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In the annals of New Jersey high school athletics, few sports invoke the passion that wrestling does. With that said, Princeton University has an event on its docket which will surely bring the proverbial house down on Saturday, Dec. 14.
On that day, Princeton Tigers wrestling will make a long-awaited return to legendary Jadwin Gym when it welcomes Rutgers University for a match that will also celebrate the greatness that is New Jersey high school wrestling. According to Princeton head wrestling coach Chris Ayres, the festivities surrounding the match of two historic NCAA schools, will be a sight to behold.
“We’re very excited about the opportunity for our program to compete at Jadwin, once again,” Ayres said. “And wrestling Rutgers is a natural for us, especially with what we have planned for that night.”
Princeton wrestling coach Chris Ayres
IPhoto courtesy of GoPrincetonTigers.com)
According to Ayres and assistant coach Joe Dubuque, every living NJSIAA wrestling champion will be invited, and honored, at the event. The first New Jersey state champions in high school wrestling were crowned back in 1934, meaning a wrestler from that era could very well be a World War II vet and is in his late 80s. In 1934, there were nine champions, with five hailing from Newton High School, ironically Ayres’ alma mater. The weight classes back then started at 95 pounds and extended through the heavyweight bracket.
“I’m pretty sure Newton still has the most state champions,” said Ayres, proudly. “It’s amazing how this sport keeps people together, long after their final match.”
Dubuque was a two-time NJSIAA champion (2000 and 2001) while wrestling at Glen Ridge High School. He would follow his high school career with an even more impressive collegiate performance, including back-to-back NCAA titles at the University of Indiana in 2005 and 2006.
Joe Dubuque (far left) during his high school days at Glen Ridge. Dubuque won a pair of NJSIAA championships, then followed with two NCAA crowns at the University of Indiana
“I think the event will have a lot of juice, and to be able to welcome back every living state champion really adds something special,” said Dubuque. “We want to get the word out and make this a big night.”
The match will start at 5 p.m. For those fans who enjoy the history of college athletics, Princeton and Rutgers played in the first-ever football game in 1869, and while the two schools share the same state and are relatively close, geographically, the schools don’t meet often in intercollegiate athletics.
It is widely recognized that Rutgers and Princeton played the first college football game in 1869.
The coaches at Princeton are also extending invitations to current New Jersey high school wrestling teams to be a part of the night on Dec. 14.
“It’s all about the history and passion that makes up high school wrestling,” said Ayres. “No better than to have current high school wrestling teams and their coaches share the night with us, too.”
For more information, contact Dubuque at Princeton, by E-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call 609-258-5248.
Fifteen years ago, Michael DiPiano was preparing to die.
With his health deteriorating because of diabetes, the Nutley. NJ native was on dialysis for kidney failure and had been read his Last Rites. He was a devoted husband and father of three, a well-known wrestling coach and athletic director in New Jersey.
His life, while so fulfilling, was seemingly coming to an end, at the age of 47.
On Oct. 25, 1998, Mike’s life was re-invented with the gift of a double organ donation. And today, things couldn’t be better for the man most of us know as ‘Big Dip’ and whose heart and vitalized spirit has helped thousands with his ‘Gift of Life’ message and the significance of organ donation.
Now living the dream in Daytona Beach, Fla., with his wife, Karen, Mike has spent countless hours with children who also have received organ donations. Every Christmas season, he hosts a party at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for those children.
Mike DiPiano plays Santa with his Elves at a Christmas Party at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
The organs that saved Mike’s life were donated by a man we’ll know simply as Sean, a 21-year-old who, on Oct. 24, 1998, was killed in an automobile accident. Sean had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of his death.
DiPiano had never meant Sean, but he lives life every day with the constant reminder that Sean is indeed a part of him.
“The greatest gift of all,” DiPiano said with a smile. “I’ll never be able to repay that gift.”
Mike recalled the months and years leading up to what is now his 15th anniversary of good health.
“Back in 1995, I was told I would need a double transplant because of a nearly 30-year battle with diabetes,” DiPiano recalled. “I remember a year later, I was at the Olympics in Atlanta and I was told to get to a hospital right away. My sugar was high but I thought I’d be okay. Later that summer, when I was back home, I was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital and got so sick that (St. Benedict’s Headmaster) Father Edwin (Leahy) read my last rites and they were already planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s.”
At that time, Dr. Leon Smith stepped in, through a contact of Fr. Leahy’s. A renowned Internist who specializes in infectious diseases, he assessed DiPiano’s condition.
“Whatever he did, he took me from a five to 10 percent chance of surviving,” DiPiano recalled. “He saved my life, because even Father Edwin said ‘if he can get to 10 percent, he’ll make it.'”</
Having administered the last rites to DiPiano, Fr. Leahy knew a higher power was looking out for DiPiano.
"If it weren't for Dr. Smith and the Grace of God, we would have lost him a long time ago," Fr. Leahy said. "He went from a 5 percent chance of survival to the poster child for organ transplant. It's a great overall story."
DiPiano's association with St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark is legendary. As the wrestling coach there, he amassed a record of 274-89 and was named the Coach of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger in 1987. He is a member of the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, as well as the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. After coaching at St. Benedict’s, DiPiano became the school’s athletic director.
In May, 2012, he received the school’s highest honor to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.
“Mike DiPiano helped build this place,” Fr. Leahy said of St. Benedict’s. “He must have held 1,000 different positions here. He was the spine of the school.”
Mike’s family, his wife, Karen, daughter Michelle and sons Michael Jr. and Frank had never given up on the rock of their family beating any kind of odds.
“My kids were incredible during the toughest times,” Karen DiPiano recalled. “We’re a close family and everyone took a part in being there for him. We all believed he’d get better.”
DiPiano was on dialysis for nearly two years, and at the top of the list for a transplant, before fate intervened in October, 1998.
“Back then, everyone used beepers to keep in touch,” DiPiano said. “I’m out with a friend and the beeper goes off, and I thought it was his. But he looked at me, and said ‘no, it’s yours’. That beeper was there only to inform me of a possible transplant match, so when I returned the call, I knew things would be happening quickly.”
When DiPiano was informed that there was a match for his kidney and pancreas, there was little time to get to know who the donor was. The surgery was scheduled for Oct. 25, 1998, a date which is clearly evident on Michael’s right arm in the form of a tattoo.
“The surgery lasted about eight hours,” DiPiano recalled. “I was in the hospital about seven days. The biggest concern after a transplant is that the body could reject it, but everything went well. I could tell pretty quickly how much better I was feeling. I don’t think I really knew how sick I was until after the transplant.”
DiPiano actually has three kidneys now. “They don’t remove the old kidneys, they kind of stored them in my body,” he said with a laugh. “The one working kidney is in the normal place.”
With a new pancreas, DiPiano’s diabetes is no longer the concern it once was. With his blood sugar near normal, he doesn’t need to take insulin, but is careful with his diet.
As his health improved, DiPiano returned to work at St. Benedict’s in January of 1999. “I might have gone back a little too early,” he said, “but I felt like I was ready.”
He also wanted to know more about Sean.
“Normally, the process with a donor is that it’s anonymous,” DiPiano said. “I have gotten to communicate with Sean’s mother through E-mail, and while I’ve never met her, I hope to one day.”
DiPiano’s passion is talking about the importance of organ donation. He has been to numerous high schools in New Jersey, where he usually begins by showing a film clip about Jason Ray, the 21-year-old mascot for the University of North Carolina basketball team who was struck by a car and killed in 2007 while walking to a diner on Route 4 in Ft. Lee. (Lee was there because the basketball team was in New Jersey for the NCAA Eastern Regional).
“Jason was a organ donor and that film really has an impact on the kids,” DiPiano said. “It goes on to show the many people Jason saved by being a donor. It’s very emotional.”
On the surface, DiPiano is a hard-nosed individual, a man’s-man who takes no prisoners, so to speak. But he has no problems expressing his emotions on this subject. He recalls attending the first Transplant Games, for those athletes who are recipients of organ donation, in Minnesota some nine years ago.
“When I went to the first Transplant Games, it was such an overwhelming feeling for me,” DiPiano, his eyes welling, recalled. “That’s when I had the tattoo made, to honor Eric, the date of my transplant, as well as the initials of a very close friend, Peter Kupczak.”
DiPiano’s message has resonated well in Nutley and other communities in New Jersey. The Gift of Life Duals, a series of wrestling matches to bring awareness to organ donation, will have its third renewal this coming January. The first two events, at Nutley High, where Frank DiPiano is the head wrestling coach, were a huge success in Jan. 2012 and 2013. The 2014 version will be held at Demarest High, where Mike DiPiano, Jr., is the head coach.
And Mike Sr. will be there to deliver the message. While he lives in Florida, he’ll be ‘home’ for the holidays, to host the Christmas party in mid December, enjoy some quality time with his family and then devote time to the Gift of Life Duals, where the slogan ‘Organ Donation Is A Major Decision‘ will once again resonate.
Michael Sr. has been to numerous Transplant Games since 1998, both in the United States and abroad, including Thailand and Australia. DiPiano competes in athletic events at the games. He speaks constantly on the need to be an organ donor. He is very much involved with the work of the National Kidney Foundation, as well as the New Jersey Sharing Network, which procures tissues and organs.
“Over 110,000 people are waiting for an organ donation of some sort,” DiPiano said. “Twenty five die, waiting, each day. It is truly amazing what medical science can do when someone gets a new lease on life with a heart, lung, pancreas, kidney or liver. It’s amazing.”
Mike DiPiano is indeed an amazing man. He thanks his family, his friends and loved ones for the constant support. And he remembers a young man named Sean.
“I’ll never be able to thank him enough,” DiPiano said. “I just hope I can meet his mom one day and tell her that.”
With October being National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, many high school athletic teams, as well as college and professionals, have been honoring those who have fought the courageous fight against the wretched disease.
At Nutley High School, members of the very successful girls’ soccer team will play Park Ridge on Oct. 21 in an independent game. The Raiders will wear pink socks and raise funds for Gail’s Angels, a non-profit (501c)(3) organization dedicated to providing support to families that have a mom with breast cancer and also care for their autistic or special needs child. (For more information, check out their website at http://www.gailsangels.org).
“it’s a good thing to do for our kids,” said Nutley head coach Mike DiPiano. “I’m proud of what the girls have accomplished on the field this season, but even more mindful of our team’s commitment to help others and show respect toward so many woman who have battled breast cancer.”
Members of the 2013 Nutley High girls’ soccer team.
On the field, Nutley took a 10-1-1 record into its game with Park Ridge. The Raiders were ranked among the state’s top 20 teams heading into this week and advanced to the Essex County Tournament semifinal round before falling to Livingston, 3-0, last Saturday evening.
The Raiders should garner a high seed in the upcoming NJSIAA Tournament.
More importantly, the team has attained a high level of success as charitable young women with hearts as big as the net which has seen more than its share of goals scored in 2013,
A tradition begun by his predecessor continues on at Wayne Hills for new head football coach Wayne Demikoff.
Each week, the coach meets with parents in a classroom at the high school to review film of the previous week’s game. The meeting is generally held on Wednesday nights and is attended by parents, usually a male, but the moms, and females in general, are also more than welcome.
Long time Wayne Hills football coach Chris Olsen began that tradition when he first arrived at Hills in 1987. In fact, according to Pat Cosgrove, one of Olsen’s longest-tenured assistant coaches, Olsen did the same thing at previous coaching stops at Paterson East Side and Bergenfield.
At the most recent film review, Demikoff broke down just about every play to the parents on hand, detailing blocking schemes, good recognitions by the players, missed assignments and the steady improvement he’s seen from the Patriots through the first five weeks of the season.
Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff gives instruction to his players, but also loves to discuss film of his team’s games with parents.
While Demikoff can be stern with his players in practice to keep the intensity level high, he’s practically giddy when discussing the film with the adults, showing them how much their sons have improved since the summer.
Demikoff also emphasized the importance of the Oct. 18 home game against nemesis Pascack Valley.
“They beat us twice last year, so we know how important it is to get a win, especially since I’m sure we’ll see them again in the playoffs,” Demikoff said. “It will come down to which team is tougher, and I think we can be that team. But no mistake, Pascack Valley is very good.”
Next week, when he reviews the film of the Pascack Valley game with the parents, we’ll see where the Patriots stand after six weeks of the 2013 season.
For four years, she dominated in the circle at Livingston High, pitching to a higher level than what was ever seen before in Lancer-land.
Jess Peslak completed her high school softball career last spring with some astounding numbers. Among her accolades were leading Livingston to back-to-back Super Essex Conference, Essex County Tournament and North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 crowns in 2012 and 2013.
I often wrote ‘Get Your Popcorn Ready’ anytime Jess would pitch in a big game. Well, now that she’s a freshman at Hofstra University and pitching there, it’s time for a new era for one of my favorite all-time high school athletes.
So far, so good, said Peslak in discussing the transition to college.
“Things have been going really well,” Peslak (AKA Secretariat) told me earlier this week. “It’s been a huge transition, but I’m finally starting to get used to our routine of 6 a.m. (weight) lifts and practice at 3 p.m. everyday. I’m learning so much about pitching and the game of softball, in general. I’ve already seen a great improvement, in not only my strength and endurance, but also my pitching. I can’t wait for the season to start.”
Former Livingston pitcher Jess Peslak (far left) with some of her new teammates at Hofstra University.
Peslak pitched in a fall game at Branch Brook Park on Oct. 6 and was the winning pitcher, in relief, as Hofstra rallied to defeat Temple.
It was interesting to see Peslak pitching to Temple’s Sarah Prezioso. The last time they faced each other was late in the 2010 high school season when Prezioso, a senior at Bloomfield and one of the state’s dominant hitters that year, hit against Peslak, then a freshman at Livingston. Peslak recorded a pair of strikeouts and had a no-hitter in that game until Prezioso led off the seventh inning with a bunt single.
Afterward, Prezioso sought Peslak out to say congratulations on a tremendous game, which the Lancers eventually won, 2-0.
“That meant the world to me that day,” Peslak said. “It was nice facing her again (on Oct. 6).”
Prezioso fouled off a number of pitches on a 2-2 count before flying out to deep center. Hopefully, the two will meet again during the spring season.
In the meantime, it was good to hear from Secretariat, as she gets settled into the college scene. Not so surprisingly, she’s doing well in the classroom, too. And if she’s becoming an even better pitcher than we saw from 2010-2013, there will be plenty to talk about in the years to come.
While the Wayne Hills football team prepares for a huge game on Oct. 18 against Pascack Valley at home, the team, as well as the entire Wayne Hills community, has a heavy heart after the passing of Dana Smith.
Mrs. Smith, the wife of Wayne Hills’ site coordinator, Brad Smith, lost a difficult battle with breast cancer at the age of 41. She was a wife and mother of two small children, Anthony and Taylor.
According to Wayne Hills assistant football coach Jon Goldstein, Brad and Dana were high school sweethearts while attending Wayne Hills (both were graduated in 1990).
“Everyone at Wayne Hills is devastated over this tragedy,” Goldstein said. “But, we foster a very family oriented atmosphere here at Wayne Hills, and Brad is part of our family. We will be here for him and his family, and help them get through this difficult time. Speaking on behalf of the football team, we will be wearing stickers on our helmets with the initials D.S. in pink for the rest of the season, as are many of the other teams. Having gone to school with both Brad and Dana, this certainly hits close to home on a personal level and words can’t describe how truly sorrowful I feel for him and his kids, as well as Dana’s immediate family.”
Wayne Hills football players will wear a ‘DS’ decal (far right, as seen on Brian Burges’ helmet) in honor of the late Dana Smith.
“Needless to say, it’s such a sad time for Brad and his family,” said Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff. “I feel so bad, especially for those two young children. I know Brad will provide the strength for his family, but it’s tough for him, too. Anything that we can do as a family to help, we’ll do.”
October is ‘National Breast Cancer Awareness Month’, so all the athletes at Hills have been wearing pink to honor those who have fought the good fight against breast cancer.
Now, with the passing of Mrs. Smith, that battle has attained a new level of awareness at Wayne Hills.
Hurricane Sandy devastated so much in the Metropolitan area nearly a year ago. Like so many communities in New Jersey, Wayne was hard hit.
Over the past 12 months, a somewhat sense of normalcy has returned, although those who live on, or near the Jersey Shore will say there’s still much to do before their homes and businesses are restored to pre-Oct. 28, 2012.
With healing comes symbolism, and at Wayne Hills High, the return of one of the school’s eight championship football banners provides a small (in retrospect) but nice addition to the fence behind the end zone where, once again, eight banners reside.
According to assistant football coach and long-time Wayne Hills guru, Jon Goldstein, the 2007 championship banner was destroyed by the storm, while the 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010 and 2011 banners endured. Last week, the 2007 banner was finally put back up on the fence.
“We’ve always been about tradition here,” Goldstein often says. “It can be anything from the coaches gatherings on Thursday nights before our next football game to pride in winning a championship, in any sport at Hills.
“The ‘W’ should be worn with pride, and our championship heritage should be intact. Now, in a way, it is, again.”
Steve Pusterla, a senior and team captain for the 2013 Patriots, saw the ’07 banner back in its familiar perch and smiled.
“It’s good to see all eight up again,” Pusterla said. “Hopefully, in a few months, we’ll add a ninth.”