Mike DiPiano Sr. and Santa will, once again, provide a great party for children at St. Barnabas

He’s as imposing as they come, a hard-nosed, somewhat gruff-voiced man who can easily make you run the other way if you tick him off.

But underneath that exterior lies as compassionate a man as they come, a family guy through-and-through, a man who met his mortality at a relatively young age and not only prevailed, but devotes his daily endeavors to making sure others can appreciate the gift of life as much as he.

Welcome to Mike DiPiano’s world, and on Dec. 22, 2015, ‘Big D’ will be in familiar territory when he dons a big red suit, white beard and black boots at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston to ensure some special youngsters will have a memorable Christmas holiday.

dipianom_122012_bt_tif_Michael DiPiano (front row, center) and his elves will be making some beautiful children smile at St. Barnabas Medical Center Christmas party on Dec. 22.

‘Big D’ and his elves will be giving out presents and hugs to children whose lives have been changed by the Gift of Life, an organ transplantation.

Many of you probably know DiPiano’s story. At age 44, his life was drawing to a premature conclusion with kidney failure. A devout Christian, he had received the last rites.

But DiPiano’s life was given a new meaning when he received a new kidney and pancreas, from a donor known as Sean, a 21-year-old who was killed in an automobile accident. The transplant took place on Oct. 25, 1998 and now, as DiPiano enters his 63rd year of life, the big man has never hesitated in helping others learn of the value of organ transplant and the need for people to be a donor by simply signifying as much on their driver’s license.

10468066-smallDiPiano honors ‘Sean’, the young man who saved his life, with a tatoo.

Mike has extended his message to countless amounts of people, as well as groups and wrestling tournaments. A legendary grappling coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, the husband and father of three retired (so to speak) in 2012, moving with wife, Karen, to Florida. But Belleville is still home for the DiPianos,  who are home for to spend the holidays with daughter Michelle and sons Michael and Frank. All three DiPiano siblings are successful high school coaches today, following in dad’s footsteps. In fact, youngest son, Frank, recently took a job at St. Benedict’s and appears to be following in his dad’s massive footsteps.

At St. Barnabas, Mike will put smiles on the faces of children, many of whom are also recipients of an organ transplant at a very young age. Other children may be recovering from illnesses which could keep them in the hospital for the holidays.

For Mike, it really doesn’t matter what the condition. If that child can draw a smile from seeing he and his friends on Dec. 22, it’s all that counts.

In January, 2016, the sixth annual ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’ high school wrestling tournament will be held at Nutley High School. It began five years ago, and has had numerous themes, with the most important the need to understand the significance of organ donation. The event was the brainchild of Big D.

In the meantime, as the Christmas holidays near, Mike DiPiano will be back home, spreading his cheer and love for life to some great kids, as well as his extended family.

“For me, it’s about these kids with a new lease on life and the importance of organ donation,” DiPiano has said on numerous occasions. “Organ donation saved my life, and it can save so many others. It requires only a notation on your driver’s license that you wish to be an organ donor. My goal is to continue spreading that word to as many people as I can.”

It is indeed the true meaning of the holiday, and it will be wonderful to see Mike again on Dec. 22.

By mike051893

A huge thank you to the Wayne Hills football moms; Another great season, with thanks to Lynn Pellegrino, Maria Grave, Stephanie Petracco, Albina Sportelli, Terriann LoVerde, Ann Fiumarelli, Jill Gawrych, Cindy Skiba, Sandy Kenny and many others…

There are many steps to building a successful high school football program. There, of course, is a need for committed coaches and players. That goes without saying.

Building a program at the lower levels is vital, too.

In addition, a program needs a good training staff, as well as volunteers who enjoy teaching kids the game.

It’s not an easy proposition. And then there’s the extra perks that not all programs can provide.

At Wayne Hills, a championship style program has been in effect for nearly two decades. And the commitment not only comes from the administration, coaches and players. There’s also a tremendous amount of work from a number of the players’ parents, mainly the moms.

Starting in early August, and lasting until school starts in September, the football players enjoy breakfast, or lunch, before, or after practices, in the school cafeteria. During the season, there’s a beautiful dinner served before games, or if it’s a Saturday contest, breakfast is offered to the players.

IMG_9494THANK YOU SO MUCH, TO (left to right), Lynn Pellegrino, Stephanie Petracco, Albina Sportelli, Terriann LoVerde, Ann Fiumarelli, Jill Gawrych, Cindy Skiba and Sandy Kenny, for doing so much to keep the football program at Wayne Hills thriving once again.

And I’m not talking about a small portion of food. The Wayne Hills football moms go out of their way to make sure everyone has seconds. And the mothers are there to serve the food, and they ask for nothing in return.

The players have long appreciated what their parents do to make a game day extra special. And the players reciprocate, but honoring their mothers at the Mother-Son brunch in October, and the Father-Son Beefsteak on Thanksgiving Eve.

Wayne Hills football coach Wayne Demikoff couldn’t say enough good things about the work the football moms (and dads) perform.

“They’re incredible,” said Demikoff. “There are no other words. Breakfast before practice, lunches in between double sessions. Pre-game meals, that are so delicious. There’s nothing like it. On behalf of our coaches and players, a huge THANKS to everyone who helped make this such a great season, once again.”


By mike051893

Wayne Hills football: Some photos to look back on a great season

There were so many nice moments to the 2015 football season at Wayne Hills. Here are a few photos which tell the story.

hills 2This was the first day of practice for the 2015 season, on Monday, June 8. Wayne Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, also visited that day, wishing the team luck.

hills 1On June 10, a group of Patriots went to the New York Giants practice facility near MetLife Stadium to play in a 7-on-7 tournament.

hills 3On Sunday, June 14, the Patriots participated in a tank pull to benefit the Wounded Warriors.

hills 4And at that tank pull, Joey Kenny actually pulled a tank, BY HIMSELF….Incredible.

captsOn July 1, the Patriots five team captains for the 2015 season were chosen. From left to right, Sal Abbracciamento, Frank Petracco, Joey Kenny, Tom Skiba and Vincent LoVerde, with head coach Wayne Demikoff in the middle.

sportMatt Sportelli was as good as they got on the line. He was also a marvelous long-snapper.

skibaTom Skiba comes from a wonderful family and is an outstanding young man.

wjSpecial teams coach and the Czar, Walt Johnson, with (left to right), kicker Luca Catania, punter Brendan DeVera and long snapper, Matt Sportelli.

Specials Team & Coaches_2Jason Modak, just a sophomore, should be a key player on future Hills teams.

Specials Team & Coaches2Luca Grave, a junior, led the Patriots in rushing, including an excellent game at MetLife.

wwThe Patriots marched onto the field, in a ceremonial parade, at Wayne Valley on Nov. 6, to honor the Wounded Warriors.

11161354_10205496300079767_9155489033228631582_nFreshman head coach Chris Dowling led the freshman team to an undefeated season. He also provided doughnuts and coffee to the coaches on many a late night Monday meeting.

IMG_20151106_214245_504When Wayne Hills defeated Wayne Valley, Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Mark Toback, presented a trophy to the Patriots.

Poster - Leyshawn AskewSenior Leyshawn Askew had a tremendous season on the defensive line for Wayne Hills.

imageJoe Kenny, a senior, should be hearing from a number of colleges soon.

12246721_10206614448533718_333733427780269027_nFollowing the win over Indian Hills, the Patriots ‘family’ celebrated at the Outback.

askewLeyshawn Askew got his first look at MetLife on Monday, Nov. 30 and enjoyed the moment with coach Jermain Johnson.

thFormer Coach Chris Olsen returned to root on his Patriots at MetLife on Dec. 5.

IMG_20151130_190927_937-1Team captains Tom Skiba, Joe Kenny and Frank Petracco were quite impressed with the facilities at MetLife.

lightsWhen the lights didn’t go on one night at practice, the coaching staff jumped in to help.

metlifeThe Patriots ended its season at MetLife Stadium. The team hopes to return there in 2016.


By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: Petracco’s words epitomized season; Justin Hogan provided a spark; Dagati’s off-season program a key; Here’s to 5 tremendous captains, who led team to 9-3 season and a Big North championship

The scoreboard may have read an Old Tappan victory in the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 championship game at MetLife Stadium on a gorgeous afternoon. But for Wayne Hills, it was representative of more work to come, and a sincere appreciation to a really good group of football players.

Old Tappan prevailed, 17-0, scoring all of its points in the second half after Hills pretty much dominated the first 24 minutes, but had no points to show for it.

Leading to the trip to MetLife, the Patriots had practiced well for two weeks. Head coach Wayne Demikoff and defensive coordinator Jermain Johnson had a near-perfect game plan to slow down an Old Tappan offensive attack which was averaging nearly 45 points a game in its first 11 contests.

On the offensive side, John Jacob had a good idea of what it would take to move the ball, and for most of the first half, the Patriots did just that. But two key scoring opportunities came up short, and Old Tappan would capitalize in the second half on a few Wayne Hills errors.

“A good team does that,” said Demikoff afterwards. “You give a team like Old Tappan extra chances, and they’ll find a way. We had held them to 47 yards of total offense in the first half, and I felt we should have been up at least 7-0, maybe 14-0. But, again, give (Old Tappan head coach) Brian (Dunn) and his staff a great deal of credit. They made more plays, simple as that.”

The day had started with the Patriots arriving at the school before 8 a.m. It had a spirited walk through on its field before a good breakfast in the school cafeteria.

As the team prepared to head back to the school, a few coaches and players spoke, briefly. Team captain Frank Petracco gave a stirring speech, talking about an evening, last summer, during the 10-day break the Patriots had in their summer schedule, and referring to a streaking star in the galaxy, while spending time with some of the team’s other captains.

12243407_10205209031653971_4268140870996318368_nFrank Petracco (second from right) here with his family, after a win in the playoffs, was a tremendous captain and leader for the 2015 Patriots.

“I know sounds corny,” said Petracco. “But it meant something. We wanted to get this program back to where it belonged, and that’s in a state championship game. A couple of us were hanging out one night, and, it told me something was going to be special about this season. And it was. We’re here today, going to MetLife.”

Assistant coach Eric Dagati, who was vital to the team’s incredible off-season conditioning program, also spoke.

EricDagatiCoach Dagati

“I had asked Dem what I could to do help, after the team had to play in that consolation game,” Dagati recalled. “And he wanted to get the team tougher and less injury prone. I had to be 100 percent on board, because if I wasn’t, you guys would have seen right through me. You bought in, and the end result was practically no kids in the training room with injuries this year. We became a tougher football team, and you guys have earned this moment.”

Justin Hogan, a 2015 Hills grad, was a freshman the last time Wayne Hills had played in a final. He was the heart and soul of the team from 2012-2014, but wasn’t able to play in a state final. He is now a freshman linebacker at the University of Rhode Island.

Jacob once called Hogan perhaps the hardest-hitting player he’s ever coached.

hogan 2Justin Hogan relished his days as a Wayne Hills Patriot.

Hogan has often said that playing college football is great, but there’s nothing like the times he had in high school.

“I don’t think anything can top the days I had while playing here,” said Hogan. “I wish I could have played at MetLife, but I’m so happy for these guys.”

Demikoff often said that he wished he had Hogan for another season.

“Justin epitomized what it means to be a Wayne Hills football player,” said Demikoff. “He belongs here today, joining us at MetLife. He did a lot to show this year’s team the toughness it takes to be successful on the field.”

And let’s not forget the five team captains this year, who were simply incredible. Demikoff couldn’t thank them enough for the marvelous season, in which the Patriots were 9-3, and won a Big North championship.

Joe Kenny, Tom Skiba, Vincent LoVerde, Sal Abbracciamento and Petracco were not just outstanding players, but great kids, too.

“I told them today, and I mean it, “said Demikoff. “Of all the years I’ve been coaching, this may have been the best group of kids I’ve ever worked with. There was never a day I couldn’t wait to come to work and coach these kids. And that goes for the coaching staff, too. We had great chemistry.

“I feel bad we didn’t win it today, but I’ll be be appreciative for what this team provided me. I can’t thank them enough.”

captsHead coach Wayne Demikoff (center) was thrilled last summer when the team chose, from left to right, Sal Abbracciamento, Frank Petracco, Joe Kenny, Tom Skiba and Vincent LoVerde as team captains at the end of summer camp at East Stroudsburg University.

By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: Less than a day until Old Tappan; Team discusses regrets, then burns them; Coach Olsen offers encouragement; Senior parents watch sons’ last practice; Remembering Goldy

FRIDAY, DEC. 4: It’s 3:30 p.m. and practice is about to begin.

“Okay, let’s go,” said offensive coordinator John Jacob. “It’s your last practice of the season. For some of you, it’s your last football practice, ever. What do you want to do with it?”

John_JacobOffensive coordinator John Jacob, here with wife Denise, and daughter Sophia, has been a key part of the team’s success in 2015.

At this stage of the season, Jacob knows there’s not much need for urging the team to get fired up. The Patriots are less than a day away from playing for a state title. Old Tappan awaits on Saturday afternoon, at 1 p.m., in the North 1, Group 4 final, at MetLife Stadium.

Jacob is perhaps the team’s most philosophical coach. On this week’s game plan, he wrote on the cover “If we had all the answers to our journey, we would have never learned anything along the way.”

The two weeks of practice leading up to Saturday’s final have gone very well. The Patriots are healthy, they’re playing their best football of the season, and everyone on the roster has one common goal, to win a state championship.

At the conclusion of practice, the team continues a ritual that others have begun. Players and coaches will write down, on a piece of paper, a regret they have about the current football season, then drop the paper into a fire, which is contained and burning in a garbage can.

One-by-one, the players step up and express a regret. Some talk about not working as hard as they could have in a practice session, or in the weight room. Others mention a specific game, and how they felt they let their teammates down.

The coaches also discuss what they’ve regretted. Some were more emotional than others.

Tony Giampapa, who has been associated with the program for 20 years, brought with him a hat that bore the championship won by the 2009 Patriots.

Problem was, however, the ’09 Patriots didn’t win. They were defeated in the championship game, by Ramapo, in a blizzard at the old Giants Stadium, 16-8.

Giampapa recalled how he and the late assistant coach Jon Goldstein had the hats made, ahead of time, in preparation for what would have been the team’s sixth straight state title. Most of the hats were eventually placed in a dumpster at Giants Stadium after the loss. Goldstein, who died suddenly in January of 2014, would burn his ’09 hat after the game, as well.

jgThe late Jon Goldstein will always be a part of Wayne Hills football lore.

“As far as I know, this is the last hat from that batch,” said Giampapa to the players. “And you know what? It’s time for no more regrets from losing that game. We may have been the better team that day, but we lost. Tomorrow is your day. Go for it.”

And with that, Giampapa tossed the hat into the fire

Goldstein is also remembered at the regret burning by assistant coach Mike Zaccone, who wished Goldy would be on the sidelines on Saturday.

The ‘Czar’, Walt Johnson, speaks of the tremendous team chemistry that this year’s Patriots have exuded, and credits the seniors for leading the way.

Former coach Chris Olsen has returned to Wayne to watch his beloved Patriots play for a title. Olsen has been at practice the last few days, and participates in the regret burning. He tells the current group to have no regrets for tomorrow.

CVa1NpIXAAI13bcFormer head coach Chris Olsen told this year’s team, “no regrets tomorrow.”

“It’s all there for you,” Olsen said. “You’re ready.”

Head coach Wayne Demikoff saves his speech for last. He praises the senior class for bringing Hills back to a championship game.

“We’ve always said that a team at Hills will only go as far as the seniors will take us,” said Demikoff. “Well, you guys have taken us back to where we’ve always felt we’ve belonged. This has been an incredibly good year. And tomorrow, you can make it memorable for a lifetime.”

CVauRpGWsAEc_Rr.jpg largeChris Olsen and Wayne Demikoff address the team following the final practice of the 2015 season.

Some of the senior parents, along with alumni, have also stopped by the final practice. Frank Petracco’s mom, Stephanie, proudly tells a group that she did a cartwheel during the team’s visit to MetLife last Monday, then shows us the video on her phone.

Vincent LoVerde and Matt Sportelli’s mothers, Terriann and Albina, are also visiting, taking photos and enjoying their son’s final practice. There’s a twinge of nostalgia, but also excitement about what lays ahead on Saturday.

The time has finally come. The championship game is upon us. Starting Saturday morning, a few more blogs leading from the team’s arrival at the school, to the walk-through, pre-game meal and then the trip to MetLife.

Tick, tick, tick…



By mike051893

Wayne Hills Football: 1 day ’till Old Tappan; Coach Olsen in town, will be at MetLife on Saturday

THURSDAY, DEC. 3: That voice was familiar, yet not as imposing.

At practice today, the usual sounds of coaches exuding the players was evident, especially with head coach Wayne Demikoff and his usual, “good, good….back in the huddle”, Jermain Johnson “read your keys” and John Jacob “are you kidding me? Okay, that’s better.”

But in the background, a different voice was evident, yet somewhat laid back.

It was former Wayne Hills head coach Chris Olsen, who had just arrived from his home in North Carolina, and will be cheering on his team this Dec. 5, when the Patriots travel to MetLife Stadium to take on Old Tappan, starting at 1 p.m, for the state sectional championship.

thChris Olsen (here at Giants Stadium during his days as head coach) hopes to be celebrating another football championship at Wayne Hills on Saturday, this time at MetLife.

Olsen’s accomplishments at Hills are well documented. He was head coach for 26 years, leading the program to eight state championships, as well as 14 appearances in the state final.

Since retiring after the 2012 season, he’s stayed pretty low-keyed, having moved, with his wife, Sue, to North Carolina to be closer to middle son, Greg, a star tight end with the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. He’d often text me during a Hills game to check on the score, but until this year’s season opener, when the Patriots visited Graham High School in North Carolina, Olsen hadn’t been to a Patriots game since his last contest as head coach, on Nov. 30, 3012.

Olsen offered some encouragement as he watched practice, telling Demikoff on a few occasions that he felt the team looked real good, especially on defense.

Assistant coaches would stop by and say hello to the coach during practice. Olsen was especially pleased to see Pat Cosgrove, Hills’ longest-tenured assistant coach. Cosgrove and Olsen go back to Olsen’s days as head coach at St. Cecilia High School, and Cosgrove has been with Olsen since, with stops at Bergenfield, Paterson Eastside and, of course, Hills.

Pat_CosgroveAssistant coach Pat Cosgrove and former head coach Chris Olsen have been friends for nearly 40 years.

Olsen would also comment on a few occasions that he had forgotten how cold it can get at the field, when the sun sets and the wind picks up.

“Hey it’s great that they’re still practicing this time of year,” Olsen said, referring to the team returning to the state finals for the first time in four years. “We never minded the cold.”

When practice ended, Demikoff spoke briefly, as he always does following practice, to the players at midfield.

“Tomorrow (Dec. 4), will be your last practice on this field (for the 2015 season),” Demikoff reminded his team. “And for the seniors, it’s the last time you’ll be on this field, practicing football. Make it a perfect practice. You’ve had two excellent weeks of preparation for Saturday. You’re ready. We can see that. Now, go over the formations tonight, get on Hudl, and be ready tomorrow.”

With that, Demikoff, asked the coaches if they had anything to add, then said, “Coach, (Olsen) how about you?”

Olsen didn’t want to take away from Demikoff’s message, but was clearly fired up for the team.

“Like Coach said, you’re ready,” Olsen reminded the current Patriots. “You’ve worked hard for this. Not everyone can play this game, and devote the time and effort needed to be a football player at Wayne Hills. You’ve done it. Now, finish it on Saturday.”

The team took the long walk back to the locker room, from the field. Inside, Demikoff was talking to a few of his senior players, as the kids prepared to head home.

Wayne_Demikoff2Wayne Demikoff has been on the coaching staff for all of Wayne Hills’ eight previous state championships. On Saturday, he’ll be a head coach for the first time in a state final, coaching a group that he admits he’s very fond of.

“I have to say, of all my years here,” said Demikoff. “This may have been the most fun. What a great group. I know I’m hard on them, but they’re special.”

Just a little over 24 hours away from MetLife…Tick, Tick, Tick…

By mike051893