gets to foul balls quicker than anyone I’ve ever seen. If you’ve seen the field at IHA, then you know there’s a lot of foul territory, and the need to get the foul balls that end up in the woods. And while it’s a thankless job, this kid flies to the errant ball. LaRezza and I were kidding she gets to the spot before the ball even lands.

Now if this weather would just warm up, softball season can really start cooking and the trips to IHA will be even more memorable.

Dare I say, ‘get your popcorn ready?’

By mike051893

14 years later, ‘Dubuque Saturday’ nears at Region 4

Having done my share of writing for nearly 40 years, I will admit there are a few stories that resonate for a lifetime. When it comes to high school wrestling, there is, by far, one which stands out. It happened 14 years ago and comes to mind specifically this weekend, as the Region 4 championships are once again contested in Northern New Jersey.

To set the stage for this story, I’ll throw in a little ‘Honeymooners’ analogy. Do you remember the episode when Ralph Kramden thought Alice might be stepping out on him, and was planning a strategy with his pal, Norton, to catch her in the act? Ralph’s classic line was, ‘Oh, I’m going bowling, Norton. But I’m NOT going bowling’. Norton was clearly befuddled.

Okay, fast forward a few decades to March 2, 2001 and if Glen Ridge’s Joe Dubuque could see into the future, he might have said to some close friends on the New Jersey high school wrestling circuit, ‘I’m going to win the states, again. But I’m NOT going to win the regions.’

Confused? Okay. But after reading this story, you’ll learn a little more about determination, some incredibly good luck and a bit of fate that not only won Dubuque a second state title, but quite possibly changed his life’s direction. Enjoy.

Long after the final whistle sounded, and the cheering ended on a wrestling mat in North Jersey, three friends remain tied to each other, in part due to a weekend 14 years ago that will forever bond them.

This is the story of Joe DubuqueAnthony Montes and Anthony Messina, wrestlers from neighboring Essex County high schools in Glen Ridge, Nutley and Bloomfield, respectively, who formed a triangle at Passaic Valley High in Little Falls, which has transcended time.

It’s what makes high school wrestling, and its subsequent competition, so special. And while the friendship amongst the three had begun long before a fateful weekend in March of 2001, what occurred over a seven day period 14 years ago has forever changed their lives. It’s a story of courage, raw emotion and the ultimate victory which would alter Dubuque’s life and strengthen a friendship already cemented in respect.

In 2001, Dubuque was a senior at Glen Ridge, having won a NJSIAA championship at 112 pounds a year earlier. He was rolling through his senior year at 119 pounds, undefeated, and for that matter, unstoppable. Dubuque had won his fourth straight Essex County Tournament championship earlier in the 2000-2001 season, and had just turned in a dominant effort at District 13, for his fourth straight title there.

Even in elementary school, Dubuque was a wrestling fanatic. His idol growing up was Belleville High’s Anthony Conte, a 1996 state champion and Belleville’s lone four-time NJSIAA medalist, to date.

“My friend, Joe Schoch, was a big Rami Ratel (from Bloomfield) fan and I was a Conte fan,” said Dubuque, today the assistant wrestling coach at Princeton University, following a successful stint in the same capacity at his alma mater, Indiana University, and earlier, at Hofstra University. “When Anthony and Rami wrestled, we’d go to the match together, but sit on opposite sides of the gym while they had their match. After they finished wrestling, we’d sit together again. It was that intense, even for us kids.”

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Anthony Montes (center) with Joe Dubuque (left) and Anthony Messina following the Region 4 championships on March 3, 2001.

Regions, March 2-3

On Friday, March 2, 2001, Dubuque won his Region 4 quarterfinal at Passaic Valley. Already a three-time region champion, he was scheduled to wrestle Messina, then a sophomore who was just beginning to gain credibility in the sport, the following morning in a semifinal. Dubuque was also excited about having just set a new state record for takedowns in a season, eclipsing the mark of 204 by perhaps the best high school wrestler, ever, in New Jersey, Damian Hahn of Lakewood.

“I remember going to bed that night and thinking I had to wrestle Joe the following morning,” Messina recalled. “I knew I didn’t have much of a chance, but I was also looking forward to wrestling him. I figured, no one was expecting me to win and I had nothing to lose. What’s the worst than can happen? I lose? Okay.”

The two stepped on the mat around 9:15 a.m. on March 3. Messina planned to be aggressive and see if he could gain some momentum.

“Right off the bat, I caught him with a high crotch and thought I got the two points, but (referee, MarkSherman said my foot was out of bounds,” Messina recalled. “We’re walking back to the center of the mat and I’m thinking ‘(Joe) is going to kill me now.”

Dubuque was a devastating wrestler on his feet and would often shoot toward opponents’ legs to gain leverage. As Dubuque moved in, his head collided with Messina’s forehead and Dubuque crumpled to the mat, losing consciousness for about 20 seconds.

“My friends had nicknamed me ‘Rock’, because I have a hard head,” Messina said. “When we hit, I didn’t feel anything, but then I saw Joe lying there.”

Dirk Phillips, Glen Ridge’s wrestling coach at the time and today the Glen Ridge High School principal, recalls the moment like it was yesterday.”

“I remember him lying on the mat, and I’m saying ‘Joe, Joe, you okay,’” Phillips said. “He wasn’t responding, but he eventually started coming out of it. Back then, while we had trainers, the response to head injuries is not nearly what it is today. The trainers would not let him continue, and a doctor who was at the match wouldn’t allow him to continue without being examined first.”

Messina, admittedly confused by what was happening, suddenly had his hand raised in victory, marking Dubuque’s first loss of the season.

“At first, I was happy because I won,” Messina said. “But I was more concerned at that point about Joe. I went down to the locker room and apologized, but Joe was quick to say there was nothing to apologize for and that it was a part of the sport. It happens. Still, it was weird.”

With Dubuque off to a doctor, the buzz around Passaic Valley was deafening. I remember calling my editor at the Star-Ledger, Bruce Moran, seconds after the injury to inform him that Dubuque might be out of the tournament. Moran had already set up ‘art’ as we called it, meaning Joe would be featured on the front page of the special supplement, leading up to the NJSIAA championships the following week at the Meadowlands Arena.

“Keep me posted,” said a frazzled Moran. “I have to change everything. But seriously, I hope he’s okay.”

Dubuque left Passaic Valley quickly, hoping to get a doctor’s clearance to continue wrestling. Having lost, he would need to wrestle back for third place if he any hope of winning a second consecutive state championship. His first wrestleback would be 90 minutes after his loss to Messina, so time was critical.

“I was determined to wrestle back,” Dubuque recalled. “It was a freak accident, but that stuff happens. It certainly gave me a new perspective on the sport.”

Dubuque’s older brother, John, hurried Joe to an Immedi Center-type facility to get a clearance, which was obtained.

“That could never happen today,” said John Dubuque. “There would have had to be a battery of tests first and of course, Joe would not have gotten back in time to wrestle that day.”

Dubuque returned to the gym in time to face Angel LaPorte of Kearny in the first of two wrestlebacks he would need to win to clinch third place. Montes, then a junior who had won the other 119-pound semifinal, remembers well watching Dubuque try and wrestle LaPorte.

“I didn’t think he should be out there,” said Montes, one of Dubuque’s best friends to this day. “He was wobbly throughout the match. I remember when I was wrestling my semifinal at the same time Joe and Anthony were on the mat and all the commotion when Joe got hurt.”

Dubuque’s eyes were red and he appeared to wobble at times when standing up. But somehow, he caught LaPorte, who in his wildest dreams never thought Dubuque would be in a wrestleback, for a pin in the third period. What probably saved Dubuque’s season that day was referee Joe Luongo, a seasoned wrestling official who was keeping a close eye on him.

“When you’re officiating at that level, you have to know the kid,” Luongo said. “I had worked enough of Joey’s matches to realize he could wrestle his way through it. I handled him with kid gloves that day, but also knew how tough Joey was. I had to give him the opportunity and didn’t want to stop it, especially after he was cleared to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation for a kid. You don’t want to stop it and the kid turns out to be okay.

“However, if I saw any indication he was in jeopardy, I was stopping it. With Joey, he always talked a lot during his matches, so I had a few conversations with him in that particular match. When he’d go out of bounds, I’d ask him ‘how are you’ and ‘what day is it’, stuff like that, and he was responding like usual. It also helped that I had a good relationship with his head coach, Dirk. We had spoken before that match and Dirk seemed okay to let Joey go out there. Ultimately, it was still my decision and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”

After defeatimg LaPorte, Dubuque had another hour to try and recoup before he faced Lou Rabelo of North Bergen for third place. Only the top three wrestlers from each weight class advance to the state championships, so there was just one way for Dubuque to qualify. The extra hour seemed to do him some good. His eyes were much clearer and he seemed more focused.

Dubuque put on a typical take down show against Rabelo, building up a big lead before registering a fall to clinch third place.

As the day’s events at Region 4 were concluding, Dubuque received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 2,000 at Passaic Valley. Dubuque was somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention. He even garnered some votes as the tournament’s outstanding wrestler, which was unheard of for someone who finished third.

“Honestly, I still don’t remember a thing from that day,” Dubuque said recently. “The entire day was a blur, literally.”

The injury affected other wrestlers in different weight classes at the region. Pat Trabucco of Livingston, an eventual four-time Essex County, District 14 and Region 4 champion, as well as a four-time NJSIAA medalist, was noticeably down after winning his fourth region title.

“Joe and I are best friends,” Trabucco said that day. “We were supposed to be winning this together.”

Trabucco, who was head wrestling coach at his alma mater through the 2010-2011 season, also recalled the day Dubuque was injured with a vivid memory.

“The reason why we’re all pretty close today is the bond we formed as competitors back in high school,” Trabucco said. “Montes, Frank DiPiano (the current Nutley head coach) and I were all at Joe’s wedding and they were at my wedding. Wrestling is that bond. To be honest, I never doubted Joe’s ability to come back that day and eventually be a champion again. He was that cocky and that good. He just had to get a doctor to clear him.”

There were two newsworthy events going on at Passaic Valley that afternoon. One was Dubuque’s injury and the other was a massive snowstorm which was supposed to hit the local area. The predictions were for more than two feet of snow for early the following week, with 40 mile-per-hour winds that could produce five foot drifts. (If you knew then Passaic Valley coach Nick Zarra, he gave the best description of the storm, with that raspy voice).

On spec, the NJSIAA pushed the next round of wrestling, then called the super regions, back a day to March 7, in deference to the storm. Because Dubuque finished third in the region, he would need to win his first match at the super regions to assure himself a trip to Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands that weekend for the state championships, then win a second time that evening to assure himself a chance at winning a second state title.

The aforementioned snowstorm never occurred. But the extra day off for the super regions would help Dubuque’s recovery. This is also where the friendship between Montes and Dubuque took another turn.

Super Regions, March 7

Dubuque and Montes had hoped to wrestle each other in a state championship final in 2001. A year earlier, Montes had made it to the 112-pound semifinals before losing and eventually finishing sixth in the state. Dubuque, who was wrestling in the other semifinal that year, went on to win the state championship at the Meadowlands.

“We had come pretty close to facing each other a year earlier for a state title,” Montes said. “So we both felt that it would be our year. When Joe got hurt, it changed all the matchups for the super regions. There was even talk after he originally got hurt that maybe I’d medically forfeit the region final, so we would avoid having to wrestle each other in the super regions.”

Montes didn’t forfeit the Region 4 final. He defeated Messina, 13-8, for the 119-pound title. But that meant he would most likely face Dubuque in the super regions at Union High School, assuming Dubuque defeated Roselle Park’s Dan Appello in the preliminary round earlier that evening.

“I couldn’t forfeit a region final,” Montes said. “You have to understand that when we competed back then, wrestling was everything to us. That’s the way it was meant to be (14) years ago. I always kid (Messina) that he messed everything up that year. In a way, the best thing I ever did was wrestle Joe that night in Union. I’ll never forget it.”

Nor, would the large crowd in attendance that evening at the super regions.

Dubuque won his first round match over Appello, ending Appello’s season and setting the stage for his match with Montes later that night. Both guys were assured of a trip to the Meadowlands, but the victor would be advancing to the winner’s bracket.

Dubuque, who was back in good health, won a 7-5 decision. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the two embraced and Dubuque raised Montes’ hand in victory, even though Dubuque had won. Many in the crowd had tears in their eyes. The standing ovation lasted at least two minutes.

“There were other matches going on, and most of those matches stopped for a few seconds,” Montes said. “It was unbelievable. The crowd was so loud. Our A.D. back then (Angelo Franicola) often talked about what an incredible level of sportsmanship that match had represented. I’ll never forget it, and I had lost. While you never like to lose, I felt good in that I had wrestled really well that night.”

Dubuque would later say, and continues to reiterate today, that there was no loser in that match.

“We had wanted to face each other in the state final,” Dubuque said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

State Championships, March 10-11

Now at the Meadowlands, Dubuque would not be stopped. On March 10, he won by technical fall in a bout that lasted just four minutes. The following day, he started with a 15-5 victory in the semis, setting the stage for the state final opposite Matt Anderson of South Plainfield, himself a state champion in 2000 at 103 pounds. Dubuque would wrestle a vintage match in the finals, recording four take downs en route to an 11-5 victory. As the final horn sounded before nearly 14,000 fans that day, Dubuque broke down and cried.

“If you knew Joe, you’d know he wasn’t the type to be emotional,” Phillips said. “But he had been through so much that week and to realize he was a state champion again meant the world to him.”

Dubuque called Anderson the nicest person he had ever met in the post-match press conference. He thanked his family and friends for their love and support. He would stand on the top deck of the podium that afternoon, and Montes would stand on the podium as well, having finished seventh in the state at 119 pounds.

“When you deal with an injury that could end your season, it puts things in perspective,” Dubuque had said at the time. “I got a second chance, and I’ll never forget it.”

That second title meant so much more to Dubuque in the subsequent weeks.

“If he was unable to continue after the injury,” Phillips said, “I doubt he would have had the college career he did. At the time, Joe wasn’t known, nationally, as a great wrestler. But winning in 2001 gave him a chance to compete in the senior nationals, and he won there as well.”

Aftermath

Dubuque received a scholarship to wrestle at the Indiana University. In 2005 and 2006, he would win a pair of NCAA championships.

“Winning two national championships was great,” said Dubuque, who finished his high school career with a 134-7 record. “But I’m not sure any of it happens without winning that second state title. It changed my life.”

Phillips admits to this day that he’s still not sure he did the right thing in allowing Dubuque to continue wrestling at the regions back on March 3, 2001.

“It still have doubts,” Phillips said. “Obviously, it turned out good for Joe, but I wonder if I should have let him continue. For sure, if that kind of injury happened today, there’s no way he could have continued. There are so many safeguards in place now for head injuries and a lot more awareness.”

Messina, whose season ended at the super regions in 2001, also wouldn’t trade the experience of that weekend.

“I remember watching the state finals with some friends on television that year and hearing them announce Joe’s name and that his record was 30-something and 1, and my friends saying ‘yeah, his only loss was to you,’” Messina said. “I know he was the better wrestler, and I wish he hadn’t gotten hurt, but it does mean a lot to me, today, to know that I was a part of that story.”

Montes would go on to earn a third state medal in 2002 and later was a successful assistant wrestling coach at Nutley High, working with DiPiano.

“Messina and I are great friends,” Montes said. “He works out with some of our kids on the mat, but it’s funny, we’ve never gotten back on the mat and wrestled each other, even for fun. We’ve left those experiences to memory.”

Looking Back

“There were so many good wresters from that era in New Jersey,” said Dubuque, who today is a husband and father of two. “I think of guys like Montes, Messina, DiPiano and Trabucco and how talented they were. To be a part of that experience was something I’ll never forget. I’m still close to all those guys because of that and I’ll always be grateful.”

Dubuque won his second state title on March 11, 2001. Many will recall what happened six months to the day later as a timeline in their own lives.

“Things were really different,” Dubuque said of his high school days in the pre 9-11 era. “The times were less complicated. Yeah, there were cell phones and computers, but it wasn’t like now. I’m glad I grew up when I did. I’ll never forget the little things which made that time special. As close as we were off the mat, when we wrestled, it was a battle. When it was over, we were back to being friends. And that will continue for the rest of our lives.”

And thus, the legend of Dubuque Saturday, March 3, 2001.

By mike051893

It’s ‘Rainfall’ once again, as Chet ‘The Jet’ lands back at Passaic Valley High

I’ll never forget it. It was Nov. 5, 1977, a Saturday afternoon, and I’m covering a high school football game, at Belleville High, between Seton Hall Prep and the-then Bellboys.

Belleville had a new coach that year in John Senesky, and after an 0-4 start, the Bellboys had won two straight, defeating Irvington, 17-14, and Essex Catholic, 26-18. The team was gaining some confidence, but Seton Hall Prep would be a tall order.

The Pony Pirates of ’77 were a loaded football team. Its defense was magnificent, led by a senior linebacker named Chet Parlavecchio. After winning its first five games of that 1977 season in dominant fashion, Seton Hall ended up in a scoreless tie in week six against Paterson Kennedy. No one expected that, and the Prep was certainly surly heading to Belleville for week seven.

Before the game even kicked off, Belleville assistant coach Joe D’Ambola informed the game officials that Joe Aulisi, a stud player at the Prep, wasn’t wearing the required hip pad. The official concurred and before the National Anthem was even played, the Prep had been tagged with a 15-yard penalty.

D’Ambola’s action infuriated the Prep players, who decided to take its revenge on the field.

Early on, it was obvious Seton Hall was a way better team. The Pony Pirates would lead, 42-0, at halftime and went on to a 63-0 victory. I remember Parlavecchio, on one play, yelling over to the sideline, ‘it’s going to be like rainfall, Boys.’ And I remember thinking I couldn’t stand that guy, no matter how good he was as a football player.

Rainfall? Huh?

Parlavecchio would actually score a defensive touchdown in the game and admitted he threw up in the end zone.

Seton Hall Prep would end up 10-0-1 that season. I’ve often said that the 1977 high school football season in New Jersey was one of the best ever. Westfield and Barringer would play an epic playoff game at Giants Stadium in December, before over 40,000 fans, and many would counter that perhaps Seton Hall Prep was the best team in the state that year.

Years later, when Chet ‘The Jet’ became a high school football coach at Bloomfield High, after a stellar playing career at Penn State and in the NFL, he and I would kid often about that game in 1977.

“Joe D’Ambola was a character,” Chet laughed. “It was all in fun, but as kids, football is all we knew. We lived and breathed it. And after Paterson Kennedy had held us to a scoreless tie a week earlier, we really wanted that game.”

It’s that commitment to excellence which has made Parlavecchio (today a very good friend to me), the outstanding coach he has become. He is now returning to Passaic Valley High for his second tenure as head coach. He’s also been a head coach at Bloomfield, Irvington, Clifton and Elizabeth, as well as a stint as a college coach at Temple University and three years as an NFL assistant coach. He helped turn Bloomfield from a team that hadn’t won a game in nearly five years into a playoff team two years after taking over.

parlavecchio-0225-bl-tifChet’s pride and joy, his wife and two children.

Lorenzo Sozio, today the highly successful athletic director at Mount St. Dominic Academy, was the quarterback the day Bloomfield snapped that losing skein in 1988, against Paramus Catholic.

Parlavecchio remembers every game he’s ever coached, whether it be a win, loss, or tie.

“In 1988, we tied Belleville (6-6), and I still haven’t forgotten it,” he said, referring to his second year as Bloomfield’s head coach. “Coaching against John Senesky was always special. He was a class act. And seeing D’Ambola again got me fired up.”

I often kid Chet that while Seton Hall Prep may have beaten Belleville that day in ’77, 63-0, two years later, the Prep came back to Belleville and the Buccaneers won a thriller, 14-13. A year after that, the Bucs went to Seton Hall and dominated, 34-8.

While we’re not kids anymore, Chet and I appreciate those days. He’s a husband and father today, and speaks volumes of the successes his children, Nicole and Chet Jr. are having as young adults in the professional world of teaching and coaching.

And now, he’ll be roaming the sidelines at PV again, wearing that Green and White, and trying his best to get a group of young men to play football the way he sees fit.

It’s going to be fun, make no mistake about that.

 

 

By mike051893

A District 14 Tradition: Mac & Cheese from Michele Florio-Campisi

The District 14 wrestling championships were held last Saturday at Livingston High School. Besides the usual good wrestling and fun in catching up with some old friends like Bob Keenan and the various coaches, there was the pan of macaroni and cheese prepared by my good friend, Michele Florio-Campisi.

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For years, Michele’s mac and cheese was a regular on the menu at District 14. However, with some changes in the way food is prepared, the M & C lost a spot in the starting lineup. But for the past few years, Michele has made it a point of preparing a tray for me to bring home.

There are traditions you never want to see end, when it comes to covering various sporting events.  Over the past year, Michele and I have enjoyed a nice friendship on social media. We’ve kept up with each other’s comings and goings, the happiness and occasional heartbreak.

And through it all, she’s made the third weekend in February something special at Livingston High.

I’ve already eaten most of this, and am already looking forward to the next tray in 2016.

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Thanks so much, Michele !

By mike051893

Bob Mayer: A Hall of Famer Long Before He Got the Call

Bloomfield High athletic director Steve Jenkins made official in an E-mail what most of us have known for a long time.

Bob Mayer, Bloomfield’s long-time softball coach, as well as that school’s girls’ soccer coach for many years, will be inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Officially, Mayer will receive said induction on March 29, at the Pines Manor, in Edison. Unofficially, anyone who knows Bob gets the fact that he’s represented all that is right with high school athletics for a generation, maybe longer. So, in the minds of most who count, Bob Mayer could have been signing ‘HOF’ next to his name long before the Scholastic Coaches verified it.

Mayer is not only one of the best coaches to come out of Bloomfield High (and that’s saying a lot, considering the Bengals’ history), but he’s also a BHS graduate and an educator in the school system. He’s devoted his entire life to the community and is as humble as they get.

When he won his 400th career game as Bloomfield’s softball coach in 2008, he preferred to thank the Town of Bloomfield for its support.

bloomOne in a myriad of successful Bloomfield teams, coached by (now) Hall of Famer, Bob Mayer.

When his team won the 1999 Essex County championship in softball, Mayer insisted the Bengals wait to take its traditional victory lap around the bases until the opposing ball club had boarded its bus and departed Pulaski Park, so that it didn’t appear to be disrespectful.

bloom 3Among the outstanding players Mayer coached was Jenna Orlando, now a standout at Lafayette College.

He is often called “Mr. Mayer” by Mount St. Dominic softball coach and athletic director, Lorenzo Sozio, because Lorenzo, himself a BHS grad, knew Bob first as a teacher.

When Mayer’s teams lost a close game, he never ducked a reporter, or issued the ‘no comment’ answer that some may do.

For Mayer, softball is a year-long passion. He still speaks reverently of those who once played for him and can probably tell you how that young lady is doing today, in life.

Mayer spends most of his summer coaching Bloomfield in an Essex County league, that he helps coordinate. He’s at every game, hitting infield with the kids, and then coaching with a fevered passion when most feel that it’s just a summer game.

Bob Mayer has garnered a great deal of respect from his peers, as well. The competition in the Super Essex Conference, and before that, the NNJIL, brings out the best in diligent coaches and talented players, and Mayer’s teams have always risen to that challenge.

“If anyone is deserving of a Hall of Fame induction, it is Coach Mayer,” said Immaculate Heart Academy softball coach Anthony Larezza. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Coach Mayer for 20 years. He always got the most out of his players. Whenever you played anyone of his teams, you knew going into that game that they were going to be well-coached, well-disciplined and play hard. Some tremendous players have come out of his programs, and I’m sure they would be the first to tell you that they wouldn’t have been the player or person if it weren’t for Coach Mayer. Congratulations to him and all the people he has influenced.”

Sozio was also thrilled for his friend and colleague.

“Coach Mayer being inducted into the NJ Scholastic Coaches Hall of Fame does not come as a surprise to me,” said Sozio. “He has been a fixture on the diamond at Bloomfield High for many years. When you talk Essex County Softball, Coach Mayer’s name and the tradition at Bloomfield have to be part of the conversation with all the success he has had. Mount St. Dominic Academy (MSDA) has had some great contests over the years with Bloomfield in conference play, as well as Essex County Tournament play. He is one of the hardest working coaches on and off the field that I have seen in Essex County.

“When Bloomfield High is not practicing or playing, you can be sure Coach Mayer is taking in a high school softball game somewhere in the area.

“MSDA congratulates Coach Mayer on his induction into the Hall of Fame.”

Belleville coach Chris Cantarella has coached against Mayer for 15 years, first as an assistant coach, then as head coach, since 2006.

“Bob has always been nothing but professional, his teams are always prepared,” said Cantarella. “When you play against his teams, it is always a battle, and I have enjoyed competing against him and his team over the years.”

Mayer has led Bloomfield to multiple Essex County softball championships, including back-to-back titles in 1999 and 2000. He’s also won multiple state sectional crowns and has coached countless All-Conference, All-County and All-State players. He prefers to talk about his athletes, rather than himself.

Sometime in the 2015 season, Mayer will most likely reach the 500 victory plateau for his career, a rare accomplishment in New Jersey. (He’s 12 wins shy going into the season). When he does reach 500, he’ll be just the third coach in Essex County history to reach 500, joining Carl Corino of Belleville and Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan, who won his 600th game late last season.

“Congratulations to Coach Bob Mayer on his induction to the Hall of Fame,” said Teshkoyan. “It is quite an honor for him and his program. I have always enjoyed playing against his teams, they fight hard, can hit like heck and are well-coached. He’s a great competitor, and has been a credit to Essex County Softball for all these years.

And now, Mayer’s work will be recognized on the state level, on March 29.

Congratulations, Mr. Mayer….Great job, and thanks for being the man you are.

It makes this honor even more noteworthy.

By mike051893

Karen Purcell: Wife, Mother and Devoted Fan

The news hit with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer.

Karen Purcell passed away on Jan. 30. She left behind her husband,  and three wonderful children.

Rhyme nor reason needn’t apply here. Karen was just 53.

She and her husband, Tim, have seen their fraternal twin daughters, Eileen and Jamie, excel in college, both as students and athletes, and most importantly, as responsible young adults.

The Purcells’ son, Michael, a sports encyclopedia, outstanding golfer and as nice a young man as they come, is in high school.

Karen and Tim never asked for accolades as they raised their children. They just did their job.

11086321-largeThe Purcell family, through the years.

When Eileen and Jamie were ready to start high school, their parents had a tough decision to make. While the family resided in Nutley, there was a thought of sending both to Mount St. Dominic Academy, a private all-girls school in Caldwell.

Eileen was an up and coming star at shortstop, Jamie a stud catcher, when they started high school in the fall of 2008. Both were above-average students.

Eileen opted to attend Nutley High, Jamie decided MSDA would be the place for her.

Karen Purcell, a woman whose smile defined her exterior, and I would become friends while her daughters were in high school. As graduation neared for her girls in 2012, she took some time to reflect on what it was like to have them at different high schools.

11086281-large(Left to Right) Karen Purcell, Jamie, Eileen and Tim Purcell following a Nutley at Mount St. Dominic Academy softball game in late May of 2012. It was Eileen’s final high school game after a marvelous career at shortstop at Nutley High School.

“Looking back, Tim and I couldn’t be happier with the way things went,” Karen told me on the day MSDA played Nutley in what would be Eileen’s final high school game, in late May of 2012.

“The Mount was the ideal spot for Jamie. She would have done well at Nutley, but the structure of a private school was better for her. Eileen? (Karen giggled). The Mount wouldn’t have been for her. Having them at different schools was a challenge, but it turned out great.”

With the girls at different schools and playing softball on usually the same day and time, Karen and Tim would alternate which game they’d attend. On the occasion when MSD and Nutley would play each other, the itinerary was easy.

In 2011, Nutley and Mount St. Dominic played for the Essex County championship at Ivy Hill Park in Newark. Nutley won, 3-0. Afterward, a noticeably emotional Tim reflected on watching his daughters play against each other.

To paraphrase, he hated it, because like any parent, he didn’t want to see a child be disappointed.

Jamie took it all in stride, saying it was “all good.”

Eileen would later say, “(Jamie and I) never talked too much about our teams during the season. When we beat Livingston in the county semi (to assure a berth in the final opposite Mount St. Dominic), Jamie and I didn’t even see each other that night, and we live in the same house. When we won, we talked about the game that night for a few minutes and then moved on. She’s my sister and that tops anything on the field.”

As they grew up in high school, Eileen and Jamie turned from shy to well-rounded young adults, with sparking personalities.

If it’s true that the apple never falls far from the tree, and thanks to some caring and attentive parenting, Karen and Tim’s children are doing well.

Karen Purcell was a loving wife and mother. She would stay close to her daughters, but wanted them to thrive on their own, as well. In the craziness of the high school softball circuit and the hundreds of games in the fall, summer and spring, Karen often knew the score when it came to coaches and college scouts, but she wanted her daughters to learn that process, as well.

After the twins graduated, Karen, Tim and I stayed friendly. Karen did some work at a prestigious country club in Union County and she and I had the chance to speak during an event at that club last year. Of course, most of the conversation revolved around how her kids were doing in college.

Karen and I had just met up about 10 days ago. She told me that Eileen was heading back to school (at Central Connecticut State) after the holiday break, while Jamie would be home a few more days before going back to The College of New Jersey. Both girls are juniors and playing softball on the collegiate level.

To try to comprehend Karen’s passing will be impossible. God has chosen to welcome her home, and there’s no questioning that.

Tim, Jamie, Eileen and Michael, along with a host of family and friends, will need to grieve in their own way. We can only hope that they will be buoyed by the support, love and friendship of those closest to them.

I will miss Karen’s very dry sense of humor, that sly smile and directness. You always knew where you stood with her, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Hours after her mother’s passing, Jamie took the time to write me after I had posted a remembrance of her mother. She wrote the following: “Thank you Mr. Lamberti for that post of us. It just brought the three of us too tears. Such great times. My mom and I were just talking about you two weeks ago and how great you were to us and her. And we are forever thankful!”

That says all you need to know about the quality of the Purcells.

Karen’s legacy will live on with her children, and somewhere, Karen is flashing that smile once again.

She did a good job.

 

 

 

By mike051893

Fifth Annual Gift of Life Duals will once again honor Big D’s legacy of giving back

At 44 years old, Michael DiPiano had indeed entered the cross roads. With his health deteriorating because of diabetes, the Nutley native was on dialysis for kidney failure and had been read his Last Rites. He was a devoted husband and father of three, a well known wrestling coach and athletic director in New Jersey. But now, his life was seemingly coming to an end.

That was 20 years ago. Today, DiPiano (Big D to his friends) is beginning the 64th year of his life. What changed the course for this man?

“The greatest gift of all,” DiPiano said with a smile. “I’ll never be able to repay that gift.”

The gift was an organ transplant. In DiPiano’s case, it meant a new lease on life, after receiving a kidney and pancreas on Oct. 25, 1998. The organs were donated by a man we’ll know simply as Sean, a 21-year-old who, on Oct. 24, 1998, was killed in an automobile accident. Sean had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of his death.

DiPiano had never meant Sean, but he lives life every day with the constant reminder that Sean is indeed a part of him.

“Back in 1995, I was told I would need a double transplant because of a nearly 30-year battle with diabetes,” DiPiano recalled. “I remember a year later, I was at the Olympics in Atlanta and I was told to get to a hospital right away. My sugar was high but I thought I’d be okay. Later that summer, when I was back home, I was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital and got so sick that (St. Benedict’s Headmaster) Father Edwin (Leahy) read my Last Rites, and they were already planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s.”

10478566-largeMike DiPiano Sr. (right) with Delbarton wrestling coach Bryan Stoll (left) and state champion Guy Russo of West Essex at the Gift of Life Duals in 2012.

At that time, Dr. Leon Smith stepped in, through a contact of Fr. Leahy’s. A renowned Internist who specializes in infectious diseases, he assessed DiPiano’s condition. “Whatever he did, he took me from a five to 10 percent chance of surviving,” DiPiano recalled. “He saved my life, because even Father Edwin said ‘if he can get to 10 percent, he’ll make it.’”

Having administered the last rites to DiPiano, Fr. Leahy knew a higher power was looking out for DiPiano.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Smith and the Grace of God, we would have lost him a long time ago,” Fr. Leahy said. “He went from a 5 percent chance of survival to the poster child for organ transplant. It’s a great overall story.”

DiPiano’s new lease on life will be recounted at the fifth annual Gift of Life Wrestling Duals, set for this Saturday at Northern Valley-Demarest High School. With a wrestling theme of ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’ as a backdrop, there will be eight teams competing, including the host school, Demarest, which is coached by DiPiano’s eldest son, Mike, Nutley, coached by youngest son Frank, along with Delbarton of Morris Township, Garfield, Montville, Bergenfield, St. Benedict’s and Robbinsville.

fd1Mike DiPiano and youngest son, Frank, after Nutley won the 2012 Essex County Tournament championship for the first time in school history. Frank is Nutley’s head coach, and has since led Nutley to three straight District 14 championships, as well.

Wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m. with the finals set for approximately 3 p.m. This is the second year that the Duals will be held at Demarest, after being contested at Nutley High since the inception in 2011.

DiPiano’s association with St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark is legendary. As the wrestling coach there, he amassed a record of 274-89, and was named the state’s Coach of the Year by the Star-Ledger in 1987. He is a member of the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, as well as the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. After coaching at St. Benedict’s, DiPiano became the school’s athletic director. Now retired as the A.D., he remains associated with St. Benedict’s.

In May of 2011, he received the school’s highest honor to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.

“Mike DiPiano helped build this place,” Fr. Leahy said of St. Benedict’s. “He must have held a thousand different positions here. He was the spine of the school.”

10513806-largeMike DiPiano Sr. along with sons and current wrestling coaches Michael (left) and Frank.

DiPiano’s family, wife Karen, daughter Michelle and sons Michael Jr. and Frank had never given up on the rock of their family beating any kind of odds.

“My kids were incredible during the toughest times,” Karen DiPiano recalled. “We’re a close family and everyone took a part in being there for him. We all believed he’d get better.”

DiPiano was on dialysis for nearly two years, and at the top of the list for a transplant, before fate intervened in October, 1998.

“Back then, everyone used beepers to keep in touch,” DiPiano said. “I’m out with a friend and the beeper goes off, and I thought it was his. But he looked at me, and said ‘no, it’s yours’. That beeper was there only to inform me of a possible transplant match, so when I returned the call, I knew things would be happening quickly.”

When DiPiano was informed that there was a match for his kidney and pancreas, there was little time to get to know who the donor was. The surgery was scheduled for Oct. 25, 1998, a date which is clearly evident on Michael’s right arm in the form of a tattoo.

get-attachment.aspxThe tattoo on DiPiano’s arm, honoring Sean.

“The surgery lasted about eight hours,” DiPiano recalled. “I was in the hospital about seven days. The biggest concern after a transplant is that the body could reject it, but everything went well. I could tell pretty quickly how much better I was feeling. I don’t think I really knew how sick I was until after the transplant.”

DiPiano actually has three kidneys now. “They don’t remove the old kidneys, they kind of stored them in my body,” he said with a laugh. “The one working kidney is in the normal place.”

With a new pancreas, DiPiano’s diabetes is no longer the concern it once was. With his blood sugar near normal, he doesn’t need to take insulin, but is careful with his diet.

As his health improved, DiPiano returned to work at St. Benedict’s in January of 1999. “I might have gone back a little too early,” he said, “but I felt like I was ready.”

He also wanted to know more about Sean.

“Normally, the process with a donor is that it’s anonymous,” DiPiano said. “I have gotten to communicate with Sean’s mother through E-mail, and while I’ve never met her, I hope to one day.”

DiPiano’s passion is talking about the importance of organ donation. He has been to numerous high schools in New Jersey, where he usually begins by showing a film clip about Jason Ray, the 21-year-old mascot for the University of North Carolina basketball team who was struck by a car and killed in 2007 while walking to a diner on Route 4 in Ft. Lee. (Lee was there because the basketball team was in New Jersey for the NCAA Eastern Regional).

“Jason was a organ donor, and that film really has an impact on the kids,” DiPiano said. “It goes on to show the many people Jason saved by being a donor. It’s very emotional.”

On the surface, DiPiano is a hard-nosed individual, a man’s-man who takes no prisoners, so to speak. But he has no problems expressing his emotions on this subject. He recalls attending the first Transplant Games, for those athletes who are recipients of organ donation, in Minnesota eight years ago.

“When I went to the first Transplant Games, it was such an overwhelming feeling for me,” DiPiano, his eyes welling, recalled. “That’s when I had the tattoo made, to honor Sean, the date of my transplant, as well as the initials of a very close friend, Peter Kupczak.”

DiPiano’s message has resonated well in New Jersey, where the theme of Saturday’s tournament will focus on the need for people to be organ donors.

Michael Sr. has been to numerous Transplant Games since 1998, both in the United States and abroad, including Thailand and Australia. DiPiano has competed in athletic events at the games. He speaks constantly on the need to be an organ donor. He is very much involved with the work of the National Kidney Foundation, as well as the New Jersey Sharing Network, which procures tissues and organs.

“Over 110,000 people are waiting for an organ donation of some sort,” DiPiano said. “Twenty five die, waiting, each day. It is truly amazing what medical science can do when someone gets a new lease on life with a heart, lung, pancreas, kidney or liver. It’s amazing.”

Mike DiPiano is indeed an amazing man. He thanks his family, his friends and loved ones for the constant support. And he remembers a young man named Sean.“I’ll never be able to thank him enough,” DiPiano said.

“I just hope I can meet his mom one day and tell her that.”DiPianoM_122012_BT_tif_Mike DiPiano, Sr., hosts a Christmas party every year at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for children who have had, or will be receiving, an organ transplant. He’s here with his reliable ‘Elves’. 

By mike051893

John Engel: Husband, Father, Doting Grandfather and Wonderful Friend

John Engel’s legacy will be easy to define.

He was an honest, hard-working man, as loyal as they came, with a dry sense of humor, and a legendary scowl.

In the banking business, he demanded excellence, and when it was attained, he rewarded it.

As a husband, father and eventual grandfather, he was the proverbial putty in the hands of those who loved him most.

John was called home on Jan. 6, after a long and courageous battle with an illness. As he worked to stay in good health, through rounds of treatment, he never complained, other than to say he was tired on certain days. He wanted to enjoy as much time as possible with his wife, Jan, and the couple’s daughters, and the grandchildren. It was just recently that John and Jan had purchased a beautiful new home in Teaneck, and John couldn’t wait to move in.

John and I went back a while. I first met him in 1982, when I was a newcomer to the banking business. We both worked at National Community Bank of New Jersey. He was a branch manager at the time, at an office in Carlstadt. I was a management trainee who was assigned to work in his office for a few days.

Eventually, John moved up to the rank of Vice President and Regional Administrator in what was referred to as ‘Region 3′ at NCB, which encompassed northern Bergen County, including Teaneck, where John lived, Englewood, Hackensack, South Hackensack, Ridgefield, Edgewater and Norwood. John was a natural for that RA role, which required a strong background in branch operations. He was never the guy who enjoyed making the business calls on prospective customers, but loved to delve into the guts of banking, making sure all the branches he was assigned to administer were towing the line.

get-attachment.aspxMy friend, John Engel.

In 1986, I was named a branch manager in John’s region, and for the next eight years, we became pretty good friends. He would always be on my case about something, making sure my office in Ridgefield, and later in Englewood, was following strict procedures. John taught me the importance of diligence, of following up and never thinking I was too good at my job.

He and our Senior Officer, Mike Ferrara, ran a fun region. Mike was the ultimate businessman, always looking to make a good commercial loan while John was the guy making sure the money we made on loans wasn’t slipping out the back door in the form of poor auditing control.

I eventually became a Vice President at NCB, through Mike and John’s guidance, and will tell you those were wonderful times to be in the business.I remember those legendary barbeques at John’s house on Memorial Day weekend. John loved car racing and usually the barbecue was on the day of the Indianapolis 500. So, John would use the VCR to tape the race, and made sure none of us would tell him who won before he could watch it that night.

When NCB was purchased by the Bank of New York in 1993, John’s administrative duties moved him onto a new bank, where I eventually joined him at the Trust Co. of New Jersey. We would also work together at a bank in Union, NJ. John eventually retired from banking a few years back, and I’m happy to say we remained good friends.

We would have dinner once a month, for a while, and he had that same crazy, dry sense of humor. We’d reminisce about the people we worked with during the NCB days and kid about the fact that he detested flying in an airplane. When we worked together at NCB, and I went on a vacation to California, he’s often kid me to take flight insurance and name him as the beneficiary.

When he was diagnosed with an illness last year, he called me to say he was optimistic about his future. We would e-mail each other regularly, and I kept telling him I would love to stop by and have some pizza with him, just to catch up. He said we would, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

On Jan. 7, his wife Jan sent me a note to give her a call. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable call, but when she said he had died the night before, it still hit home.

There are people who leave an indelible impression on one’s life, simply by being a good man.

John Engel was such a person. He did what a man is supposed to do, and wanted no fanfare in return. In true John Engel fashion, his last e-mail to me, on Dec. 17, 2014, was one of his usual crazy political messages, which always drew a laugh, or two.

Thank you, John, for being a friend and teaching much more than what it took to succeed in business. I’ll miss those crazy e-mails with a political overtone that we both agreed on, and I’ll miss not having those dinners with you.

God Bless you, John.

Until we meet again.

By mike051893

Here’s to the Women of Wayne Hills Football

Football is generally considered a male dominated sport, but the popularity of the game certainly transcends to the women, as well.

At Wayne Hills High School, football has been wildly popular, especially over the past decade, as the Patriots captured eight NJSIAA championships, not to mention the 55-game winning streak for the program from 2002-2011.

Many of the players who make up the team, throughout the years, have been buoyed by supportive parents, and that was the case again in 2014.

Wayne Hills finished its season on Nov. 13, with a 47-0 win over Montville in a NJSIAA consolation game. The Patriots were 5-5 this year, matching last year’s record.

The finished product on the field is the result of many hours of practice and preparation. What most fans don’t see, however, is the work put it in with pre-game dinners for the players and coaches, not to mention special events before, during and after the season, such as the Kickoff Breakfast, the Mother-Son Breakfast and the Father-Son Beefsteak.

The pre-game dinners are pretty special. and a number of players’ mothers contribute mightily to a great time prior to a home, or away game.

There is a nice variety of food at the event, both hot and cold, as well as some enthusiastic parents who serve the players. Head coach Wayne Demikoff keeps the event at a precision level, with the seniors eating first, followed by the juniors, sophomores and freshmen.

The football parents and Booster Club is led by Allyson Garrone, but she is quick to note that the dinners are a collaborative effort.

“I cannot take any credit for the great Friday Night Dinners,” said Garrone. “It is all Marsha Alechammas and Jenn Squillaci. They both put so much work into it. ”

hills2Jenn (left) and Marsha after another successful pre-game meal prior to Wayne Hills football game. (Photos are courtesy of Albina Sportelli)

Garrone also noted the successful Diamond Sponsor program the Booster Club sponsored this season, as well as protein shakes at the pre-game dinners; Squillaci providing cupcakes and Alechammas bringing Halloween candy, as well as Marsha’s husband making bracelets for the cheerleaders as gifts from the football players to the girls.

“On senior night, it was the junior mothers who helped to make that such a success,” said Garrone. “The Big Brother program, where the Panthers and Wolfpack players joined the high school players for dinner, was also put together by our group.”

So, as someone who truly appreciates how special Wayne Hills runs its football program, a sincere thanks to all the Women of Wayne Hills Football, 2014.

hillsLeft to right, Julie Vigorito, Maureen Palczewski, Jen Squillaci, Marsha Alechamas, Allyson Garrone, Diane Ramsay, Stephanie Petracco and Albina Sportelli.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By mike051893

Chris Garrone says thanks to his mother, Allyson, on a job well done

“My mom has to be the strongest, most hard-working person I’ve ever met. I couldn’t have asked for a better mom. She dedicated the past four years of her life to my football career, and the Wayne Hills program. she works two jobs, one being football.

“She’s the best.”

Wayne Hills running back Chris Garrone, talking about his mother, Allyson

As the 2014 high school football season winds down at Wayne Hills, there’s the usual nostalgia that comes with that, especially for the seniors. For many, the Nov. 13 game opposite Montville will be the final organized football game for the seniors, most of whom have been playing for the better part of 10 years.

Along with the players, the parents also take an emotional stake in their son’s athletic endeavors. At Wayne Hills, the parental involvement is outstanding, with pre-game meals, post-game celebrations, the Kickoff breakfast in May, the Mother-Son breakfast in October,  the Father-Son beefsteak on Thanksgiving Eve,  and ultimately, the football dinner in early January, in which 350 to 400 people attend.

Among the seniors in 2014 is Chris Garrone, a hard-nosed tailback who has been a big part of the Patriots season this fall. Garrone’s mother, Allyson, is also an integral part of what makes the program the success it is, Allyson practically lives on her computer, sending football updates to everyone on the mailing list and following up to make sure the aforementioned events are run smoothly.

get-attachment

Chris Garrone and his mother, Allyson, at the 2014 Mother-Son breakfast.

It’s that kind of effort and fortitude which makes football at Hills special. The eight state championships since 2002, the 55-game winning streak from 2004-2009 and the 19 consecutive playoff appearances reflect winning. And while this year’s team didn’t qualify for the playoffs, the work ethic never wavered.

“What Allyson does for this program is incredible,” said Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff. “I can’t say enough about what she does to make this a first class operation.”

Chris Garrone wanted to make sure his mother’s work wasn’t overlooked.

“My mom has to be the strongest, most hard-working person I’ve ever met,” Chris said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better mom. She dedicated the past four years of her life to my football career, and the Wayne Hills program. she works two jobs, one being football.

“She’s the best.”

Allyson and her husband, Bob, can certainly be proud of the young man they’ve raised.

 

 


			
By mike051893