Four years later, George Zanfini’s love of Belleville and zest for life are remembered by so many





Surrogate Father and Godfather.

Scoreboard Operator.

Kentucky Basketball Maniac.

You name it, and for 72 years, George Zanfini filled just about all those roles.

Most importantly, he may have been the first in the Belleville school system to receive the highest accolade a kid could provide a teacher. George was known by just one letter. He was ‘Z’. Or, to most of us kids, ‘Mr. Z’. 

George Zanfini, in 2008, after the varsity baseball field at Belleville High was named after him.

George was called home on Aug. 19, 2015, leaving so many people pondering his legacy, friendship, or just recalling a moment with George, and laughing, and crying at the same time. The outpouring of emotion and respect for this man from people ages 25-75 on social media has been staggering, both at the time of his death and for years since.

Z was 72 years old, and if anyone was the ultimate Bellevilleite, it was him. 

George, here with good friends Chipper Biafore, Frank Fazzini, Alan Frank, Phil Agosta and myself, in 2014.

Now, four years after his passing, George continues to mentor so many of us.

George was the man, plain and simple. A 1961 graduate of Belleville High, he never left the township he loved. In the ultimate irony, he passed away in his long-time Belleville home. 

“I can’t even tell you what this man meant to me,” said Alan Frank, a 1973 BHS graduate who later coached baseball at his alma mater, when discussing George’s passing four years ago. “When I came back to coach (in 1999), I really had to work on George to get him to be an assistant on my staff. I needed his help with all the work that goes into being a head coach. He stayed with me for two seasons. And George was always there. When I was a kid, our class of 1973 had such a bond with him.”

In 2011, George joined members of the 1981 GNT champion Belleville baseball team at Ken Constantino’s golf outing, at Hendricks Field.

George once told me a story about these small college pennants he’d hang up in his classroom way back when, and how the students really took to naming the school and team moniker, especially during the college football season. 

I first met Z some 48 years ago, when he was my Social Studies teacher in the eighth grade at the Belleville Junior High School, on Washington Avenue.

It was hard to believe that George was just 28 back then. I learned about the Civil War, Reconstruction and World Wars I and II during that class in the 1971-72 school year. I became a fan of History because of him. As the years went on, George would move to Belleville High as a teacher around the same time I started at the high school. I knew he was a heck of a freshman football coach and an even better baseball coach. 

In 2016, the Belleville High softball team wore the letter Z on their helmets to honor the late coach.

When I started writing for a newspaper, in 1975, George and I would often speak about a game that he coached, or reminisce about a season. He would kid how then head freshman football coach John Senesky would practice for hours. “I’d tell him, John it’s too dark out, we gotta send these kids home. But John was so dedicated.” 

Nearly nine years after graduating high school, a young man named Phil Cuzzi had a dream to attend professional umpiring school. Problem was, he didn’t have the money to go. A quick conversation with George changed all that. Seventeen years later, Phil Cuzzi was named a Major League Baseball Umpire and continues to thrive on the MLB circuit today. In 2017, Phil worked his first World Series and this year was named to work his second MLB All-Star Game.

In 2013, George was given a surprise party, celebrating his 70th birthday, at the Chandelier.

Phil and George were as close as two friends could possibly be. George once called the loan he gave to Phil the best loan he ever gave to someone.

My last conversation with George was in July, 2015, after his favorite all-time BHS baseball player, Frank Fazzini, found out he was being inducted into the Florida State University Hall of Fame later in 2015. Frank was hoping George would be able to attend those ceremonies.

“Frank was a great kid then and a wonderful man now,” said Zanfini. “He was just a tremendous all-around player. We always kidded then that he was the guy without a position. And look what he accomplished at Florida State and getting a chance to play professional baseball.” 

George and John Senesky were freshman football coaches at Belleville, from 1968-1973. This photo was taken in the Fall of ’73.

Danny Constantino, another BHS grad who loved Z, made a very telling statement when he heard of George’s passing. 

“Think about how many thousands of Belleville kids’ lives Z has had an impact on,” Danny said, “He was one of a kind.” 

In 2014, the Belleville Little League was going to honor Fazzini, along with Chipper Biafore, Mike Mundy and Frank Petite for their accomplishments as professional baseball players who had grown up and played baseball in Belleville. George wanted to have dinner with some of us, so Chipper, Phil Agosta, Alan Frank and I joined George for what was a marvelous night at LaSicilia’s. We laughed, told stories and had a wonderful time. 

I said to George, “everyone at this table either had you as a teacher, or coach, a lifetime ago, and here we all are tonight. Do you realize the impact you’ve had on us?” 

And, typical Z, just smiled, and said, “I guess.” 

In 2014, George was on hand at the Belleville Little League field and was acknowledged by the crowd.

I’ve always said guys like George, Senesky and so many other teachers never realized, or at least admitted, how influential they were to us growing up in Belleville. They’re the reasons why the memories were so good. George worked the scoreboard for just about every Belleville High basketball game and wrestling match that was at the high school for five decades. He was the man on the scoreboard at high school football games, too. 

“You kids were something special,” George would say to me in the later years, recalling my high school days. “I mean, you guys were respectful and fun to be around. Your parents taught you that. I must have made $9,000 a year back then teaching, and I wouldn’t have left for anything.” 

His legacy as the Belleville High baseball coach included eight marvelous seasons between 1975-1982 and again in 1987, as well as those two years as Frank’s assistant in 1999 and 2000. George often yelled at me when I would remind him of that epic 1975 game between Belleville and Irvington, because the Bellboys lost, in 14 innings.

George and John Senesky were close friends for many years.

There was the 1981 team that won the GNT in classic style and there was George, taking it all in after the Bucs beat Glen Ridge in the final, 10-4. 

In 2007, the Belleville Township Council voted to name the baseball complex at BHS, the George ‘Z’ Zanfini Municipal Baseball Field. A year later, we finally had the ceremony to make it official, and I was lucky enough to Emcee the event. There was George, with tears in his eyes, taking in the entire night. 

George was feisty, too. If he didn’t agree with something, especially the way the school system was run, or for that matter, the Township, he’d let you know his feelings, loud and clear. It was that voice which resonated well with his friends. 

Four months after George’s passing, some close friends gathered at Belleville High, as a commemorative locker was dedicated to Zanfini’s memory.

George was a huge University of Kentucky basketball fan. When he wasn’t working the scoreboard, he’d be home watching his beloved Wildcats play hoops. He loved all sports, but he’d often get crazy about the quality of officiating. “They all (stink),” he’d say about umps, or referees. “They’re awful.” 

When Wayne Demikoff was an up and coming History teacher in George’s department at Belleville High, he was also an assistant football coach at Wayne Hills High School. Every Friday, during the football season, there was George, bringing Wayne a cup of his favorite Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, to wish Demikoff luck. 

“He was a great guy to me,” said Demikoff, now a History teacher and head football coach at Wayne Hills. “When George retired (in 2007), there was a huge void in that building. I remember how he’d come to my class and talk to my students, about history. He was something else.”

George’s sister-in-law, Trudi Posey, had told me that after George passed, that the funeral procession will stop by the baseball field to bid adieu to the ballpark George loved. 

“We’d like to give it a nice sendoff,” Trudi said, her voice cracking. 

In my faith, I believe that we will all see each other again one day. I can only imagine the Belleville party in Eternity, featuring George, Tommy Apicella, Mike Marotti, Sam Giuffrida, Ed Berlinski, Jim Silvestri, Doug Cantarella, Canio Constantino, Mike Pollard, Pete Spera, Bill Bakka, Joe D’Ambola, Chicky Puleo, ‘Doc’ Ellis, Milt Goldfarb, Ray Kimble, Red Clenighan, Bob Leffelbine, Bob Wis, Elias Lamberti and the countless others that helped shaped our lives as kids. 

There’s a great line in the song ‘The Way We Were’.

“Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time re-written every line? And if we had the chance to do it all again, tell me would we? Could we?”

I love you, George. Thank you for everything.

By mike051893

40 years later: Belleville opened the 1979 football season with a statement-type victory over Livingston

(Second in a series, looking back at the 40th anniversary of the Belleville High football team’s first-ever NJSIAA playoff berth).

The Belleville High football team had entered the 1979 season feeling good about a big season. The ’78 Bucs had finished 6-3, and a lot of players who helped that team turn the corner were back a year later.

Head coach John Senesky and his coaching staff would welcome the team back for the start of official practice on Labor Day weekend. That, of course, is a big change from today, where most teams begin playing regular season games on Labor Day weekend, with practices starting as early as mid June.

“We weren’t even allowed to start practice until the last weekend in August, or early September,” recalled Senesky. “Our first (regular season) game wasn’t until the last weekend in September.”

While the team would officially practice with coaches around Labor Day, the kids were working out all summer long. With practice about to begin, the school year was also closing in.

Senesky would begin practice with the power index testing, as well as a decathlon.

“The power index would measure a player’s strength based on his size,” said Senesky. “There would be a series of four weight lifting events, followed by six other conditioning (running) events, which would test endurance and speed.”

Read Part 1 of this series, here.

Once the decathlon and power index was completed, the coaching staff would hand out pads and helmets, and practice would begin.

Belleville had a good core of players, with the senior class beginning its third year under Senesky’s tutelage. As sophomores, there were plenty of lumps to take, including the infamous 63-0 loss to Seton Hall Prep, in Nov. 1977.

Jerry DiGori and head coach John Senesky.

The ’77 Bellboys had finished 2-6-1 in Senesky’s first season at the helm. The team was shutout in its first three games by Livingston, Montclair and Nutley. In the fourth week of the season, Belleville lost to Passaic, 36-12, but was actually celebrating in the fourth quarter after finally scoring a pair of touchdowns. A week later, the team would win its first game, edging Irvington, 17-14, at Municipal Stadium.

A week later, Belleville rallied from a 12-0 and 18-6 deficit to defeat Essex Catholic, 26-18, at home. Frank Pizzi, a senior, led the running attack and a sophomore, Ed Aulisi, began to establish himself as a standout quarterback. The 2-4 Bellboys thought they had some momentum heading into that early November game with Seton Hall Prep, at home, but the Pony Pirates ran wild, 63-0, in the Joe Aulisi ‘hip pad’ fiasco game.

Mike Nicosia runs upfield in the season-opening win against Livingston on Sept. 24, 1979. The game was at Belleville, but the Bucs wore the white jerseys because it was Livingston’s home game.

Before the National Anthem, Belleville assistant coach Joe D’Ambola informed the referee that Joe Aulisi of Seton Hall Prep wasn’t wearing the required hip pad. The referee agreed and hit Seton Hall with a penalty before the game began.

“We remember that well,” said Chet Parlavecchio, Seton Hall’s marvelous linebacker and today, a successful high school football coach in NJ. “We all went crazy after that. We’re yelling across at Joe. It was crazy. We laughed about it years later.”

Seton Hall won big, and while Belleville was a beaten team that day, those returning players wouldn’t forget that game.

The Bellboys finished the ’77 season by tying Kearny and losing to Hillside.

Two years later, the ’79 Bucs were looking forward to not only a winning season, but qualifying for the post-season.

After a good three weeks of practice, Belleville was scheduled to open, at Livingston, on Sept. 22, but rainy weather forced a postponement and actually a change of venue, to Belleville, for a rare Monday night game, at Municipal Stadium, on Sept. 24.

Livingston was technically the home team, and wore the dark jerseys, but the Bucs were clearly comfortable playing on its home field.

Belleville had lost to Livingston in the ’76 and ’77 season openers by 20-0 and 40-0 scores. In 1978, Belleville turned the tide, winning, 28-14, at home. And now, in ’79, a confident group of Bucs felt good about winning a big game in the opener.

From the outset, there was little question Belleville was better. The Bucs scored quickly, and while Livingston did score early to take an 8-7 lead, in the first quarter, by halftime, Belleville had a comfortable margin and the Bucs went on to win, 35-8.

Aulisi ran the offense well, Mike Nicosia was tough to stop at running back, and a pair of sophomores, Frank Fazzini and Phil Cerza, would pace the defense.

That 1979 Livingston team would not lose for the rest of the regular season. Led by juniors Stan Yagiello and George Alpert, the Lancers would win its next nine games, including an upset of Westfield in the first round of the North 2, Group 4 playoffs, at Giants Stadium, before losing the state final to Union.

“We had a lot of respect for Livingston,” said Senesky. “Their coach, Al Jacobson, ran a tremendous program. We knew how good they were, and I wasn’t surprised that they wouldn’t lose another game that year in the regular season. They were really good. It’s just that night, we were clicking and they were a little younger than us that year.”

Ironically, a year later, Belleville would lose its season opener, by a one-sided score to Livingston, but the 1980 Bucs wouldn’t lose until the state final, similar to the ’79 Lancers. But that’s for another time.

The Bucs were 1-0, and a big game at Montclair was on tap, for Sept. 29. Belleville and Montclair had met in ’77 and ’78, with the Mounties winning both games, 14-0 and 27-6.

I’ll look back at the next three games in the next blog, as Belleville played Montclair, Nutley and Passaic.

By mike051893

Johnson thrilled with addition of Vinny LoVerde, a former Wayne Hills and MSU player, to Belleville High football coaching staff

As Jermain Johnson enters his second season as head football coach at Belleville High, he does with a lot of enthusiasm about the 2019 season.

Johnson, a young 46, loves the coaching staff he’s working with. He enjoys the youth and energy the staff interjects into its daily work with the team.

Among the newest coaches on the staff is Vin LoVerde, a 21-year-old rising college senior at Montclair State. LoVerde played for Johnson at Wayne Hills High, when Johnson was that program’s defensive coordinator.

Vin LoVerde during his high school days at Wayne Hills.

“I’m so glad Vin wanted to coach,” said Johnson. “He’s a good man, and he’ll be a big plus for our players. Vin was a tremendous wide-out at Hills and he played college ball at Montclair State. He’s relating well to our players.”

LoVerde is pursuing a degree in Psychology. He decided to end his football playing career after an injury in 2018.

“I thought it was time to give up playing,” said LoVerde. “But I love the game and when Coach JJ gave me this opportunity, I thought it would be great.”

LoVerde was a fearless player at Wayne Hills. He helped the 2015 Patriots advance to the state sectional final, at MetLife Stadium, where it lost to Old Tappan.

“They were great times at Hills,” said LoVerde, who was a team captain in 2015. “I loved playing in that program. It has such a winning tradition, and I’d like to think our team, my senior year, helped get that program back on track. (Hills has subsequently won state sectional titles in 2016 and 2018).

LoVerde (far right) was one of five team captains at Wayne Hills in 2015, joining (left to right), Sal Abbracciamento, Frank Petracco, Joe Kenny and Tom Skiba, along with head coach Wayne Demikoff (center).

“Even though we lost in the final in 2015, I have no regrets. I loved every minute of playing there.”

That passion for winning football should be a good lesson for Belleville, which is trying to turn the tables after a tough run of seasons, dating back to 2011.

LoVerde and coach Wayne Demikoff, in 2016, after Vin’s decision to attend Montclair State.

LoVerde isn’t the only former Wayne Hills player on the Belleville staff. Eric Magrini was also a star wide receiver for the Patriots from 1995-1997, before going on to a Hall of Fame playing career at Montclair State. Magrini and Johnson later coached on the Wayne Hills staff, under head coach Wayne Demikoff, who ironically, began his teaching and coaching career, at Belleville High.

When Johnson was named Belleville’s head coach in 2018, Magrini would come on board as the Bucs’ offensive coordinator.

Left to right, head coach Jermain Johnson, LoVerde and Eric Magrini.

The Montclair State connection also includes Johnson, who had a tremendous playing career there, after starring at Bloomfield High, from 1987-1990.

“It feels good to have a guy like Vinny, who I coached at Hills, and have him on the staff here,” said Johnson. “He knows what it takes to succeed on the high school level. I’m glad he’s with us.”

By mike051893

40 years later, remembering the first Belleville High football team to earn a NJSIAA playoff berth

(First in a series, remembering the 1979 BHS football team)

It was the end of the Disco era, the year of Pina Coladas, Donna Summer, the Devil going down to Georgia, My Sharona, a ‘Rocky’ sequel and the ‘Main Event.’

The Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Steelers were dynasties, Larry and Magic were about to turn the NBA upside down, Thurman Munson’s tragic death stunned the sports world, the Cosmos were selling out Giants Stadium and the Pittsburgh Pirates were teaching everyone the song ‘We are Family’.

It was 1979, and at Belleville High, the upcoming football season had the entire program fired up to finish what it had started a year earlier.

The ’78 Bucs (that was the first year of that moniker) had finished 6-3, the program’s best record in nine years. John Senesky, himself a BHS grad and one-time star player for the Bellboys, was the team’s head coach, having taken over a year earlier and enduring a 2-6-1 season in 1977.

But 1978 had changed the attitude, big time, for the new-look Bucs. There was a season-opening 28-14 win against Livingston, which was sweet vindication after losing 40-0 to the Lancers a year earlier, in Senesky’s varsity debut. Two weeks later, the biggest win in a generation occurred when the Bucs defeated Nutley, 31-0.

After a loss to powerful Passaic, wins over Irvington and Essex Catholic followed, and suddenly, the 4-2 Bucs had playoff aspirations, heading into a game at Seton Hall Prep.

The Belleville High coaching staff, circa 1979. Back row left to right, Bill Bakka, Carl Corino, Mike Welsh, head coach John Senesky, Joe D’Ambola and trainer William ‘Doc’ Ellis. Front row, left to right, Carl Papaianni, Ralph Borgess and Joe Vitiello.

Just a year earlier, Seton Hall had poured it on in a game at Municipal Stadium, winning 63-0. Trust me, the game wasn’t even that close.

This time, the Bucs would travel to Seton Hall and while they played much better, it wasn’t good enough, and the Pony Pirates won, 28-6.

At 4-3, the playoffs were no longer viable, but a winning season was. Belleville would finish the year with wins over Clark, 16-7, and Kearny, 21-0, to finish 6-3.

“The ’78 team had set the tone,” recalled Senesky. “We had a lot of returning players in 1979, and the kids were excited about the season.”

Senesky and Passaic head coach Tom Elsasser were among the first in Northern New Jersey to advocate weight lifting as a key to a successful football program. Elsasser had taken a downtrodden Indians team in the early 1970’s to one of the better teams in Northern NJ, by the late ’70’s. Passaic was 2-25 from 1974-1976 before finishing 6-2-1 in 1977. A year later, the Indians were a playoff team, with an overall 8-2 record, followed by a 7-2 season in ’79.

Senesky had also taken over a struggling program in 1977 and two years later, had the Bucs thinking beyond a winning season.

“To be honest, the playoffs weren’t something we talked about,” recalled the coach. “Only four teams qualified back then, and what we really wanted to was to get better. The kids spent a lot of time in the weight room during the off-season. The weight room, then, was at Municipal Stadium, where the Belleville Barbell Club also worked out.

“I remember how diligent those kids were. They enjoyed being around each other and were pretty mature. They did well in the classroom, too.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blogs, looking back at that 1979 season, when the Bucs finished 8-2 and earned the program’s first NJSIAA playoff berth, at Giants Stadium.

By mike051893

No part-time jobs here: Demikoff sees team improving with each practice, notes the effort of Roman and Conte in Aug. 13 practice; First scrimmage set for Aug. 17, against Central Bucks HS South (PA)

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff had gathered his team following a morning practice on Aug. 13. The usually reserved coach was noticeably pleased with his team’s effort.

“We’re getting better,” said Demikoff. “That’s what we want to see at this point. Our first (regular season) game is about two weeks way. Our first scrimmage is this Saturday (Aug. 17). Every practice is important, everything you do in practice is magnified. There’s no part-time effort here.

“In life, you’re not going to get rich working part time. As a husband and father, you can’t do things part time. The same goes for your work ethic here. Get better with each rep.”

Wayne Hills coach Wayne Demikoff, with Angel Roman (r) and AJ Conte.

Demikoff pointed out two youngsters, Angel Roman and AJ Conte, for a good practice.

“Angel Roman, you were better today, than yesterday,” said Demikoff as the players applauded. “You wanted to get better and you did that today. Everyone here has that same opportunity.”

Demikoff also noted the play of Conte, citing him for the same effort and improvement.

“Two guys who wanted to get better, and they did,” said Demikoff. “We want this kind of effort every day.”

While practice is hard, the coach also noted the importance of his players getting rest, hydrating properly and icing down bumps and bruises.

The first scrimmage, on Aug. 17, will take the Patriots to Warrington, Pa., where Central Bucks High School South awaits. On Aug. 21, it’s off to Phillipsburg for a Rothman Bowl Game rematch against the Stateliners. The final tuneup will be on the famed roof of Union City High School, on Aug. 24.

The Patriots will then prepare for the season opener, on Aug. 30, against Ridge View High, in Columbia, South Carolina. The team will fly to South Carolina on Aug. 28 and return on Aug. 31.

By mike051893

A quarter century of coaching high school football still has Chet Parlavecchio fired up for more practices and games

It’s about 11:30 a.m., on Aug. 12, and outside of spending time with his wife, children and now, grandchildren, Chet Parlavecchio is doing what he loves best.

Coaching high school football.

Parlavecchio is running a drill with his linebackers, at Passaic Valley High, where he’s beginning the fifth season of his second tenure as head coach and tenth, overall, at the Little Falls-based school. He’s never coached more than five consecutive seasons at one school, but he’s clearly enjoying this renaissance at PV.

An oil-based painting covers Parlavechio’s years as a player, at Penn State and the Green Bay Packers and later as a coach with the Tennessee Titans.

For Parlavecchio, coaching linebackers is as natural as breathing. Chet’s football background as an All-State linebacker, at Seton Hall Prep and later, as a star at ‘Linebacker U’, Penn State University, eventually guided him to a place on an NFL roster, first for the Green Bay Packers, then the St. Louis Cardinals.

Parlavecchio (#94) was drafter by the Green Bay Packers in 1982 and played two seasons for the legendary Bart Starr.

After an injury cut short his professional football career, he quickly dove into coaching and teaching. By 27 years old, he was the head coach at Bloomfield High, leading a program which hadn’t won a game in five years to a playoff berth by his third season at the helm.

Chet Parlavecchio, here receiving congratulations from colleague Patricia Murray in 1997, after winning his 50th career high school game. At far right is Chet’s son, Chet, Jr, a youngster, then, who now is a high school head football coach, husband and father.

After four years at Bloomfield, Chet would move to a familiar place, Irvington, a town he grew up in, and coached the Campers for two seasons. To this day, he still calls it one of the most rewarding experiences he’s had with a whistle in his mouth.

A year as an assistant coach at Temple University followed in 1993. By 1994, he was back in New Jersey high school football, taking over at Passaic Valley. He’d have tremendous success at PV, leading that team to a 37-12 record in five seasons, including three playoff berths and an appearance in the 1996 sectional final, at Giants Stadium.

Parlavecchio would stay in Passaic County in 1999, moving on to Clifton High, a once-proud program which had fallen on hard times. By his fifth season, he would lead that program to a playoff berth.

After two years off, mainly to watch his son, Chet Jr., play high school football at Delbarton, Chet returned to coaching in 2006, where he led Elizabeth to an 11-1 record and Parlavechio’s first state championship as a coach. Winning seasons followed in 2007 and 2008.

In 2010, a phone call from a close friend and former college roommate, Mike Munchak, presented Parlavecchio with the ultimate opportunity. Munchak, a Hall of Fame offensive lineman with the NFL’s Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans, had just been named the head coach of the Titans.

Munchak offered Chet the chance to coach special teams and eventually, linebackers. He spent three years on that staff, then returned to New Jersey, where Passaic Valley came calling, again.

In 2015, he began his second tenure as PV’s head coach. And following a 1-8 campaign in that first year, winning seasons would follow in ’16 and ’17 and last fall, the Hornets returned to the playoffs for the first time four years after finishing 4-4 in the regular season.

Parlavecchio runs a drill for linebackers while players listen during first day of practice, on Aug. 12.

And now, he’s back, beginning his 25th season as a high school head coach, with a 119-112-1 career record (the tie came in 1988, against Belleville, a 6-6 game which still drives Chet crazy). This will be his 29th season coaching, either in high school, college or the professional ranks.

Chet and his wife, Jean, are the parents of two adult children and now have two grandchildren.

“Here we are, once again,” said Parlavecchio after practice on Aug. 12. “Can you believe it?”

The energy level is at an all-time high. He loves the linebacking core this season. He relishes the team’s enthusiasm and excitement for the upcoming season, which opens on Sept. 7, at home, against High Point.

Parlavecchio addresses his team after a good practice

“I’ve said we could be 9-0, or 0-9,” said Parlavecchio with a laugh. “More than likely, it’s something in between. I really like the way these kids are going after it. They’re a good group, and I’ve got some young coaches who want to learn.

“This is fun, it really is.”


By mike051893

Peischl, the up-and-coming new ‘Czar’, gives impassioned talk on the need to excel on Special Teams at Wayne Hills

Mike Peischl may be just 30 years old, but he’s been around Wayne Hills football for at least half his life, so far, either as a kid watching the Patriots play, later a quarterback who guided Hills to its third state title and an unbeaten mark, in 2005, to now a successful assistant coach, on the staff for the past five years.

Peischl, who is also an educator at his alma mater, is taking on a new role this fall, working with the vaunted special teams for the Patriots. Of course, Walt Johnson established himself as one of the best special team coaches in North Jersey, earning the nickname, ‘The Czar’, for his tireless work with the kicking teams, as well as all facets of what makes special teams so vital to a program’s success.

Mike Peischl, a former standout QB for the Patriots, and now an assistant coach and educator at his alma mater.

Wayne Hills has won 10 state titles since 2002, and Peischl was quick to point out, in a recent meeting with the current Patriots, that many of those championships were won because of excellence on the special teams.

“We won a championship (in 2010) because of a kickoff return late in the game,” said Peischl, referring to the now legendary kickoff return by Troy Zaffino, which was set up on a kick to Brian Dowling, at MetLife Stadium. “Troy had a great run, but the key was a block by Andrew Monaghan, who came 95 yards, across the field, and threw the final block. It was a huge play.

“You might not get your name in the paper, but plays like that win championships.”

Wayne Hills special teams coach Walt Johnson was a tremendous special teams guy for the Patriots, earning the nickname, ‘The Czar’.

Peischl also described Monaghan, the youngest of three brothers to play at Hills, as a fearless punt returner.

“He’d return anything,” said Peischl. “Maybe the best returner we ever had here.”

Another key moment came in 2016, when Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley played for a state championship, also at MetLife. Valley had dominated the first half and led, 17-7, in the third quarter.

“We needed to get some kind of score,” recalled Peischl. “We had a decent drive and (Wayne Hills kicker) Dario (Sirni) kicked a field goal that gave us a lot of momentum. I don’t think we win that game without that kick.”

Sirni’s kick, from 27 yards out, cut the Valley lead to 17-10. Not only was it a clutch kick, on a cold night, it was also converted through NFL goalposts, which are much thinner than high school posts. (Hills eventually won, 31-24, in overtime).

Dario Sirni succeeded Erik Martinez as the place kicker at Wayne Hills and led the team to a huge state championship, in 2016. A year later, he was named a team captain.

“In 2007, we were playing a real good Wayne Valley team (in the state championship, at Giants Stadium),” said Peischl of a game between two 11-0 squads. “The lower bowl (of the stadium) was completely filled. It was crazy, the fans were so loud. Valley had just tied it, and on the ensuing kickoff, Carlton Marcin returned it for a touchdown, and we went ahead for good.

“Special teams are very important. Kicking field goals in clutch situations wins championships. Throwing a block on a kickoff return wins championships. Punt and kickoff returns win championships. We’ve done it, over the years, and that’s why it’s important to understand why we put so much time into it.”

Special teams at Hills also featured the greatest streak by a kicker in state history, when Erik Martinez booted 105 straight point-after kicks, between 2011-2013, a still-standing state record. Martinez helped the Patriots to a state championship, in 2011.

Erik Martinez set the state record for consecutive point-after kicks, in 2013. Martinez nailed 105 straight PAT’s, from 2011-2013.

And it wasn’t just Martinez kicking to near perfection, it was also a great job by the long snapper and the holder. Monaghan, Preston Quinn, Jake VanPeenen and Anthony Vigorito were the holders. Among the snappers were Ryan Kardux and Jake Schunke.

Before Martinez, another tremendous kicker at Hills was Tim Divers. Currently, the Patriots have a rising star in Jordan Thiel, who was outstanding as a sophomore in 2018, when he succeeded Sirni as the kicker.

There’s been plenty of outstanding punters at Hills, too, most notably Brendan DeVera, maybe one of the best to ever punt for the Patriots and current punter Ryan D’Argenio.

With a lot of new faces in 2019, Wayne Hills has to replace a number of talented players who led last year’s team to a state sectional crown and Group 4 Rothman Bowl Game victory, with an 11-2 overall mark.

“Many of you guys could get a chance to play varsity football by making an impact on special teams,” Peischl reminded his players. “You could be a big part of something good here, by excelling on specials. It’s a huge part of championship teams, and that’s what we’re always striving for here.”

From coaches Walt Johnson, to Mike Zaccone and now Mike Peischl, special teams have occupied a integral part of what’s been accomplished at Wayne Hills.

Mike Zaccone, here with his son, Mike, after a state championship in 2016, succeeded Walt Johnson as special teams coach at Wayne Hills.

By mike051893

A true love story: Ray Kimble, a Mayor, Township Mgr., Police Chief, Husband, Father, Grandfather and a wonderful friend; He will be remembered as a ‘Belleville guy’, through and through, whose love for family spoke volumes

With the beautiful sounds of bagpipes, a large crowd had entered St. Peter’s Church, in Belleville, on July 25, to say farewell to former Belleville, NJ, Mayor Ray Kimble. And as soon as the service began, Ray’s youngest son, Steve, would deliver a powerful eulogy.

The Mayor, Ray Kimble.

“My dad enjoyed a wonderful life,” said Steve. “Dad had a great enthusiasm for life. In his final weeks, you could see it in his eyes, as well as his facial expressions, that he wanted to keep fighting and to live as long as possible, despite the struggles that he experienced.  Dad had a life filled with work that he thoroughly enjoyed, great friends and a loving family.”

Steve’s voice cracked as he praised the Belleville Police Department as the finest in the country.

Mayor Kimble and Sgt. Rich Giordano, of the Belleville Police Dept.

Steve quoted President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with a perfect analogy for what it was like to grow up in Belleville.

“FDR once remarked, ‘Everything that I am is traceable right back to the community where I was raised’,” said Steve. “It is a quote that is relevant to many of us, and it certainly applies to Dad.”

Ray Kimble was 80 years old when God called him home on July 22, 2019. He had served as Mayor of Belleville for a dozen years. A graduate of Belleville High, Ray began his professional career as a police officer in town, before eventually being named Belleville’s Police Chief. He would later be named the Township’s Manager before eventually serving as Mayor.

Ray Kimble, doing what he loved most, being around family.

Ray’s commitment to his community spoke volumes.

His commitment to family, beginning with his wife, the former Marie Marinaro, was legendary.

“Dad’s longest and most prized relationship was the one that he enjoyed with Mom,” said Steve. “They attended grammar school together, grew up in the 50’s with the introduction of Rock ‘n Roll music, and the fabulous cars of that era. 

“They began a courtship at the eighth grade dance, in 1953.  This courtship blossomed into a beautiful relationship that spanned in excess of 6 1/2 decades.  They had diverse interests, as Mom enjoyed traveling, Broadway plays and the opera, whereas Dad enjoyed Atlantic City, card games, sporting events, and the racetrack. 

“Nevertheless, they grew together, by sacrificing for each other, educating themselves, raising their children in a responsible manner, traveling together, spending time with their friends and enjoying the simple things in life such as a day at the beach, a barbeque, or even a walk to the bay in Surf City to watch the sunset. 

“Most importantly, they shared a common bond, the love for their family.  They supported each other throughout their marriage as evidenced by Mom’s dedication to Dad when his health started to deteriorate.”

Marie and Ray would raise four children, Raymond, Steve, Linda and Lisa, all of whom went through the Belleville school system. The couple also has 10 grandchildren.

Ray’s love of sports carried over from his high school days, as a Belleville Bellboy. Later, he would be a huge fan, watching his sons compete for the Buccaneers.

Ray Kimble’s casket is escorted into St. Peter’s Church, in Belleville, for funeral services on July 25, 2019.

“Dad was the captain of his high school football and basketball teams,” recalled Steve. “Dad later served in the Army, then worked for PSE&G, for a brief period of time, (eventually) leaving the company to pursue his dream. 

“In 1964, he began his 54-year tenure with the Township of Belleville, when he became a police officer.  While working his way through the department, he earned his BS and MS degrees, all while raising four children.”

Ray Kimble’s career was certainly fulfilling.

The last Kimble family photo, before Ray’s passing, courtesy of Steve Kimble.

“Not many people can claim that that they had the opportunity to serve as a policeman, the Chief of Police, the Township Manager and the Mayor in the community where they lived for their entire life,” said Steve. “Dad was not motivated by the power or the prestige of these positions, he was inspired to serve the people of Belleville by helping them, to see them prosper and to achieve their full potential. 

“He was so proud of the people of this community, and the athletic teams. He also loved to see people that went on to do great things. He simply made you feel that Belleville was a special place, with special people, and that if you were not part of it, you were missing out on something.”

Steve admitted that Ray’s most enjoyable job in the Township was that of Police Chief. And, most of all, there were those cherished friends, some of whom have surely greeted Ray, in Eternity.

“I could envision Dad reaching the Gates of Heaven, to be greeted by his old friends like Marty McNish, Harry Llano, Sal LoCoco, his mentor, Mike Marotti, Avalanche, Pit, Tony Lombardi, Mike Richardella, Chick Puleo, Carmen Zecca, Vin LiPoma, Al Nufrio and many others. 

“They had a wonderful friendship, in fact, for many years we always knew where we could find Dad at lunch time, it was with his friends at Maryanne’s (a local restaurant and cafe, on the corner of Washington Avenue and Joralemon Street).

An avid sports fan, Ray loved the New York Yankees and New York Giants.

“Right up until his final days, Dad enjoyed watching the Yankee games,” said Steve. “And a week ago, Dad’s good friend, Tom Murphy, arranged to have Bill Parcells call Dad, to offer him encouragement.  I asked Dad, what did you say to Coach Parcells?  Maintaining his sense of humor, he responded, ‘I thanked him for the memories, and although I enjoyed the two Super Bowl wins by the Giants (during Parcells’ tenure as head coach), it would have been nicer if the Giants covered the point spread more often for me in Chickie’s pool.”

As Ray’s health began to decline recently, Steve noted the outpouring of love from friends, who would bring food to his parent’s home, on a nightly basis.

“You could not have better friends than Mr. and Mrs. Mauro,” said Steve. “Every night, they brought food to my parents.  Kenny Borrino, one of my Dad’s friends, dating all the way back to high school, visited him often and so did Jimmy Giuliano, Diane Hernandez, Kevin Esposito and Lee Quinn

“Thank you to all of Dad’s other friends who took the time to visit and comfort him. And Dad’s sister, Carol Pomponio. stuck by him and supported him throughout his life.”

Steve also spoke with love of his older brother, Raymond, his wife, Dena and their children, Raymond and Lucia. Raymond, Steve’s brother, is a member of the Belleville High Hall of Fame.

Ray and Maria’s daughters, Linda and Lisa, are both parents of three children.

“Linda and her husband Sean brought great joy to Mom and Dad with the birth of twin boys – Sean and Stephen and their third child, Sonny,” said Steve. “Equally, Mom and Dad were thrilled when Lisa and John had another set of twin boys – Frank and John three weeks later.  One year later their daughter Maria was born. 

“Needless to say, Dad and Mom’s house in Surf City quickly became very crowded, and Dad enjoyed every minute with his grandchildren, taking them to the beach, going fishing, taking them on the amusement rides, going for ice cream and playing games with them.”

And, of course, Steve recalled his final conversation with his father.

“Last Sunday, when my wife Kelley, our daughter Hannah and our son Steven visited Dad, the last words that he spoke to us as a family were – “I love you.”    

In closing, Steve summarized what his father meant to so many.

“My Dad believed in being firm, but fair, to the people that he worked with. He treated people with respect and dignity, often citing the phrase, ‘treat people the way you would want to be treated.’

“I believe whether it was his friends, colleagues or the members of his family, Dad brought out the best in people by believing in them.  In turn, no one ever wanted to disappoint Dad, and as a result gave their best effort knowing they had a leader who would support them. 

“I know this, for certain, as an average student. He filled me with the confidence necessary and encouraged me to work hard in order to pursue my goals and dreams. 

“We loved Dad deeply, we will miss him dearly and we will grieve. But we will also cherish the memories of Dad, and honor him by continuing to build happy and rewarding lives.”

By mike051893

Remembering Apollo 11: It actually seems more imposing today, with all the technology realized from Apollo, than watching it as a grammar-school kid a half century ago, as the Chathams and Lambertis began a friendship in Belleville, NJ

It was one of those moments that you remember where you were and what you were doing.

July 20, 1969 was a Sunday. Three weeks earlier, my parents and I had just moved from the big city of Newark, NJ, to a neighboring small community in Essex County, called Belleville.

Having grown up in Newark, I had become used to a bigger city environment. But my parents had thought a smaller town, in a new apartment complex, called Bridgebrooke Gardens, would be the ideal move.

We had moved into Bridgebrooke Gardens, in the Summer of 1969.

Anyway, I was a typical grammar school kid that summer. I would go to Camp Dawson, a YMCA day camp in Montville, NJ, for a few weeks. Upon moving to Belleville, we also had access to a brand new swimming pool, but camp was still a nice option, at least for a few weeks.

Camp Dawson was a great place to hang out at, during the summer.

I had to meet a whole new crop of friends in Belleville, and since Fairway Park was right behind the complex I lived in, it didn’t take long.

Nevertheless, the summer of ’69 was a bit strange. While we were living in a new town, our closest friends, the Chathams, also moved into the same Belleville complex we were in, so seeing some familiar faces was nice. Peggy Chatham and I were classmates at Mt. Vernon School, in Newark. We had both lived in the Ivy HIll Park Apartments. We would eventually go to school in Belleville, through high school. Our families had gotten closer, as well.

The space program had often fascinated me. In school, we’d watch some of the blastoffs, and splashdowns, of earlier Apollo programs, along with some of the later Gemini flights.

But this one was different. On July 20, 1969, man was about to land, and eventually, walk on the Moon. Back then, there were six television stations to watch, and all the big networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) were, of course, broadcasting the flight.

Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were the first two men to walk on the lunar surface. My mother often thought the entire thing was a Hollywood set up, that the two astronauts were walking on sand in a backyard set in California.

For me, I always wondered what the third astronaut on Apollo 11, Michael Collins, was doing in the command module, Columbia, which was circling the Moon for almost 24 hours, while the lunar module had delivered Armstrong and Aldrin to the surface.

I found it fascinating, that he was by himself, hundreds of thousands of miles away from Earth, while the other two were walking on the Moon. How would the command module and the lunar module link up after the walk?

Thinking about it now, I find it amazing that they made it to the Moon and returned without seemingly a hitch.

Fifty years later, we all know the success of Apollo 11, followed by moon landings of Apollos 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17, as well as the miraculous return of Apollo 13.

The Apollo mission had begun with tragedy, when on Jan. 27, 1967, the three astronauts which would have flown on Apollo 1, were killed in a fire during a pre-flight test. Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee died exactly one week after my uncle, Arthur J. Abramoff, was killed in Vietnam, while flying a mission for the United States Air Force.

I’ve always associated the Apollo 1 mission to my uncle, since I remember that time all too well. And it should be noted that the Apollo 11 astronauts would leave an Apollo 1 patch, on the lunar surface, to honor the memories of the three slain pioneers.

Fifty years later, I find it hard to believe astronauts Collins, Armstrong and Aldrin were just 39 years old when they piloted Apollo 11. Today, I’m almost old enough to be their father. (Where did that time go?)

My parents and I watched the moon landing, in 1969, on a small black and white television, along with our transplated friends from Newark, Norma and Phil Chatham, and their daughters, my friends, Peggy and Gail.

Fifty years later, our parents have passed on. But the memories of watching Apollo 11 are stronger than ever. It’s hard to believe that the technology we enjoy as normal today, such as a cell phone and/or lap top, is more sophisticated, and powerful, than what took the astronauts to the Moon, and back, in 1969.

The Apollo missions also had another major affect on the world — rapidly accelerating the pace of technology development. The work of NASA engineers at the time caused a dramatic shift in electronics and computing systems, scientists would later confer.

Micro-electromechanical systems, supercomputers and microcomputers, software and microprocessors – were also created using technology developed by NASA over the past half century.

Other technologies from the Apollo 11 mission include:

1. CAT scanner: this cancer-detecting technology was first used to find imperfections in space components.

2. Computer microchip: modern microchips descend from integrated circuits used in the Apollo Guidance Computer.

3. Cordless tools: power drills and vacuum cleaners use technology designed to drill for moon samples.

4. Ear thermometer: a camera-like lens that detects infrared energy we feel as heat was originally used to monitor the birth of stars.

5. Freeze-dried food: this reduces food weight and increases shelf life without sacrificing nutritional value.

6. Insulation: home insulation uses reflective material that protects spacecraft from radiation.

7. Invisible braces: teeth-straightening is less embarrassing thanks to transparent ceramic brace brackets made from spacecraft materials.

8. Joystick: this computer gaming device was first used on the Apollo Lunar Rover.

9. Memory foam: created for aircraft seats to soften landing, this foam, which returns to its original shape, is found in mattresses and shock absorbing helmets.

10. Satellite television: technology used to fix errors in spacecraft signals helps reduce scrambled pictures and sound in satellite television signals.

11. Scratch resistant lenses: astronaut helmet visor coating makes our spectacles ten times more scratch resistant.

12. Shoe insoles: athletic shoe companies adapted space boot designs to lessen impact by adding spring and ventilation.

13. Smoke detector: Nasa invented the first adjustable smoke detector with sensitivity levels to prevent false alarms.

14. Swimsuit: Nasa used the same principles that reduce drag in space to help create the world’s fastest swimsuit for Speedo, rejected by some professionals for giving an unfair advantage.

15. Water filter: domestic versions borrow a technique Nasa pioneered to kill bacteria in water taken into space.

Apollo technology also helped introduce the pacemaker, lap top computer, cordless, lightweight battery-powered precision instruments designed to give surgeons optimum freedom and versatility in the operating room.

It also led to today’s electric screwdrivers, drills and other portable and chargeable devices. Cordless power tools are also used to help build the International Space Station on orbit Apollo technology.

NASA’s digital imaging technology has also been used for CAT scans, MRIs, radiography, heart defibrillator, microscopy in medicine as well as various industrial and manufacturing uses, including the solar panel and the athletic shoe.

The Summer of ’69 would go on to produce some magical moments in sports. The Jets and Giants met for the first time in history, in a much-anticipated exhibition game, with the defending Super Bowl champion Jets winning, 37-14.

Woodstock would dominate the music landscape. Vietnam continued to rage on, with too many casualities.

In October, the New York Mets would win the World Series, beating the supposedly unbeatable Baltimore Orioles, in five games. (Peggy Chatham was a Mets fan, I was rooting for the Orioles, and Peggy would paste a poster by my apartment which read ‘Oriole cookies of chocolate and cream will be devoured by the Mets).

It’s amazing what Apollo 11 did for not only the millions of families watching on television, but its impact on the world a half century later.

By mike051893

Nick Natalizio, a World War II veteran who survived the Pearl Harbor attack, celebrates his 102nd birthday, on July 14, at his home in Belleville, NJ

A gentleman.

A war hero. 

A family man.

A Belleville High baseball fan.

Those are attributes of a truly amazing man, Nick Natalizio, a Belleville, NJ, resident, who turned 102 years young on July 14, 2019.

Mr. Natalizio has lived an incredible life. Yet, if you ask him about it, like most who are part of the ‘Greatest Generation’, Nick was just doing his job.

Well, this man did a lot more than just his job. He served his country in World War II, came home, worked two jobs to make a better life for his wife of 73 years, Jennie, and daughters Ida and Paula. He’s devoted to his grandson, Joe and great granddaughter, Jenna, and gives back to his community simply by being a man.

Nick Natalizio celebrates his 102nd birthday with his granddaughter, Jenna, wife, Jennie and grandson, Joe.

Nick grew up in the First Ward section of Newark, NJ and attended Barringer High School. An avid New York Yankees fan, he joined the United States Army in April of 1941, through the Selective Service and completed his basic training at Fort Dix. From there, he went on Fort Eustis, Va., then traveled west and was stationed in California.

Nick would then be transferred to a naval station in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. And on Dec. 7, 1941, Private Natalizio was on the base when the first bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor.

“I was eating breakfast,” Nick recalled in a 2017 interview, at his home, in Belleville. “What I remember most is I ducked when the attack started.”

Nick would go on to serve his country for the duration of World War II, including a year of service in the Pacific, near the Equator, and was discharged in July, 1945, as a Sergeant.

He and his sweetheart, Jennie, were married in April, 1946, and Nick went to work for the City of Newark. He would also work for the United States Postal Service, as a clerk.

Nick’s grandson is Belleville High’s baseball coach, Joe Sorce, who is also an educator at the school. When Joe joined the Belleville High coaching staff in 2001, there was Nick, cheering on the Bucs.

Nick and Joe at the family home, in Belleville.

“My grandfather has been a regular at the Belleville games pretty much since I started coaching as an assistant,” said Sorce, whose mother is the former Ida Natalizio. “He really enjoys coming to the games.”

Nick has loved baseball for as long as he can remember.

“The Yankees are my team,” he said cheerfully. “Joe DiMaggio was my favorite player, Tony Lazzeri, Yogi Berra and Phil Rizzuto, too. I’d listen to the games on radio, then watched on television.

“And now, I enjoy watching my grandson coach Belleville High.”

Nick’s family is quite proud of its matriarch.

“He’s a tremendous father and husband,” said Jennie Natalizio. “We are very proud of him,”

In the family’s home is a recognition from His Holiness, Pope John Paul II, acknowledging Jenny and Nick’s 50th wedding anniversary in 1996. There is also a letter from President George W. Bush, written to Nick, on his life’s accomplishments.

Joe Sorce’s mom, Ida, is never surprised by her father’s energy and love of life.

“He’s incredible,” said Ida. “He and my mom have a good life. We all live pretty close, so we check in, but mom and dad are pretty independent. They love each other as much today as they did when they were married. We’re very lucky.”

Nick Natalizio has seen a great deal in over a century of living. When he was born, the United States was in the midst of World War I and Woodrow Wilson was the president. He was born six weeks after John F. Kennedy. Other notable personalities born in 1917 included Marty Glickman, Phyllis Diller, Robert Mitchum, Red Auerbach and Dom DiMaggio.

Nick has seen 18 different United States presidents. He’s witnessed the evolution of airline travel and so much history. He was at Pearl Harbor in 1941, recalls the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. 

But most of all, he continues to live life to its fullest, and that includes watching his grandson’s baseball team, those Belleville Buccaneers. 

Happy Birthday, Nick !

And many, many, more.

By mike051893