Bloomfield native Jay Tiseo named head baseball coach at Passaic Valley High

Jay Tiseo has long worn the red and white of Bloomfield High, both as a student-athlete and later a coach at his alma mater.

But now, Tiseo is ready to make a change, and while he’s at a new school, he’s also home again.

Tiseo was recently named the head baseball coach at Passaic Valley, succeeding John Mazzo. He has also been hired as an educator at PV.

“I’m very excited about coming to Passaic Valley,” said Tiseo, who resides in Woodland Park with his wife, Christine, and daughters, Isabel and Patricia. “Bloomfield has obviously been a big part of my life, but this is going to be a nice move for me, since I live in the community now.”

Tiseo, 40, played football and baseball at Bloomfield High for the legendary coach Mike Carter. He then went on to play baseball at William Paterson University. Tiseo later coached baseball at his college alma mater.

In addition, Tiseo was also an assistant football coach at Bloomfield High, where Carter continues to hold the head job.

Jay Tiseo, with his wife Christine and daughters Isabel and Patricia.

“I learned a lot from Coach Carter,” said Tiseo. “I’m ready for this opportunity. I already know there are some excellent coaches and educators at Passaic Valley. It’s a really nice community.”

Tiseo was scheduled to meet with the 2020 Hornets on Jan. 15.

“The season will be here before you know it,” he said. “We have a trip to Florida (April 9-14) and a busy schedule leading up to that.”

Passaic Valley begins practice in early March. The team opens the regular season, at home, on April 1, against Clifton.

Tiseo is excited about the three communities which lead into Passaic Valley.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the younger kids in Woodland Park, Little Falls and Totowa play and I want them to be excited about coming to PV and playing varsity baseball eventually.”

The youth program in town for his daughters, in softball, has already been a big hit.

“My kids love playing for the Sting,” said Tiseo. “And (PV varsity softball coach) Kathy (Hill) is as good as they get. She’s such a great coach and a better person.”

Meeting the baseball players was something Tiseo was looking forward to.

“I already know what quality kids they are,” the coach said. “They’ve had success here over the years and I want to continue building on that.”

Passaic Valley athletic director Joe Benvenuti is very happy with Tiseo’s appointment.

“I really believe Jay will do a great job here,” said Benvenuti. “He’s a young, aggressive coach and a good educator. We’re happy to have him as part of our community and wish him the very best.”

By mike051893

Nutley's Abby Scheidel scores her 1,000th career point; Liana Minichini scores 18 in a win over Newark Academy

With an eye toward her future, as well as recognizing the past, Nutley High’s Abby Scheidel joined an exclusive club, by scoring her 1,000th career point, in a game on Jan. 13, at Payne Tech, in Newark.

Abby Scheidel (4th from right) with her family and teammates after scoring career point 1,000, on Jan. 13.

Scheidel, a senior who will play play Muhlenberg College this fall, converted a 3-point basket to put her over the 1,000 point plateau for her career. She is just the seventh female in school history to score 1,000, or more. Tracy Dixon, Sarah Clarke, Kim DiVincenzo, Gina Pollitt, Blair Watson and Courtney Wilde eclipsed the mark.

Dixon was the first to do it, in 1981, and Wilde the most recent, having accomplished it last winter for the Raiders.

“It means a lot,” said a smiling Scheidel after her team defeated Newark Academy, at home, on Jan. 14, 55-38. “I played on the same team with Courtney Wilde and I know the history of the program and the players who scored 1,000. I remember watching Blair Watson play. She was tremendous. To be a part of that is really special.”

Scheidel needed 10 points to reach 1,000 in the game at Payne Tech.

“It seemed like I was stuck on nine for a while in that game,” she said with a laugh. “It was good to get that basket.”

Scheidel finished with 17 points against Payne Tech, then scored 20 in the win over Newark Academy. Heading into Nutley’s 6 p.m. game at Mount St. Dominic on Jan. 17, she had 1,027 career points, and counting.

Joining Sarah Clarke on the 1,000 point list was especially gratifying.

“Sarah went to Muhlenberg College and that’s where I’m going,” said Scheidel, who plans to play basketball on the collegiate level. “So it’s nice to have my name with her.”

Nutley improved to 6-5 on the season with the win over Newark Academy. Liana Minichini, a freshman, scored 18 points and Jaden Long finished with eight points for Nutley. The win was Raiders’ sixth in its last eight games. 

‘We’re starting to come around,” said Nutley coach Larry Mitschow. “We were 0-3 out of the gate, but the kids are doing a good job and you can see the chemistry.”

Scheidel likes what she’s seeing from the team.

“I think the Verona game (a 60-40 Nutley win on Jan. 7) was a turning point for us,” said Scheidel, the daughter of Denise and David Scheidel. “We’re much more comfortable with the offense than at the beginning of the season. We had a good win against Newark Academy today and hopefully we can carry that momentum.”

Nutley will host Columbia, on Jan. 18 at 2:30 p.m. and travels to Glen Ridge on Jan. 21, at 4 p.m.

By mike051893

Duty, Honor, Country: The life of CJ Morgan is remembered by his parents, April and Christopher Morgan, as the West Point wrestling team prepares for 'Senior Night' at West Orange High, on Jan. 31

“Duty,” “Honor,” “Country”—those three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be. They are your rallying points to build courage when courage seems to fail, to regain faith when there seems to be little cause for faith, to create hope when hope becomes forlorn.

Douglas MacArthur, 1962. 

On Jan. 31, 2020, the United States Military Academy in West Point will take its wrestling team to West Orange High, for ‘Senior Night’, in a match against Lehigh University, starting at 7 p.m.

The match will also honor a former West Orange Mountaineer wrestler, Christopher Morgan, who would have been a senior at West Point this year, and was a member of the school’s wrestling team. For more information on Christopher Morgan’s life and the foundation which now bears his name, log onto

CJ and his classmates at West Point. (Photos are courtesy of the Morgan Family)

Christopher Morgan’s time on Earth was too short, but his legacy and passion for life continues to inspire his family, as well as countless friends and teammates.

Morgan, a 2015 graduate of West Orange High School, where he was a standout athlete, was a junior at the United States Military Academy, in West Point, NY, when he lost his life during a training exercise on June 6, 2019. He was 22 years old.

Morgan’s passing stunned thousands in the local community, as well as his classmates at West Point. Over 1,500 attended his funeral, at West Point, including former United States president William Jefferson Clinton, who spoke about Christopher, known to many as CJ.

Read more about CJ’s legacy with his West Orange coaches here:

CJ is the oldest of four children, born to April and Christopher Morgan. The couple had met while students at the University of Northern Illinois. Both April and Christopher grew up in the Chicago area. 

CJ once had the chance to take a photo with former president William Clinton.

CJ’s love of the Military started at an early age.

“My cousin graduated from West Point, in 2001, when CJ was just 5 years old,” recalled April Morgan, during a recent interview. “CJ just loved West Point, from that moment on. We had no idea what West Point was about, up until that day. I remember CJ running onto the field (at Michie Stadium), after the ceremonies, and really taking in the environment.” 

Mrs. Morgan’s cousin is now a Lt. Colonel in the United States Army. The Morgan family has had other family members in the Military, including a grandfather who served in the Navy. 

A beautiful family photo.

The Morgans continued to reside in Illinois until Mr. Morgan’s job moved the family to the Metropolitan area, in 2011. 

“CJ was a freshman in high school when we moved to West Orange,” said Christopher Morgan, CJ’s dad. “We really liked the area right away.”

CJ took an interest in wrestling at West Orange, while also excelling for the football team. By his junior year, CJ was establishing himself as a standout on the wrestling mat, and in his senior year, he would advance to the state championships at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, where he earned an elusive state medal, as well as winning an Essex County, district and regional championship. Despite his size (6’0″, 175 pounds), CJ was also a standout lineman for the West Orange football team.

Morgan’s wrestling coach at West Orange, Stephan Zichella, knew he had someone special in CJ.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have some tremendous kids come through this program,” said Zichella. “But to be honest, there was no one like Christopher Morgan. What an incredible young man, both in the classroom and in athletics.”

Morgan’s prowess was also in the field of music.

“Not many knew that CJ played the trombone,” said his dad, proudly. “There would be wrestling matches where he’d compete, then head off to play the trombone in the school band. CJ started playing in the fourth grade and continued through the eighth grade. When he got to high school, he gave up the trombone, for a little while, then got back into it later in high school.”

CJ’s love of the Military in high school resulted in his being a part of the inaugural ROTC class at West Orange High. And the passion for his family spoke volumes.

“The driving force behind the ROTC program at West Orange High was Dylan Pennell, who was a year older than CJ,” said Christopher Morgan. “Dylan went on to the United States Naval Academy. Dylan and CJ were also teammates on the West Orange wrestling team. Dylan got a year in the ROTC program and CJ got two years.”

CJ was very close to his grandmother.

“When my mother passed away, CJ eulogized her at the funeral,” said Mrs. Morgan, wistfully. “He was our oldest, and he wanted to do it. He did a good job. When CJ was born, Chris and I were still getting established in our own lives. Consequently, he spent a lot of time with my mother, as we finished school. The two of them were very close.”

CJ passed away Just seven months after his grandmother’s funeral.

The bond between CJ and his siblings was tight. The Morgans’ second child, a son, Colin, is now a freshman at West Point, where he’s a member of the boxing team. Colin, a 2019 graduate of West Orange High, is named after former Secretary of State, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell.

“CJ and Colin were different personalities,” said April Morgan. “They were very close, but just different in their approach. Colin is one of those who can show up and get an ‘A’ on a test. CJ had work a little harder. But they both had their goals and were on their way to reaching them.” 

“Colin has taken a liking to boxing,” said Christopher Morgan. “He’s got a 2-0 record and is about 160 pounds. He’s enjoying his time at West Point. He has aspirations for medical school one day, but that could change. He’s just a freshman.”

When CJ, who was pursuing a career in law, was a student, Thanksgiving holidays at the Morgan household was quite an event.

“CJ must have brought home about 15 classmates,” said Mrs. Morgan, with a laugh. “We went through a lot of food during Thanksgiving. And they would stay over for a few days during the holiday weekend. Colin doesn’t bring as many home, yet, but we still have a good time.”

The couple also has two daughters, Chase, who is a freshman at West Orange High and manager of the wrestling team while the youngest, Camryn, is 10-years-old and taking an interest in dance. 

“CJ and Camryn were very close,” said Mrs. Morgan. “I guess it was an oldest to youngest thing. Don’t get me wrong, all my children are close, but there was a special bond between them. Camryn was just 9 when her brother passed.”

CJ was not only a talented student, athlete and musician, but also a big movie fan, according to his mom.

“He was a movie buff,” said April. “Alfred Hitchcock and The Twilight Zone were among his favorites. When he had the time, he’d watch for hours.”

CJ Morgan’s legacy will always shine brightly.

“He was my hero,” said his dad, with a smile. “He made us look good as parents.”

“CJ’s hero was his dad,” added Mrs. Morgan. “The two of them were something special.” 

“April and I were young parents when CJ was born,” recalled Mr. Morgan. “The respect factor was always there, but we could also relate well, too. CJ was a respectful young man, and that’s what made us proud, more than anything. He was good to people.” 

Zichella, West Orange’s wrestling coach, remains grateful just to have coached CJ.

CJ (fourth from left) with West Orange High wrestling coaches in 2015.

“Those of us who knew CJ were blessed to have been around him for 22 years,” the coach said. “I believe he’s on to a higher calling. We won’t know, now, what that is, but one day, we will.”

It was Zichella and the head wrestling coach at West Point, Kevin Ward, who put together the idea to have Senior Day, 2020, held at West Orange High, on Jan. 31.

“Stefan and Coach Ward were the ones who made it happen,” said Christopher, who is a regular at West Orange practices and also makes time to visit the West Point wrestling team. “We’re just happy be a part of it, and to have our son remembered.”

The CJ Morgan Foundation is inspired by love and character. 

“CJ Morgan made it his business to live a life of example through living his faith and encouraging others,” it is written on the Foundation’s site. “Keep his vision of uplifting leadership alive by making a difference in a student’s life, by donating to the Christopher “CJ” Morgan Memorial Scholarship Fund.”

“We’re doing okay,” said Christopher Morgan. “The holidays were tough, but our family is strong. We’re so grateful to so many people, including the West Orange High wrestling and football families and so many people in town.”

Duty, Honor and Country, along with a strong Faith, love of family and commitment to a higher purpose will continue to define CJ Morgan.  And that love will carry on, to CJ’s parents, siblings, classmates and countless friends. 

By mike051893

Alum Max Wassel named head head football coach at Passaic Valley High, as he succeeds Chet Parlavecchio

It’s been a dream for Max Wassel to be a high school head football coach, and the soon-to-be 28-year-old will realize that vision as he was named the new coach at his alma mater, Passaic Valley High School.

Wassel succeeds Chet Parlavecchio, who held the job for 10 seasons, spanning two different tenures. Parlavecchio stepped down as coach following the 2019 season.

Read more about Parlavecchio here:

And here:

Wassel’s appointment to head coach was made official on Jan. 7 by the Board of Education.

“I’m really excited,” said Wassel, who played football and earned his undergraduate degree at Wagner College, in Staten Island, NY.

Max Wassel.

He then went on to be a graduate assistant football coach, at Wagner. and attained an MBA. “I’ve learned so much from Coach Parlavecchio the past three years, as a part of his staff. I’m looking forward to meeting with the kids later this week, and then building my own coaching staff for what should be an exciting season.”

Being a head football coach has been a long-time aspiration for Wassel.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted,” said Max. “I’m a defensive-minded guy, first, which means I’m looking forward to building a staff that will have some strong offensive minds, too.”

Wassel was the freshman football coach at PV in 2017, then was a varsity assistant the past two seasons.

“When Coach Parlavecchio approached me about being a freshman coach, I jumped on it,” Wassel recalled. “You won’t find a more knowledgeable coach than Chet. I’m grateful to him for everything I’ve learned.”

Wassel, an educator, is a big advocate for weight training.

“Our time in the weight room will be important,” he said. “We’ll be getting started soon. I know it’s just January, but you know how quickly the time goes by. Coach Parlavecchio put a lot of time into the weight room and it really helped the team get better.”

On Feb. 3, 2010 Max, here with his parents, then-school principal John Wallace and head coach Al Cappello, announced that Wagner College would be his college selection. A decade later, he’s back as head football coach at his alma mater.

Passaic Valley’s 2020 varsity schedule will have a decided new look. While Wayne Valley, Lakeland and West Milford will be back on the slate, there are a bunch of new schools in Vernon, Jefferson, Sparta, Northern Highlands and Randolph. The Hornets are scheduled to open the 2020 season, at Vernon, on the weekend of Sept. 11 and will compete in the Patriot White Division.

“There are some new opponents, for sure,” said Wassel. “And a little more travel, but that’s fine. We’ll work hard and prepare. We have some talented kids coming back. Next year’s seniors were freshmen on my first team here, so it’s been good watching them grow up and be leaders for next season.”

Wassel’s older brother, Joe, is the head wrestling coach and an educator at Passaic Valley.

A 2010 PV graduate, Max Wassel played varsity football and baseball for the Hornets. He was a fullback and linebacker for the Hornets and helped the 2009 team advance to the sectional championship game at Giants Stadium. Wassel played three seasons of football at PV for coach Angelo DeSalvo and in his senior year for Al Cappello.

Now, a little over 10 years later, Max Wassel is the head football coach at PV.

“That’s pretty crazy when you think about it,” said Wassel. “You’re right, 10 years I was playing here, and now, I’m the team’s head coach. It’s really something special.”

Wassel’s time at Wagner College was special.

“I didn’t get many offers to play college football,” he recalled. “When I got to Wagner, I felt like I could play at that level, and it worked out good for me. I went from a partial scholarship to a full scholarship, was voted captain, and was part of a conference championship team. I also came back from a torn ACL to play a fifth year.

“My message to to our players is hard work goes a long way in playing this game. Good effort, athletic ability and a strong attitude go a long way.”

Passaic Valley athletic director Joe Benvenuti was pleased that Wassel is the team’s new coach.

“We’re very excited to have Max as our new head football coach,” said Benvenuti. “He’s a hard-working young man who will relate well to our players. He’s been a part of the staff the past three years, so the kids know him well. Max’s energy and knowledge of the game will go a long way.”

By mike051893

Interchangeable Parts and God's Grace: A tribute to Mike DiPiano, as he prepares for a trip to the Rose Bowl Parade, on New Year's Day

For over 20 years, Mike DiPiano Sr. has led by example. 

That example was set after the legendary wrestling coach at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School, in Newark, NJ, received a new lease on life. It happened on Oct. 25, 1998, when, after battling serious diabetes and on the verge of death, DiPiano became the recipient of a new kidney and pancreas, thanks to a donor known to all of Mike’s friends, as Sean. 

Mike DiPiano and his family, at the Rose ceremony, on Dec. 4., at Saint Barnabas Medical Center.

Sean perished in an accident, on Oct. 24, 1998. Since he had indicated his wish to be an organ donor, a simple request by reflecting that desire on a driver’s license, Sean’s organs were used to save lives, including Mike’s.

Twenty one years later, Mike DiPiano has vowed to honor Sean’s sacrifice, as well as continue to spread the word about the need for organ donation. Many of Mike’s friends have also received a new lease on life by way of organ donation. DiPiano has traveled the world, literally, talking about organ donation, as well as competing in track and field competitions, with others who have received organs, in the Transplant Games. 

And now, DiPiano will head to Pasadena, California, for the 2020 Rose Bowl Parade, on New Year’s Day. He’ll join others on the Donate Life Float. 

This is what the parade float that Mike will be on looks like.

On Dec. 4, many of Mike’s friends joined him at a special celebration of the upcoming parade at Saint Barnabas Medical Center, in Livingston. Mike chose 13 people, either family or friends, who received a rose, and then delivered some heartfelt comments on Mike’s influence, in their lives. Those comments will also be read aloud at the parade.

Before the rose ceremony, a number of dignitaries spoke, including Elisse Glennon, vice president and chief administrative officer of the NJ Sharing Network, Patti DiSanto, co-manager of Team Liberty, of which DiPiano is a proud member, Dr. Stewart R. Geffner, Chairman and Surgeon-in-Chief, for transplant surgery, at Saint Barnabas, Amanda Tibok, Assistant Director, Philanthropy and Foundation Program and Rev. Edwin D. Leahy, the Headmaster at St. Benedict’s Prep.

Dr. Geffner spoke of the day he operated on DiPiano, in 1998, to provide the new kidney and pancreas while Fr. Leahy recalled Mike’s determination to live, when his health was dire. In fact, Fr. Leahy had performed the last rites, on Mike, and plans for DiPiano’s funeral were underway.

Fr. Leahy also referred to Mike’s battle, and ultimate victory, as interchangeable parts, reflecting on the miracle of organs from one body, saving the life of another. And, of course, there was God’s Grace to give Mike his new lease on life.

A tattoo on Mike’s arm is dedicated to Sean.

And then, Mike spoke, looking back at a near quarter century of battling diabetes, once, in frustration, questioning God’s direction, and then receiving counsel as to God’s plan for him, and the ultimate Grace he’s received.

He thanked Sean, and Sean’s family, for the gift he’ll never be able to repay, but will continue to honor, with each day of his life. He joked of his first meeting Amanda Tibok, at a track and field meet, and nearly striking her with an errantly thrown discus. 

It was then time for the 13 recipients of roses to say a few words. The brief talks went from some laughter, to tears, and all the emotions in between. The 13 friends and family were Mary Ryder, Mike Lamberti, Michelle Gaeta, Benny Voza, Michael Strusiak, Paul Jova, Peter Kupoczak, Sandie Solimene, Stephen Searle, Patti DiSanto, Dr. Geffner, Mia Rose DiPiano and Karen DiPiano.

Mia Rose DiPiano is Mike’s 14-year-old granddaughter, who is now a freshman at Nutley High School, and is an excellent athlete. Among Mike’s many blessings, he was quick to note that organ donation gave him a chance to know and watch Mia grow up. And, of course, Karen DiPiano, the former Karen Giordano, is Mike’s wife of 45 years.

The couple has three children, Michael, Michelle and Frank, all of whom are heavily involved in coaching on the high school level, just like their dad. 

Read about DiPiano’s struggles and ultimate victory here.

Karen praised her husband’s role as the family patriarch, and spoke of his battle to live and ultimately thrive as the recipient of new organs. It was great to see Karen’s mom, Eleanor Giordano, aka Ellie, also in attendance, and looking wonderful. 

“I can’t even begin to thank everyone who came today,” DiPiano would tell the large crowd at Saint Barnabas. “This is where my life changed forever.”

DiPiano’s association at Saint Barnabas included dialysis treatments, the eventual transplant and the follow up which has resulted in his good health today. Mike has also given back over the years to the medical center, including playing Santa Claus to children who have had transplants. 

Dr. Geffner and Mike also remembered, with reverence, Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar, a pioneer in kidney transplantation, in the United States, who is considered responsible for the success of the RWJ Barnabas Health, Renal and Pancreas Transplant Division being one of the most highly regarded programs in the United States. Dr. Mulgaonkar died on April 16, 2019. 

Mike, here with Dr. Shamkant Mulgaonkar, in February, 2018, at the press conference for the 2020 Transplant Games, which will be held at the Meadowlands.

Mike’s work at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School included a Hall of Fame career as the school’s wrestling coach, where he had a record of 274-89, and later, as the athletic director. In 2011, he received the school’s highest honor, to a Lay Person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.

Mike, as well as his sons, Michael and Frank, are all enshrined in the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, the first time, ever, that a father and two sons all received that honor.

When Mike returns from California in early January, he’ll then prepare for the 10th annual Gift of Life Wrestling Duals, a full day of high school wrestling, which will this year be held at St. Benedict’s, on Jan. 11, 2020. Mike has been front and center at the event, where he talks to all the teams at the event, about the continued need for organ donation.

The slogan of the event, ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’, has a definite wrestling theme.

And after that, Mike and Karen will head home to Daytona Beach, Fla, for some down time.

“It’s an exciting time,” said DiPiano. “To spend it with my family and so many great friends is really something. I wish I had a thousand roses to give out at the ceremony, because there were so many who have helped me and my family all these years. And I hope they all know how appreciative I am.”

By mike051893

First in a series: 45 years later, looking back at a tremendous boys basketball season at Belleville High

It’s hard to believe, but 45 years have passed since the 1974-1975 boys basketball season at Belleville High.

Forty five years ago? Guess so. Gerald Ford was president, Vietnam was still a conflict in Southeast Asia, although the United States had pulled its troops, the Philadelphia Flyers were Stanley Cup champions, the Miami Dolphins were defending Super Bowl champions, the Oakland A’s were a dynasty in baseball and on the big screen, the ‘Exorcist’ was the scariest movie around.

Abdel Anderson would be the catalyst to a big basketball season at Belleville High, some 45 years ago.

There were rumors of a movie coming out the following summer, about a shark which terrorizes a town called Amity.

On television, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, MASH and the Mary Tyler Moore Show were among the highest ranked shows while Happy Days, a show about the 1950’s, was just coming out.

At Belleville High, in mid November, a new varsity basketball season was about to begin, and head coach Dan Grasso was looking forward to a good year.

At Belleville High, a winning season in basketball hadn’t happened in 15 years. The Big 10 Conference wasn’t kind to a town whose average player was 5’10” tall, especially when some of the athletic schools in the conference included a state power in East Orange, along with solid schools in Bloomfield, Irvington, Montclair and Orange.

While height wasn’t a big factor for most of Belleville’s basketball teams, there was some optimism about the ’74-75 season. Abdel Anderson, a 6’7″ power forward, was beginning his senior year, and major colleges were very interested.

Joe Dunn, a 6’2″ forward and Doug Jackson, also over six feet tall, would provide a strong front court while others like Alan Amiano, Michael Meagher, Mark Montagna, George Mobilio, Pat Hogan, Clyde Robinson and Ron Krych would provide depth, to go along with guards Bob Tosi, John Megna and Wayne Riche.

There was size and speed in the lineup, and a feeling that this could be the year that Belleville not only would have a winning record, but qualify for the Essex County Tournament, which was, back then, by invitation, only, for the top 16 teams in the county.

There were would be scrimmages at Memorial of West New York, which was coached by Grasso’s older brother, as well as a scrimmage against Hudson Catholic, which had two future NBA players on its roster in Mike O’Koren and Jim Spanarkel, who would play at North Carolina and Duke, respectively, before the NBA.

There was a final scrimmage that fall, against Lyndhurst, which had a young new coach named Jim Corino, a Belleville High alum, who was just starting out on a great coaching career.

Grasso knew that a tough pre-season slate of games would better prepare his players for the grind of the Big 10 Conference.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll look back at that season, which did produce some excellent results at Belleville High. I was attending Belleville High School back then and have always said that the season did have so many ebbs and flows, with a lot of crazy personalities that helped make that season, 45 years ago, so memorable.

The regular season schedule that year would begin with a home game, on Friday night, Dec. 13, 1974, against Garfield, before Big 10 games against Irvington, East Orange, Kearny and Bloomfield and then an out-of-conference game against Passaic to close out the year 1974.

The new year would start with a series of league games, against Nutley, Orange, Montclair, Bloomfield, Columbia, East Orange, Irvington, Nutley (again) and Kearny, all in January. In February, there would be a league game with Montclair, an independent contest against St. Joseph of West New York, followed by Big 10 games with Columbia and Orange, before playing St. Benedict’s to close out the regular season.

Looking forward to remembering that season and sharing those memories with you over the next few weeks.

By mike051893

All-Passaic County and Conference football honors to Wayne Hills’ Kuhn, Casasanta, Daly, Puntolillo, Grosjean and Lucarello while All-Conference accolades go to Oseback, Abida, Masten, Imperato, Brunetti, D’Argenio, Thiel, Woodard, Odatalla, Gerard, Gail, Brutofsky and Mirko

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff has announced the names of a number of players who were awarded post-season accolades by the Passaic County coaches, as well as those coaches in the North Jersey Super Football Conference’s Freedom Red Division.

Wayne Hills finished 6-4 this season, qualified for the playoffs, and won the Freedom Red Division for the second straight season. The Patriots also won the conference title for the third time in the last four years, having won the Freedom White Division crown in 2016.

Wayne Demikoff addresses his team after a practice this season. Demikoff has been at the helm for six seasons now, with a 55-23 career record, two sectional championships and a Bowl game crown.

The All-Passaic County team, which consists of football schools in the county, was announced on Nov. 25.

Earning first team, All-County honors for the Patriots were Gabe Kuhn, Dan Daly, Mike Casasanta and Christian Puntolillo.

Second team, All-County for Wayne Hills went to Jake Grosjean and Nick Lucarello.

The conference coaches awarded their teams earlier this month, based on offense and defense while the county format recognized the top players, regardless of position.

Wayne Hills football players welcomed honorary team captain Zach Galasso during a home game this season.

First team, All-Conference accolades, on offense, went to Kuhn, Stanley Oseback, Casasanta, Steven Masten, Puntolillo and Jordan Thiel.

On defense, Lucarello, Grosjean, Daly, Noah Abida, Dean Imparato, Joe Brunetti and Ryan D’Argenio were named to the first team.

Second team, on offense, went to Jack Woodard and Chris Brutofsky while Sharif Odatalla and Dan Gerard were voted second team, All-Conference, on defense.

Honorable Mention was afforded to Mateo Mirko, on offense and Anthony Gail, on defense, for the Patriots.

By mike051893

DePaul wrestling begins new era as A.J. Mott is promoted to head coach

DePaul High alum A.J. Mott is ready to take over as head wrestling coach at his alma mater, after a long and successful run by Keith Karsen.

Mott, a 2010 graduate of DePaul, where he excelled for the wrestling program, led by Karsen, was an assistant coach for the Spartans the past four years.

Mott succeeds Karsen, who remains an educator at DePaul, but will now be head wrestling coach at The Pingry School.

A.J.Mott (seated right) with head coach Keith Karsen at a DePaul wrestling match. Mott now succeeds Karsen as the program’s top coach.

Read more on Karsen’s new challenge, here.

A native of Wayne, Mott was very excited about the opportunity to be head coach at DePaul.

“Keith did an incredible job here,” said Mott. “I’m happy for him, as he pursues a new coaching job. Replacing ‘The Guy’ is never easy, but I’m looking forward to it. They are big shoes to fill.

“I have a great coaching staff here in (returning assistant and DePaul graduate) Trevor (Melde) and Pat Gerish, who is now on board, as an assistant.”

Melde was a NJSIAA champion in 2007 at Delbarton and a state finalist for DePaul as a senior, in 2008. Gerish wrestled in high school at Newark Academy and had a tremendous collegiate career at the University of Maryland. Gerish’s younger brother, Jake, is expected to be on the DePaul squad this season.

Mott encourages a DePaul wrestler.

The transition from assistant to head coach was a quick one.

“I got a call from Coach (Joe) Lennon (DePaul’s athletic director) a few weeks ago, asking if I’d be interested in the head coaching job,” said Mott. “Keith was very supportive, as well, in the process and everything went smoothly.

“I know our returning wrestlers were surprised when they heard Keith was leaving, but there will be a familiar staff when we begin practice (on Nov. 25) so it should go well.”

DePaul had put together some marvelous seasons on the mat over the past 15 seasons, including eight straight state sectional crowns, four consecutive Non-Public B state championships and five district titles. Heading into this season, the team has won seven consecutive Passaic County Tournament championships.

Mott was a big part of that success, as a scholastic wrestler. Wrestling at 189, 171, then back at 189 pounds and eventually, 215, he won three District 4 championships, was a 2-time regional finalist and Region 1 champion in 2009.

He finished as high as sixth in the state at the NJSIAA Tournament, in Atlantic City, in 2010, at 215 pounds. He also finished third at the prestigious Beast of the East Tournament.  

Mott compiled 132-20 mark, setting the DePaul High record for most career wins, at the time. In addition, he was a 4-time Passaic County champion and finished third as a sophomore in the NHSCA Nationals. Mott also earned three letters for baseball, at DePaul.

After high school, Mott wrestled at Cumberland University, then went on to Grandview University, in Des Moines, Ia.

“Wrestling at Grandview made me much better,” said Mott. “Coach (Nick) Mitchell (Grandview’s head coach) taught me so much about team concept and the sport, overall.”

Mott was looking forward to the start of practice.

“We want to get the kids on the mat and work a few days before the Thanksgiving Day holiday,” said Mott. “Right now, our numbers are good, but I’ll have a better idea once we get a few days in.”

Among the returning wrestlers this year will be Connor O’Neill, a senior and Rutgers commit, along with Eddie Bierals. O’Neill was a Powerade champion last season and finished second in the state at 160 pounds in the NJSIAA Tournament.

“Both Connor and Eddie will be our most experienced wrestlers,” said Mott. “We lost a lot of hammers from last year’s team. There were nine seniors that we relied on in our lineup. But that’s part of the sport in high school and we’re looking forward to seeing which kids will step up into starting roles.”

Mott is also optimistic that Haley Perez, the first female wrestler in the DePaul program last winter will be ready to make a run toward a state championship in 2020. Female wrestling had a good debut as a varsity sport last season.

Haley Perez won gold at the Bloomfield Holiday Tournament in December, 2018.

The Spartans will open the season at the Beast of the East, on Dec. 21 and 22, then have a quick turnaround, with a trip to the Powerade Tournament, on Dec. 27 and 28, in Canonsburg, Pa. There is also the Tim Groves Memorial Tournament, at West Orange High, on New Year’s Eve.

“Absolutely, we’re ready to go,” said Mott. “It’s a busy start with the Beast, Powerade and then West Orange, but it will be our kids some really good work early on.”

By mike051893

Wayne’s Frank Petracco closes out a tremendous collegiate football career at Johns Hopkins University

Sept. 20, 2013.

It’s halftime in the locker room for the Wayne Hills High football team, and the Patriots were trailing arch rival Wayne Valley, 14-0, in game two of the regular season.

Frank, with coach Wayne Demikoff, in Dec. 2016.

In addition to being somewhat dominated in the first 24 minutes, Wayne Hills had a problem on its offensive line, as one of its starters had a leg injury and was doubtful to play in the second half.

First-year head coach Wayne Demikoff had a decision to make, and he yelled out “Frank. You ready?”

Frank has always shared great times with his parents and brothers. Here’s a photo from 2015.

Frank was sitting with the other sophomores, away from the immediate action of a frantic locker room. When he heard Demikoff call his name, there was no oral communication, just a clinched fist, and a big smile, which said that Frank was, indeed, ready.

That night was a ‘welcome to varsity football’ for sophomore Frank Petracco, who would play the entire second half and a short overtime, as Wayne Hills rallied to defeat the Indians, 17-14, at Hills.

The 2015 Patriots were a tight-knit bunch.

For the next three years, Petracco would be an anchor on the Wayne Hills line. And when he wasn’t playing football, he’d was a standout in the classroom.

The end result would be the opportunity to play football at a one of the premier colleges on the East Coast, Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore.

Frank (second from left) was named one of five team captains at Wayne Hills, during the annual camp at East Stroudsburg, in the summer of 2015.

And as fast as that moment seemed six years ago, when he first got ‘the call’, Frank Petracco’s football career has now wound down.

And the 22 year-old is just fine with that.

Friendships after football is concluded has been a part of what makes Wayne Hills a special place for so many former players.

“It’s been great,” said Petracco via telephone last week, as Johns Hopkins prepared for its season finale, against neighboring Stevenson University, at the Centennial Mac Bowl Series, in Owings Mills, Md. “Coming to Johns Hopkins has been great, both in the classroom and the football field, for me. It’s everything I could have ever wanted.”

The second of three sons born to Stephanie and Frank Petracco, Frank is working on a double major, in Economics and International Studies. He’ll graduate on time, this coming May, and has law school In mind, hopefully in the fall of 2021.

Frank, after his final collegiate game, on Nov. 23, 2019, holding a championship Bowl trophy.

In the meantime, Frank, who got the opportunity to work in the office of New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, on Capitol Hill last year, hopes to continue that kind of work in 2020.

“I loved it,” said Petracco. “I had the chance to work on the Foreign Relations Committee. It was for six weeks, 10 hours a day, and I got the opportunity to learn about foreign policy.”

That always familiar No. 61, whether it be high school, or college.

Whether politics is a part of his future, or not, Frank does have some ambitious goals.

“I’d like to stay in the Baltimore/DC area,” he said. “I hope to go to law school here, too. I’m not sure what area of law I’d like to study, but I have some ideas.”

On the gridiron, Petracco’s play on the offensive line helped Johns Hopkins defeat Stevenson, 51-28, to wrap up an 8-3 season. He’s been playing regularly for the Blue Jays since his freshman year.

His parents have been regulars at his games, home, or away.

“They’ve always been there for me,” he said. “They never miss a game and I can’t thank them enough.”

Petracco’s memories of playing at Wayne Hills are good.

“They were great times,” he said. “Honestly, I think playing at Hills was harder than college. It really prepared me for the next level.”

After a few struggling seasons, the Patriots returned to form in Frank’s senior year, 2015, when the team was 9-3 and played for a state sectional championship, at MetLife Stadium.

Frank, second from right, after making his collegiate choice official, in February, 2016.

“That was a great run,” recalled Frank. “We started the season by playing in North Carolina and from there, had a good regular season. Then, in the playoffs, we went to Indian Hills and won (in the sectional semifinals). That whole experience, along with preparing for a state final, was surreal. That win over Indian Hills put us in MetLife, and I remember how excited we all were about going back there (after a 4-year hiatus). I really believe our team helped get the program back to where it belonged.”

While Petracco missed out on a state title in 2015, he is correct in that Wayne Hills’ success, with a record of 29-6 between 2016-2018, which included two state championships and a North Group 4 bowl title, was spurred on by what the ’15 squad had accomplished.

On Capitol Hill.

Demikoff agreed, too. After Hills had defeated Wayne Valley, 31-24, in the 2016 state final at MetLife, most of the Patriots gathered at a local eatery. Petracco also stopped by, and the first thing Demikoff said to him was how much he had wanted that title for last year’s team.

“Frank, Joey Kenny, Vinny LoVerde, Tom Skiba and so many others had really helped get us back, and I wish those guys could have experienced a finals win,” Demikoff said that evening. “I hope they know that this championship is for them, too.”

Three years later, Demikoff couldn’t be happier for Petracco’s success.

“Frank is a leader on and off the field,” said Demikoff. “He always competed at a high level on every play. His work ethic and toughness is always evident on and off the field. He’s just a great kid. I always believed he would be successful in anything he decided to do due to these traits. He was successful here, (then) at Hopkins, and will continue to be in the next facet of his life.”

By mike051893

Passaic Valley girls’ soccer program showed improvement, led by Hill, Leech, Victoria, LaRosa and Flores-Ortiz

It was a season of improvement for the Passaic Valley High girls’ soccer team, which finished 8-9 this season, including a season-ending win over Passaic County Tech.

Led by head coach Kathleen Berthold, the Hornets won six of its last nine games in the 2019 season.

There were a number of outstanding players, according to Berthold.

Taylor Hill, a junior, was one of the team’s leading players.

“Taylor came to preseason physically ready and eager to compete,” said Berthold. “Her hard work and positivity are contagious to the rest of the team.  She is, without fail, always trying to motivate her teammates to be the best they can be, or to go the extra mile.

The 2019 Hornets. Photo courtesy of Dotti Leech.

“Taylor returned to the midfield and controlled our left side of the field.  Her strong left foot combined with her speed allowed us to have a dangerous left side.  Taylor took the other half of the corner kicks, and was our go-to for our throw ins on the left.  Taylor improves each year and ended the season scoring five goals.  I continue to expect big things from Taylor next year, during her senior year.”

Madison Leech, a junior, did an excellent job in goal.

Passaic Valley did a tremendous job ‘kicking off’ Breast Cancer Awareness Month on Oct. 5.

“Madison took on a very big role this season, and stepped up to fulfill the position of goalie,” said Berthold. “Maddie is the type of player that will do whatever is best for the team without any questions asked.  She accepted and welcomed the role, and wore her goalie jersey with pride.

“Maddie’s athletic ability made a sure fit for the job. By the end of the season, she was managing the field and was able to take control.  Madison is always focused on being the best she can be, and with some more confidence and certainty she will be able to accomplish that for her senior season.  Maddie finished the season with 94 saves.”

A tremendous senior and two-time captain, Zuania Victoria was a stalwart for the PV soccer program.

Passaic Valley and Cedar Grove players pose for a photo before game on Oct. 5.

“Every year Zuania put on a hornet uniform, she had a huge offensive responsibility, and nothing changed this season,” said Berthold. “Zuania resumed her role as forward and proved she is a tremendous soccer player.  Her natural athletic ability, speed, and ball skills didn’t go unnoticed by any opponent or coach.   

“She is usually always man-marked by the other team, recognizing her attacking threat.  Zuania was able to create opportunities herself, utilizing her speed, and go-to goal and finish.  In addition, Zuania unselfishly assisted in her teammates scoring, setting up opportunities for them.  Without fail, after every game the opposing coach commented on #7.

“This was Zuania’s second year assuming the role of captain and she finished with a personal season-high of 27 goals.  She finished her soccer career at Passaic Valley with a total of 74 goals.  

“In addition to soccer, Zuania runs track and is a member of the Athletic Leadership Council. She plans on studying Special Education in college while continuing her soccer career at the next level. We wish her all the best and she will most definitely be missed. This year Zuania was selected for First-Team All-League and Second Team All-County.  

Brianna LaRosa, a sophomore, had a very good season in 2019.

“Brianna’s presence in the midfield is evident, and she takes complete control on the right side,” said Berthold. “The dangerous combination of Brianna’s speed, soft touch, and strong cross ball is an offensive threat for all opponents.  She is one of our core offensive members, and almost single-handedly beat her opponent down field, in each game.  

“Brianna shares the responsibility of taking corner kick for us, serving it perfectly right in front of the goal for her teammates to finish.  Last year Brianna scored 11 goals and this year she upped her number and finished with 15 goals this season.  Brianna was awarded with Honorable Mention All-League. “

Ariana Flores-Ortiz, another sophomore, excelled in the midfield.

“This is Ariana’s second year our as center midfielder,” said Berthold. “Her skill, touch on the ball, and field awareness allows her to excel in this position. Playing in the midfield demands a lot of Ariana, both offensively and defensively, and we look to her not only be the play-maker, but at times mark a key opponent.

“Due to her foot strength, Ariana takes all our free kicks.  Her aggressiveness and love for competition shines through her play and radiates to her teammates.  I will continue to have high expectations for Ariana for next season and I am confident she will exceed my expectations. Ariana finished the season with nine goals and was selected as Honorable Mention, All-Passaic County.   

PV had some impressive wins, including a 3-1 victory against Cedar Grove, when the program honored Breast Cancer Awareness Month, on Oct. 5.

Read more in that day, here.

By mike051893