Joe D’Ambola: A Great Man, with a Heart of Gold; A Belleville legend who reached so many in the Township

The reaction on social media was swift and somewhat repetitive.

Joe D’Ambola’s passing has indeed left a void for his family, as well as many friends, including a host of former Belleville High football players, who revered the man who loved all his kids, and realized that gruff exterior was nothing more than the hope of seeing those guys go on to productive lives.

D’Ambola ran the defense for some tremendous Belleville High football teams. When Belleville won perhaps the greatest sporting event I ever covered, the 3-2 win over Passaic on Oct. 2, 1982, head coach John Senesky was quick to credit D’Ambola’s work with the special teams, which set up the clutch field goal early in that game.

Senesky and D’Ambola were the ultimate frick and frack. Senesky would be the calm, laid back guy, who barely raised his voice. D’Ambola was the perfect complement, a highly charged man, who loved to stir the pot.

fbSome great times with Belleville High football coaches, and William ‘Doc’ Ellis (back row, far right), circa 1978. (Click on photos for larger image)

Just ask Chet Parlavecchio, who loved telling the story of the 1977 game between Chet’s Seton Hall Prep team and a young Belleville squad. Seton Hall had a legendary team that year while the Bellboys were just starting to learn Senesky’s system.

Before the kickoff, D’Ambola informed the officials that one of Seton Hall’s players, Joe Aulisi, wasn’t wearing the required hip padding. The official concurred and hit Seton Hall Prep with a 15-yard penalty, before the opening kickoff.

“We went nuts,” recalled Parlavecchio, who was a senior on that Seton Hall Prep team and would go on to an outstanding career as a linebacker at Penn State, before playing in the NFL. “We’re all yelling across the field at Joe, he’s yelling back. It was great.”

fb1John Senesky (second from right) and Joe D’Ambola, second from left, in this 1976 photo, along with then-head coach Tom Testa (center).

Seton Hall used that anger to put a 63-0 walloping on Belleville that day. Two years later, Seton Hall Prep came back to Belleville and this time, the Bucs would win, 14-13.

“That was the type of kid that played at Belleville back then,” said Parlavecchio, himself a highly successful high school coach today. “Those kids were tough, and coaches like Joe D’Ambola and John Senesky, were the reason why.”

When Parlavecchio was informed that D’Ambola had passed away, the wistful coach was quick to laud a competitive and well-loved coach.

“What a good man,” said Parlavecchio.

Chet’s sentiment about Joe was pretty conclusive. A really good man, as well as a second father to many kids. He was also as good a friend as there ever was, with a big heart.

“A good coach, and a great man,” said Ron Charles.

“That hit like a ton of bricks,” said Perry Mayers, upon learning of Joe’s passing. “What a great guy and coach…I know he impacted a lot of his players lives…mine included.”

me-and-joeD’Ambola (center) watches players warm up prior to 1978 season finale at Kearny, on Thanksgiving. That’s me, far left. (Thanks Perry Mayers for supplying this picture).

“So sorry to hear this,” said Ted Hahula. “A great guy and friend. We worked many years together.”

“Sorry to here this news,” said Chris Chiaromonte. “A great man and a terrific family. Prayers are with the D’Ambolas.”

“I’ll never forget that smile,” said Ken Burde. “Joe was an awesome guy.”

me-and-joe-1Getting together with Joe (light blue shirt, middle of picture) back in 2014, at the Chandelier.

“Prayers to his family,” said former player Frank Kokos. “I’ll tell you the truth, when I played I didn’t like him, he was a tough coach, got on you a lot, but years later you realized it was to make you better.

“A couple of years ago, at the dinner they had for Coach Senesky, Joe and I sat together and had a lot of fun talking about the old times. I saw a part of him I never saw before. He’ll be missed.”

“Joe D’Ambola asked me at graduation, what are you going to do after graduation?” recalled Luke Silletti. “I replied I have no idea. He then said ‘Luke, you’re going to wake up one day, 40 years old with kids, and wonder where the time went.’ I never forgot this.

“(When I was a kid) I said to myself, I have the meanest teacher at BHS. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Joe changed students lives,  including mine.”

Heartbreaking news,” said Rocco Balsamo. “Joe was a great man, and coach for many of us. He was one of the best and he will be sorely missed.”

“Terrible news,” said Carl Corino. “I feel real bad. Joe was a Belleville guy, in and out. He was a good friend, coach, teacher and family man. We busted him for his grumpiness at times , but when he laughed, it was great. Joe and (the late George Zanfini) where oil and water, but the stories and the laughs were great.”

“Joe was top shelf in my book,” said Anthony Gammaro. “He was always up front, kept us all on the straight and narrow path. What a great guy.”

“Oh man, very sad news,” said James Mickey. “I have great memories of this guy for many many years, from when I was a little kid, until  playing bocce not too long ago. Great, great guy.”

Perhaps it was Nancy McDonald, a Belleville High alum (and a classmate of mine) who said it best.

“Joe is part of some of my finest memories in high school,” said McDonald. “He was a great man, with a heart of gold. RIP.”

Through that Andy Sipowicz-like exterior, there was indeed a heart of gold. Joe loved his children, was devoted to his wife, Patricia, and was a steadying influence to so many

My life is better for having known Joe D’Ambola.

He was a man’s-man, a no-nonsense, hard-working guy who would do anything for others.

I will miss him, tremendously.

Rest in peace Joe.

Until we meet again.
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By mike051893

Merry Christmas, Anthony….IHA softball is following in your legacy quite well; Rutt’s Hut not the same without you, but the memories endure

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

Why’d you have to leave so soon?
Why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you the most?

christmas

‘Cause I don’t really know how to tell ya
Without feeling much worse
I know you’re in a better place
But it’s always gonna hurt

It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

christmas_tree

It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again Oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh oh
Oohh When I see you again
See you again
When I see you again

Christmas is right around the corner, and with that, the year will shortly conclude.

It’s a time of happiness and, for sure, a few melancholy thoughts cross most of our minds, thinking back on the past year and remembering loved ones who have departed this life.

alaAnthony had celebrated his 50th birthday with his older brothers (left to right), Billy, Joe and Allen in January, 2016. (Click on photo for larger image).

A year ago, fans of the Immaculate Heart Academy softball team were beginning to think ahead to the 2016 season, in the hopes that the Eagles could repeat its state championship. The team’s legendary head coach, Anthony LaRezza, had been battling a form of oral cancer, but he was as fired up as anyone, looking ahead to the first day of practice, even though Christmas, 2015, hadn’t come yet.

Anthony had called me right before Christmas to say hello and let me know he was doing pretty good. “We’ll get to Rutt’s Hut, soon,” I remember him telling me. “Sounds good,” I said. “Merry Christmas, talk soon.”

This stirring tribute to Anthony was put together by his friends at IHA.

On February 4, 2016, the news of Anthony’s sudden passing hit with the subtly of a sledge-hammer. The text message from Jimmy Stoeckel, III, came late that morning and the feeling was certainly surreal. There’s no really good way of breaking that kind of news.

larAnthony always knew what a special person he had with former IHA player Diana Fasano on the coaching staff.

Anyway, IHA’s softball team endured, especially in the early going of that 2016 season. But Diana Fasano proved to be the rock, as Anthony’s one-time assistant took over the reigns and guided the Eagles to a 31-1 season, which included a 30-game winning streak to end the year, as well as a  conference, county and, ultimately, a state championship, on June 11, at Kean University.

cakeIHA players coveted the Triple Crown in 2016, for Coach LaRezza. (Click on photos for larger images)

ihatc

And, oh yes, the Triple Crown. And how ironic was it that IHA would seal that crown on the same day as the Belmont Stakes. (Anthony loved to chime in on my racehorse theme for some of the state’s best softball players).

The Eagles had won a second straight championship on the same field that Anthony was exuberantly jumping on after a 1-0 win in the 2015 final, as Reagan Jones scored the game-winning run.

lareSean Reilly gets all the credit here, for capturing this moment after IHA won the 2015 Non-Public A championship.

Along the way, the Eagles got some new fans in Anthony’s brothers, Joe, Allen and Billy. Strangely enough, Anthony’s older brothers hadn’t attended many IHA games when their little brother was coaching, but the three, especially Joe and Allen, provided the perfect remedy for a team, and family, which needed each other’s support.

ihaJoe LaRezza was a regular at IHA games in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

iha1Anthony’s older brothers were a big part of IHA’s ride to a state title in 2016, as was Ed Bates.

(Here’s the article on the LaRezza brothers and what the 2016 season meant to them. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/its-truly-been-a-team-effort-for-iha-in-2016-from-parents-coaches-friends-and-some-brotherly-love-larezza-style/)

iha3Taylor Kenerson (white hat) celebrates the 2016 state championship. (Click on photo for larger image)

And now, here we are, at Christmastime, and Anthony, the ultimate little kid in an adult costume, comes to mind once again. Anthony’s final resting place is just a half block from my residence, in Belleville, NJ, so stopping by to say hello once in a while isn’t difficult, yet remains surreal.

 

iha2Remembering Anthony in 2016 came in many forms at IHA.

iha1Below, IHA players gather at Paramus Catholic before season opener on April 1, 2016, to remember their coach. (Click on photos for larger images).

iha3

So, with Christmas coming, just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Anthony. I know you’re keeping an eye out on your family, friends and countless softball players at IHA, past and present.

And as Coach Fasano said in early April, during the many remembrances which accompanied the start of the season without you, physically being there, “Anthony would have hated all of this.”

al2IHA players never doubted coach LaRezza was on hand for the 2016 state final. (Click on photos for larger image)

We made a toast to you at Kevin Kenerson’s house the night of June 11, led by Coach Fasano, after the state championship win. Your senior players are already making their college plans, and all have high hopes and big goals, along with winning a third straight state championship in 2017.

iha2IHA players relished a second state championship at Kean U in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

Hey, there’s going to be a Reagan in Washington, DC next fall. How great is that?

reagan(Above) Reagan Jones and her dad, Bob, after a game last spring. Jones scored the game-winning run in the 2015 state final and was a key to last year’s Triple Crown, as she celebrated last June. Reagan will be attending Georgetown University in the fall of 2017. (Click on photos for larger image).

reagan1

I wish I could have seen your reaction to the past presidential election.

Any time I showed up with a specific team jacket, or a jersey, at an IHA game, I loved your comments about a former player from that team. (Jerry Reuss, Dick Ruthven, Nestor Chylak and Doug Buffone came to mind right away).

I miss the Memorial Day speech.

liv sproTaylor Kenersion (left) and Olivia Sprofera celebrate a state title with Allen LaRezza (second from left) and Joe LaRezza. (Click on photo for larger image)

I miss the scorecard being thrown in the air after a rare IHA error, although Diana did that pretty well at times last spring.

The softball tournament, in early April, which you worked so hard to make popular at IHA, now bears your name.

BANER

 

iha teamWinning the Bergen County championship was a huge accomplishment for the Eagles in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

iha2

I’ve made some great new friends in your older brothers. We even had a tremendous dinner at Allen’s restaurant last summer.

dousingTaylor Kenerson (16) and Reese Guevarra doused LaRezza with water after the 2015 title. A year later (below) Fasano got the bath. (Click on photos for larger images)

df1

Your good friends in the coaching ranks continue to honor your memory by their hard work.

Then again, you already know all of this.

Merry Christmas, Anthony.

‘Till we meet again, I’ll keep having that hot dog at Rutt’s, and will be forever thankful for all the great times.

ihaTrips to Rutt’s Hut with Anthony were special. (Click on photos for larger images)

lar

 

 

 

 

 

By mike051893

Former Wayne Hills quarterback Mike Giampapa recalls state championship game with Wayne Valley 9 years ago

Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley will meet for the fifth time in the NJSIAA playoffs, and the second time in a state championship game, on Dec. 4, at MetLife Stadium, in the Meadowlands Sports Complex.

Hills has won three of the first four playoff matchups, and has an overall 10-2 lead in the series.

The first-ever meeting between the schools was in the 1991 sectional final, which Valley won, 7-0, before an overflow crowd at Wayne Valley.

Ten years later, Hills defeated Valley in a sectional playoff, 41-6. The Patriots also defeated Valley in a 2010 playoff game, 48-0.

The last time the schools played, with a state championship on the line, the Patriots won a hard-fought game, 27-7, on Nov. 30, 2007, at Giants Stadium, in a battle of two 11-0 squads. Chris Olsen was, of course, the Wayne Hills coach while Brian O’Connor was the Indians’ coach. (Wayne Demikoff, now the head coach at Hills, was an assistant to Olsen from 1999-2012).

(The teams didn’t start playing each other in the regular season until 2009, and the series has been held regularly since, with Hills winning seven of eight games, including an exciting 25-24 win on Oct. 28).

Mike Giampapa was the quarterback of that ’07 Hills team, and with his alma mater preparing to play Valley on Dec. 4, Giampapa took a few minutes to recall the last championship tilt with Valley.

mg-under-centerMike Giampapa shouts signals during state championship game with Wayne Valley on Nov. 30, 2007, at Giants Stadium. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I can’t believe it’s been nine years already,” said Giampapa, from his home in San Francisco. “I remember there being a lot of hype leading into the game. Back then, we didn’t play each other in the regular season, so there was just two (playoff) games between the teams leading into our (2007) championship game (in 1991 and 2001).”

Giampapa noted that the emotions were running high, especially on game day.

“By the time we got to Giants Stadium, I remember just wanting to go out and play,” Giampapa recalled. “We all said we have to just trust our guys and we’ll be okay. We were so fired up, and I’m sure Wayne Valley was, too.”

2007-st-champsThis is one of eight state championship banners lining the fence by the football field, at Wayne Hills. Patriots hope to add a ninth on Dec. 4.

The ‘hype’ that sometimes gets associated with a game like this is usually not a sentiment shared by the players, according to Giampapa.

“The fans really get into it, and obviously, the players want to win, but you have to remember, a lot of the guys on Valley were good friends. Some of my best friends were on that team. We all grew up, and played together on the youth level. We had a lot of respect for them, and they did, too, for us. That year, we were both undefeated and, I’m pretty sure, neither team had lost a game on any level (freshman, JV and varsity) that season, heading into that final.

“I remember it being the longest two weeks of my life, leading up to the game. I had dreamed about playing in that type of game since I was a water boy for my older brother’s (Anthony) team in 1999, when (Wayne Hills) played in the championship game at Giants Stadium (against Hoboken). From that point, I became obsessed with getting back there, and winning. I thought about it every day.”

Giampapa recalls running out of the tunnel “was unlike anything I’ve experienced before. It was loud.”

Most fans there recalled that the lower bowl of Giants Stadium was completely full, something which should be the case this coming Sunday at MetLife. (Giants Stadium closed after the 2009 season and MetLife opened in 2010).

“All of our players were business-like,” recalled Giampapa. “We had played in these games before, and that gave us a lot of confidence.”

In 2007, Hills was in the midst of the legendary 55-game winning streak, which had begun six games into the 2004 season and would last until nearly midway through the 2009 season. Hills would win five straight state championships from 2004-2008.

“I think that this group of seniors at Wayne Hills could feel the same way,” said Giampapa. “They played at MetLife last year in a state championship game.”

Hills scored first in 2007, but Valley rallied to tie it in the second quarter on a touchdown run by Matt Dortch.

Giampapa felt the key to the game was on the ensuing kickoff, when Carlton Marcin, who played a tremendous game for Hills, returned the kick for a score, to give Hills the lead for good, 13-7.

“That was huge for us,” said Giampapa. “Valley had just tied it, and we got the lead back quickly. I thought it was the key to the game.”

Hills would score a touchdown each in the third and fourth quarter to seal the 27-7 win. Marcin rushed for 65 yards that day, scored two touchdowns, had an interception and recorded five tackles.

Tim Waller, a linebacker for Hills, was a force, with 15 tackles and a quarterback sack.

Dan DeCicco rushed for 92 yards in the game to lead the Hills offense. Dortch rushed for 52 yards in the game to pace Valley.

“Winning that game, almost 10 years ago, is still one of my fondest memories,” said Giampapa.’ “I still have the game ball on my dresser.”

Giampapa feels this year’s contest will be a tremendous game.

“These types of games always go the distance — you can bet it will be an emotional roller coaster. The team who can block out the ups and downs and just focus on executing the next play typically comes out on top.

“Your stars certainly need to perform, but there’s always someone you may not expect who needs to step up and make a big play. It will be a total team effort.”

 

By mike051893