Ricky Cabanillas named District 7’s O.W., DePaul wrestling team advances 8 to Region 2

With the season winding down, the DePaul High wrestling team is beginning to hit its peak. The Spartans finished second at a strong District 7, held at West Essex High, in North Caldwell, on Feb. 17.

Head coach Keith Karsen’s squad advanced eight to the Region 2 championships, which began on Feb. 21, at Mount Olive High, in Flanders. Four of the eight Spartans were to wrestle in the preliminaries, on Feb. 21 and needed to win to advance to the quarterfinals on Feb. 23. The other four, Nicky Cabanillas, Ricky Cabanillas, Connor O’Neil and Eddie Bierals, won gold at District 7 and didn’t have to wrestle until the quarterfinals on Feb. 23.

The tourney wraps up on Feb. 24, with the semifinals, wrestlebacks and 14 championship bouts, all at Mount Olive.

Ricky Cabanillas (center) was named Outstanding Wrestler at District 7 last week. The junior has much bigger goals, including a state championship at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, on March 4. (Click on photo for larger image)

The top four wrestlers in each weight class at Region 2 will join the top four wrestlers in each weight class at the other seven regions for the ultimate weekend, the NJSIAA championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4.

Karsen was happy with his team’s performance.

“We had 11 wrestlers entered and eight advanced,” said the coach. “That’s a good number. I like where are kids are right now. We have four kids who’ll need to win on Wednesday, in the preliminaries, then move on to Friday night. We want to have kids wrestling into the weekend.”

Karsen felt his team would be prepared.

“At this time of the year, these kids know what it takes,” said Karsen. “That’s why we wrestled the schedule we did, beginning with the Beast (of the East Tournament, in December). The tough competition all season should have us prepared for this weekend, and next.”

Roxbury won the District 7 title, with 218.5 points while DePaul was second, with 170.5. Cedar Grove (142.5) and West Essex (127.5) rounded out the top four in a 10-team field.

“It was a good tournament,” said Karsen. “Roxbury is tough, and I thought Cedar Grove and West Essex had some really good kids, too.”

All eight of DePaul’s regional qualifiers appeared in their respective championship bouts. Nicky Cabanillas won the 126-pound title with a 6-0 win, Ricky Cabanillas garnered the Outstanding Wrestler award following his 13-3 win at 145 pounds, O’Neil prevailed at 152, with a second period fall and Bierals won a 3-2 decision to gain the 285-pound title.

Ricky Cabanillas, who advanced to the state finals last season at 145 pounds, as a sophomore, had finished third in last year’s districts, after losing to Dominick LaRusso of Roxbury, 9-6 in the semifinals. This year, he avenged that loss by a major decision.

“You could tell Ricky was fired up for that match,” said Karsen. “But that should show any wrestler that finishing third in a district doesn’t stop you from your ultimate goal. Ricky went on to the state final last year, and this season, he’s more determined to win it all.

“I was also very happy with the way Eddie Bierals performed at heavyweight. He really battled and won a championship.”

Finishing second for DePaul last Saturday were Michael Esposito (120 pounds), Joe Ferrandiz (132), Luke McFadden (138) and Michael Pillot (182).

“Those guys all did a good job,” said Karsen. “They’ll be ready to go on Wednesday.”


By mike051893

Special moment for Liddy family, as Tyler joins dad, Tim, as first father-son 1,000 point scorers at Glen Ridge High

Tyler Liddy reached an historic milestone in the annals of Glen Ridge High basketball, but the senior guard was more interested in how he could further help his team, while also honoring his father.

Tyler’s dad is Tim Liddy, the athletic director at Glen Ridge High. When Tyler scored his 1,000th career point on Feb. 13, as Glen Ridge won a 55-46 game at Weequahic High, Tim was there, behind the scorer’s table, and clapping emphatically as the game was briefly stopped.

“My dad was a great player,” said Tyler. “He finished with 1,123 points. Maybe I can pass him, but that’s not important. I want to help this team make a good run (in the upcoming NJSIAA tournament).”

Tyler Liddy, joined by his father, Tim (left) and head coach Liam Carr. (Click on photo for larger image)

‘Glen Ridge was 17-7 heading into its regular season finale, at home against Oratory Prep, on Feb. 22. On Feb. 26, the second seeded Ridgers will open the state sectional tournament, by hosting Belvidere, starting at 7 p.m., in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 1.

Liddy led the Ridgers with 19 points in the victory over Weequahic and then followed with a tremendous game against Randolph on Feb. 15, with 21 points.

“Tyler has battled all season long,” said Glen Ridge coach Liam Carr. “He’s had multiple injuries, and there were times he probably shouldn’t have played, but he’s such a competitor. He’s an excellent scorer, but he does so many other things for us. In addition to being our leading scorer, Tyler also leads our team in assists, steals and rebounds.

“What we’re seeing now is Tyler playing his best basketball of the season, and it’s a perfect time for that. I’ve been coaching for 12 years and Tyler is one of the most unselfish kids I’ve ever been around. I remember a game against Livingston, and Tyler’s leg was really bothering. So what does he do? He gets 10 rebounds. There’s no way we win that game without him that day.”

Tim Liddy was not only a happy administrator, but, of course, a proud father, when Tyler eclipsed 1,000 points.

“Scoring 1,000 points is a tremendous accomplishment for a high school basketball player,” said Tim. “This accomplishment does mean more since Tyler is my son, and I spent many years coaching him in basketball and having the privilege to watch him play four years at Glen Ridge High School. It is great honor to say that Tyler and I are both 1,000 point scores during our careers at Glen Ridge. I am sure that there are many other schools in New Jersey that have a father-son combo as 1,000 point scorers, but it is pretty special to be the first at Glen Ridge High School, and to have our names on the 1,000 point banner that hangs in our gym.”

Tyler had a tremendous football season as Glen Ridge’s quarterback last fall. He’s now the ‘quarterback’, so to speak of the basketball team, as its point guard.

“As much as Tyler scoring 1,000 points was a big thing for him, just like his dad, winning is the ultimate goal,” said Carr, himself a standout player for the Ridgers and a 1995 graduate. “Tim was a part of a state championship team in 1988 here, and that’s something he always looks back at with pride.

“Tyler is always thinking on the court. He knows where everyone is supposed to be, all the time. We’re looking forward to a good run in the states, and having Tyler healthy and playing well will be a big plus for us.”






By mike051893

CHAMPIONS AGAIN ! Wayne Valley atop District 8 for second straight year, as Nick Trani, Reid Colella and Nick Duncan capture gold; Wayne Hills’ Pete Dellechiaie nearing century mark for victories

Champions, again.

For the Wayne Valley wrestling team, a second straight District 8 title was secured on Feb. 17, as the Indians dominated at Hopatcong High School. Valley scored 190.5 points while Montville was second, with 131, and Passaic Valley finished third, with 128, in a 10-team field.

Head coach Todd Schroeder’s squad advanced 10 to the Region 2 championships, which began on Feb. 21, at Mount Olive High, in Flanders. Seven of Valley’s 10 grapplers were to wrestle in the preliminaries, on Feb. 21 and needed to win to advance to the quarterfinals on Feb. 23. Three other wrestlers, Nick Trani, Reid Colella and Nick Duncan, won gold at District 8 and didn’t have to wrestle until the quarterfinals on Feb. 23.

The tourney wraps up on Feb. 24, with the semifinals, wrestlebacks and 14 championship bouts, all at Mount Olive.

The top four wrestlers in each weight class at Region 2 will join the top four wrestlers in each weight class at the other seven regions for the ultimate weekend, the NJSIAA championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4.

Wayne Valley celebrates a second straight title. (Click on photo for larger image)

Schroeder was obviously pleased with his team’s effort in a big setting.

“It was a tough district, with Montville, Passaic Valley and Garfield among the top teams,” said Schroeder. “I thought we were really focused on what we had to do. It’s a one day tournament, and there’s a lot of mental preparation which goes into it. We advanced 10, and that’s pretty good. Now, we have to get seven of those 10 ready for Wednesday, and a win there guarantees wrestling into Saturday. The goal, of course, is to get to Atlantic City.”

Trani won the 195-pound title with a 9-3 decision in the championship bout. Colella captured the 152-pound crown with a pin in the final and Duncan won a hard-fought 4-2 decision in the finals.

“Nick went to Atlantic City last year and knows what it will take to get back there,” said Schroeder. “He’s worked hard to put himself in this position. We feel he’s capable of winning a medal in Atlantic City. This will be a big weekend, for sure.

“The same is true of Reid, who I feel can medal at the states. And I’m so happy for Nick Duncan. “He’s been training off the charts and is starting to peak at the right time. With wrestling, it’s all about timing, and that’s why I’m really optimistic about all our kids who are headed to the regions.”

Finishing second for Valley were Hunter Davis (106 pounds), Adam Zindaki (113), Orion Cua (120) and Elijah Lugo (126). Mo Baghal (160), Dan Murphy (170) and Gabriel Ortiz (182) were third in their respective weight class.

“You got to be in it, to win it, and we’ve got 10 moving on,” said Schroeder. “I liked the way all those kids battled. Mo, Dan and Gabe all battled back to win their last match and take third. I thought Hunter, Adam, Orion and Elijah all did a great job to get to the finals. Those seven guys will wrestle on Wednesday, and they know a win moves them into the weekend and a chance to qualify for A.C. That’s what it’s about now.”

Schroeder was also happy with the way heavyweight Jordan Botero competed for his team.

“Jordan made it to the semifinals, before losing a hard fought match to the eventual (285 pound) champion (Passaic Valley’s Yousef  Karmi),” said Schroeder. “He did a good job this season.”

Kittatinny High School, in Newton, was the site for District 2, where Wayne Hills advanced three wrestlers to the Region 1 championships, which will be held at West Milford High School, on Feb. 21, 23 and 24.

Wayne Hills head coach Dan DiColo announced that three Patriot wrestlers, Pete Dellechiaie (220 pounds), Gabe  Dellechiaie (195) and Aidan  Broderick (113) qualified for the regions.

Pete Dellechiaie was second while Gabe  Dellechiaie and Broderick finished third. All three were scheduled to compete on Feb. 21, and needed to win in order to qualify for the quarterfinals, on Feb. 23, and then the semifinals, or wrestlebacks, the following day.








By mike051893

Passaic Valley’s Joe Benvenuti named District 8 Coach of the Year; JBen praises his staff and receives accolades from peers

Joe Benvenuti and his valued assistant Brian Kapral (right). 

Passaic Valley wrestling coach Joe Benvenuti was named the District 8 Coach of the Year, by his peers, at last weekend’s championship matches.

It was the fourth time that Benvenuti has been so honored by his respective district. He was a three-time District 13 winner, with two of the awards coming when Benvenuti was the head coach at West Essex. In 2010, Benvenuti was named Coach of the Year at District 13 and Region 4, while at Passaic Valley.

The humbled Benvenuti, who won his 200th career match as a head coach last December against Nutley, credited the award to the PV wrestling program.

“There’s no way this happens without the help of a great coaching staff,” said Benvenuti. “Brian Kapral has been with me for many years and is as good as they get. Needless to say, my brother, Michael, is someone I can always rely on. And (former PV standout wrestler) Nick Pezzano has done a great job on the coaching staff, too. We have great kids here, tremendous parental support, as well as a good feeder program of young kids who learn the sport and then carry that success into the high school program.

Joe Benvenuti and his family, following the coach’s 200th career win last December. (Click on photo for larger image)

“This is all about a program which produces tough kids on the mat and good kids, off it. And that’s the part which makes me so proud.”

Benvenuti led PV to a 15-8 record this season, including wins over four programs that captured NJSIAA sectional championships a year ago. In addition, Benvenuti, a PV graduate and former wrestler for the Hornets, guided Passaic Valley to a state sectional crown in 2010 and 2016. He’s also coached multiple wrestlers to state medals, both at PV and West Essex.

“I’ve learned a lot being around coaches Chet  Parlavecchio and Anthony Minnella,” said Benvenuti. “They told me to surround myself with loyalty, first, when it came to coaching, and things would work out. And that’s been the case, for sure.”

Benvenuti also credited his wife, Suzanne, along with his parents and children, for their support.

“My family has always been there, and without their support, I wouldn’t be able to put the time in that I do. I can’t thank them enough,” said Benvenuti.

Benvenuti is well respected by opposing coaches, as well.

“Joe is a class act,” said Wayne Valley head coach Todd Schroeder. “He runs a tremendous program, with hard-nosed kids. We have a great rivalry with them, and that’s because of Joe, and his staff. I couldn’t think of a more worthy recipient than Joe to receive this award.”





By mike051893

A classy Matt Schettino becomes the fifth Raider to score 1,000 points for NHS boys basketball

Nutley High’s Matt Schettino joined an elite fraternity, becoming just the fifth player in the history of the boys basketball program to eclipse 1,000 points in a varsity career.

Schettino, a senior, needed just one point heading into a game against Cedar Grove, on Feb. 13, to reach 1,000.

“It was a stressful one point,” said Schettino, with a laugh, in recalling the situation. “My family was there. I was a little nervous, but it all worked out.”

Schettino had four points in the game, as Nutley won its fourth straight, defeating the Panthers, 65-50. The Raiders were 12-8 heading into a game with Clifton, on Feb. 17. On Feb. 22, Nutley closes out its regular season, at Memorial of West New York and on Feb. 26, the team begins play in the NJSIAA Tournament, at Irvington, starting at 7 p.m.

Matt Schettino and head coach Bob Harbison. (Click on photo for larger image)

Nutley is seeded 12th in North Jersey, Section 2, Group 3. If it defeated fifth seeded Irvington, the Raiders would be at fourth seeded Voorhees or could possibly host 13th seeded Parsippany Hills, on Feb. 28.

Schettino is the first player in Bob Harbison’s run as Nutley’s head coach to score 1,000 career points. He added his name to a list which includes Dave Siepert, Anthony Christy, Marty Higgins and Bobby Bock. Higgins, a 1988 graduate, is the school’s all-time leading scorer, with 1,855 points. Ironically, Higgins’ son, a junior also named Marty, should join the 1,000 point plateau, probably early next season.

“It means a great deal to be one of the first five to score 1,000 at Nutley,” said Schettino. “And I know Marty will be there soon, too. Marty and I have grown up together and he’s a tremendous player.”

Schettino, a 5’11” guard, played football and basketball, growing up. He admits football was his first love, but a series of injuries made him give up the gridiron and focus on the hardwood.

The son of Neysha and Daniel Schettino, Matt hasn’t finalized his plans for this coming fall, as far as college, or possibly joining the Military.

Harbison was very pleased that Schettino reached the plateau.

“Matt has really stepped up his game this year,” said Harbison. “He’s such a talented kid, with a knack for going to the basket, and has become a complete player.”

Schettino was proud of reach 1,000, but credited his teammates first.

“I would never be able to do this without my teammates, for sure,” said Schettino. “This has been a great senior year so far. We’re having a good season, and I think we have a chance to make a run in the state tournament. My parents have always been there for me, and God has blessed me with this opportunity. I’m very grateful.”



By mike051893

Michael Ramos recalls historic ascent to 1,000 career points at Bloomfield High, the 10th to do so in BHS boys basketball history

In reaching an elite milestone, Bloomfield’s Michael Ramos was well aware of the tremendous lineage of the Bengals’ boys basketball tradition.

“We all know about the great players who have been here,” said Ramos, a junior, and the son of Katia Kam and Michael Ramos. “It was special, for sure.”

Ramos reached the milestone with a 29 point effort against Barringer, as the Bengals won, 67-40, on Feb. 9, in Bloomfield.

Michael Ramos, joined by teammates and coaches, as he’s honored for scoring 1,000 career points. (Thanks to the great Jerry Simon for the photo).

“I didn’t think that would be the game I’d get 1,000 in,” said Ramos. “I needed a lot of points. But it all worked out.”

Bloomfield head coach Pat Brunner isn’t surprised by Ramos’ play.

“Michael is a hard worker, who loves to play,” said Brunner. “He’s a gym rat, and the sky’s the limit for him.”

Ramos has already drawn interest from some major colleges, including Manhattan College and Kent State University. His love of basketball came from his father, who got him on the basketball court at a young age.

Ramos is the 10th Bengal to eclipse 1,000 points, and the first in five years to do so. The last to do it was Jameel Patterson. Prior to that, it was Jamil Goodwin, in 2008.

“I know what players like Kelly Tripucka did here,” said Ramos of Bloomfield’s all-time leading scorer and one time NBA star, with the Detroit Pistons. “It’s a special list to be on.”

While individual accolades are nice, Ramos is thinking ahead, as the Bengals prepare for the biggest part of the season.

“We’re having a good year, but now is the time for us to step it up,” said Ramos.

Bloomfield was 18-5 heading into an Essex County Tournament quarterfinal game on Feb. 17. In 23 games, Ramos had scored in double figures 20 times, including the last nine games. His season high is 29 points, which came against Barringer twice this year.


By mike051893

Passaic Valley wrestling thinking big, as post-season begins

Crunch time has arrived in New Jersey high school wrestling.

And at Passaic Valley, the Hornets are gearing for an exciting three weeks, with the ultimate goal a visit to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4. Before that happens, however, the trek to A.C. starts this weekend, with the district championships. For PV, that means heading to Hopatcong High, for the District 8 title, on Feb. 17. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at the 32 districts move on to the eight region championships, which begins on Feb. 21. continues on Feb. 23 and concludes on Feb. 24. PV is now in Region 2, which will be contested at Mt. Olive High, in Flanders. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at the eight regions move on to Atlantic City for the state championships.

Passaic Valley head coach Joe Benvenuti was pleased with the way his team concluded the regular season. PV won three matches last week, defeating New Milford, Saddle Brook and Cedar Grove, after losing in the first round of the state sectionals, to the eventual champion, Roxbury.

“We finished the season 15-8,” said Benvenuti. “Along the way, we beat four teams this season that were state sectional champs last year. Throw in key victories over rival teams like Nutley, West Essex and Clifton, and we really have a lot to be excited about.  For me, as a head coach, I could never thank my staff enough for their dedication and loyalty to the kids, myself and this program.  I am very lucky that I have the staff behind me that works as hard as they do, year in and year out.”

The regular season had started with a disappointing loss to North Bergen, but eventually, the team won 15 matches.

Passaic Valley head coach Joe Benvenuti (left) and assistant coach Brian Kapral will lead the Hornest into the districts, regions and hopefully, state championships, in Atlantic City. 

“Where this team came from makes me proud,” said Benvenuti. “We have seven wrestlers in the lineup that were not varsity wrestlers before this season.  Half of our lineup had no experience on the varsity mat, and we ended up having the season that we did. Going toe-to-toe with Roxbury in the opening round of the state sectionals shows me we will have a great performance at the districts this weekend.  This team has really grown up and competed with tremendous effort and toughness all season long.”

For many years, Passaic Valley was a part of District 13, but with the reshuffling of the districts and regions by the state prior to the 2016-2017 season, the Hornets were moved to District 8. This year, the top teams should be defending champion Wayne Valley, along with Montville and Passaic Valley.

“Clearly Wayne Valley is the favorite, but I like our chances right now, given the way our boys have wrestled over the last couple of weeks,” said Benvenuti. “During my days at West Essex and here at PV, this team is very similar to some of the district championship teams that I have coached in the past, that really peaked at the right time. ”

In the state sectional match with Roxbury, the Hornets did a good job.

“I was very proud of the effort against Roxbury,” said Benvenuti. “We had them on the ropes there for a little bit, That is all we could ever ask for, to see our boys do their best and earn some respect.  We talk all the time of taking winning and losing out of the equation, and focus on your effort and your attitude.  In a losing effort, our boys showed outstanding effort and attitude.”

The Hornets defeated New Milford and Saddle Brook in regular season bouts and last Saturday, the team rallied to edge a strong Cedar Grove team, 36-32.

Heading into the districts, Benvenuti noted some of his top wrestlers should rise to the occasion.

“(Team captains) Tom Marretta and Yousef Karmi prevailed in all matches last week, and both had important, hard-fought victories against Saddle Brook,” said Benvenuti. “These two young men have set themselves up perfectly for this end-of-season run to Atlantic City.  We fully expect them to be district champions this weekend.

“Beside being great on the mat each week, our coaching staff is more impressed with how Tom and Yousef have led this young and inexperienced team throughout the entire season.  Since January rolled around, Luke Geleta has been a major contributor to our team. He is someone that I have great confidence in, to become a district champion. Jordan Sconciafurno is another athlete that should make a major name for himself with a district championship.  Now that he has gotten a taste of gold, when he won the Passaic County title, he is even more hungry to add to his success.  Jeremy Galletta is someone I feel will help his team in a major way on Saturday.  He should be seeded very well, and again is another wrestler that got a taste of gold at the county tournament.  With both Jeremy and Jordan, the talent has always been there.  The missing piece was the focus.  These two have matured into confident leaders, and that has been such a positive transformation.

Greg Sabbak has been a kid that always rises to the occasion.  His weight class will be the toughest at our district.  Knowing Greg and his unique ability to come up big when it matters most, it would not surprise me at all if we are talking about him being a champion as well.”

In addition, look for Novain Gonzalez, Colby Sellitto, Logan Rodriguez and Zach Ulrich to earn good seeds for this Saturday and make a run to Region 2.

“If our boys wrestle with great effort and positive attitudes, I am confident they will not only be a better teammate, but they will also be champions,” said Benvenuti.


By mike051893

Wayne Valley wrestling finishes strong regular season; Pete Dellechiaie closing out impressive career at Wayne Hills

With an impressive 19-6 regular season in the books, the Wayne Valley High wrestling team now prepares for the final stage of a long season.

Head coach Todd Schroeder’s Indians will be at the District 8 championships, at Hopatcong High School, on Feb. 17, where the team will seek to defend its championship. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at the 32 districts throughout the state will move on to the eight region championships, which begins on Feb. 21. continues on Feb. 23 and concludes on Feb. 24. Wayne Valley will compete at Region 2, which will be contested at Mt. Olive High, in Flanders. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at the eight regions move on to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City for the state championships, from March 2-4.

Nick Trani, getting his hand raised, has put together a tremendous season at Wayne Valley. (Click on photo for larger image)

Last week, Wayne Valley lost in the state sectional semifinals to West Morris Central, 35-21, on Feb. 8. The team then concluded the regular season with three victories, downing Lyndhurst, 67-12, Teaneck, 66-6, and River Dell, 46-24, in a quad on Feb. 10.

Schroeder was pleased with the effort down the stretch. Wayne Valley ended the regular season by winning 16 of its last 18 matches.

“I thought our kids did a good job against West Morris,” said Schroeder of his team’s match against the top seed in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4. “We’re at a good place now, with the districts coming up. It will be a good test for us, especially with Passaic Valley and Montville in our district. They’re really good teams.”

Wayne Valley won the District 8 crown last year, in the first season of the newly formatted district and region set up.

“It was different, seeing a lot of new teams last year,” said Schroeder. “We did a good job, overall, at the districts and we’ve got a lot of kids back from last season who know what it takes this time of year to move on.”

The Wayne Hills High School wrestling team finished the regular season on a strong note, winning three straight and five of its last seven matches.

First-year head coach Dan DiColo’s Patriots finished 10-15 and will be at Kittatinny High School, in Newton, for the District 2 championships on Feb. 17. District 2 includes some talented teams including Kittatinny, Jefferson and Pope John. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at District 2 will move onto the Region 1 championships, at Wallkill Valley.

Pete Dellechiaie of Wayne Hills. (Click on photo for larger image)

Among the highlights of Wayne Hills’ season was Aidan Broderick winning the Passaic County Tournament (PCT) crown at 113 pounds and Pete Dellechiaie finishing second at 220 pounds at the PCT.

Entering the districts, Dellechiaie had 96 career victories.

“After the county tournament, we had a great team win, with two back ups in freshman Chris Brutofsky at 145 pounds and junior Galo Guerra at 160, getting huge wins for our team against Lakeland,” said DiColo.

Hills finished the regular season by sweeping a quad, against Dwight Morrow, 66-6, New Milford, 52-19 and Kinnelon, 42-27, on Feb. 10 while also defeating Lakeland, 36-34, on Jan. 31, and Passaic, 61-9, on Feb. 2.



By mike051893

Belleville-Nutley rivalry aside, Piro extends thanks to neighboring school after change at District 10 venue goes flawlessly

Nutley High athletic director Joe Piro and I go back to an era where when you said Belleville vs. Nutley, in local sports matchups, the animus was quick.

It was a hectic weekend for Nutley athletic director Joe Piro and his staff. 

And in a way, it still is. I always kid I wouldn’t wear a Nutley jacket, or anything maroon, for that matter, although I do have a nice Nutley High softball tee-shirt. And I doubt you’d see Joe wearing my Belleville High letterman jacket anytime soon.

As a Belleville kid, when it came to Nutley, there was no town I wanted to win against more. And even as a writer, deep inside, it’s hard to not to ‘root’ for the Blue and Gold, when the opponent was/is Nutley.

Belleville High’s legendary football staff in the late 1970’s. The program made a big turn when it defeated Nutley, 31-0, in 1978. (Click on photo for larger image)

But, as you grow up, you learn that all of us, from the ‘Spaghetti Triangle’, so to speak (along with Bloomfield) were all raised with pretty much the same values. Our parents had the final word, respect was king and there was accountability.

And that’s why, as adults, we’re all pretty good friends, and have each other’s backs.

Nutley head football coach Steve DiGregorio (white shirt, left) played for the Raiders, against Belleville, from 1976-1978. (Click on photo for larger image)

With that said, Nutley, which was supposed to host the District 10 wrestling championships this weekend, had to switch venues at pretty much the last minute, and Belleville became the new site. The tournament ended up running well, and Piro didn’t waste time lauding those who helped make that happen. He made it a point to reach out to the police officers on duty at Belleville High, at the end of the tournament.

And he publicly thanked the Belleville administration. Here are some excerpts, from Joe’s Facebook post, on Feb. 18, a day after the tournament.

Nutley softball coach Luann Zullo has guided her team to some big games against Belleville since taking over as head coach 20 seasons ago. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I have to take a moment and give a big thank you to the Belleville school district. In what was probably one of the more scarier times in my career, and in the wake of a very difficult situation for Nutley and the NHS Athletic Department, Belleville came to our aid. Moving any athletic event is never easy, moving a wrestling tournament is a difficult task, moving the state wrestling tournament on six hours notice is next to impossible, unless of course Belleville is your neighbor and (Belleville High athletic director) Marcellino Marra is your friend.

“The Belleville staff and police were nothing short of outstanding yesterday. Thank you to (Belleville Superintendent of Schools) Dr. (Richard) Tomko for your blessing and support. To Marcellino Marra, (Belleville High wrestling) Coach (Joe) Pizzi, and the Belleville Athletic Department, I say thank you for opening your doors, gymnasium and locker rooms and treating us like family, and to the Belleville support staff and workers, I say thanks for a job well done. You proved that we may be rivals on the field, but when times are tough we are brothers in arms!

“The RaiderNation and the BucNation stand as one!!!! Thank You all!”

 Carl Corino’s softball teams at Belleville High included big games with Nutley, including the 1993 Essex County Tournament final and a 1992 state sectional contest. There were also plenty of big NNJIL contests, as well. (Click on photo for larger image)
By mike051893

Wayne Hills’ Mike Zaccone chooses Hobart, joins Patriots captains Jason Modak (Holy Cross) and Dario Sirni (Montclair State) with college selections

With his parents and grandparents smiling proudly, Wayne Hills High senior Mike Zaccone made it official. He’ll attend Hobart and William Smith Colleges, in Geneva, New York, and continue playing football.

Zaccone, a standout two-way player at Hills who helped lead the Patriots to back-to-back state championship games in 2015 and 2016, including a title two years ago, was joined by his family at Hills’ official signing day, on Feb. 9. Zaccone was clearly relieved he had committed to Hobart.

Mike Zaccone in front of a locker at Hobart. (Click on photo for larger image)

“No question, it’s the right place for me,” said Zaccone, a team captain last fall. “The recruiting process was certainly interesting and a little stressful. I learned a lot, for sure. With Hobart, they had reached out to me at school last year, and the coach there was really good to speak with. I felt comfortable during the entire process, and when I made my official visit two weeks ago, I knew the moment I walked onto the campus that this was the place for me.”

Zaccone was one of five captains for Wayne Hills, which finished 7-4 in 2017 and advanced to the sectional semifinals. Two other captains from that team, Jason Modak and Dario  Sirni, joined Zaccone in making their college choices official. Modak, a star lineman, will play football at the College of the Holy Cross, in Worcester, Mass., while Sirni, the team’s reliable kicker, is headed to Montclair State, where he’ll play lacrosse.

Left to right, Wayne Hills head football coach Wayne Demikoff, Jason Modak, Mike Zaccone, Dario Sirni and assistant coach Mike Zaccone. (Click on photo for larger image)

“It was special being with Jason and Dario when we all made it official,” said Zaccone. “I grew up with those guys, and it will seem strange when we all go our separate ways after graduation. But right now, it will be nice to enjoy the rest of high school with my friends.”

Zaccone and Modak both plan to play baseball this spring for the Patriots.

Hobart had an excellent football season last fall, finishing 7-3. An NCAA, Division 3 school, the Statesmen play in the Liberty League. The school also has an excellent academic reputation and Zaccone, a very good student, is excited about that, as well.

“I plan to major in business, but I’m not sure what curriculum, yet,” said Zaccone. “Every student at Hobart has to have a major and a minor. I’ll figure that out as I get closer to starting school.”

Zaccone is expected to play inside linebacker at Hobart. Between now and the start of practice this summer, he plans to work on his speed and agility, while also continuing weight training, which has always been synonymous with Wayne Hills football.

Wayne Hills coach Wayne Demikoff was pleased that Zaccone chose Hobart.

“Mike will do well at Hobart,” said Demikoff. “It’s a good level of football, with a tremendous education. I’m really happy for Mike, and his entire family.”

Zaccone set the school record for tackles in a season last fall, with 111, while also picking off three passes. In 2016, he suffered a broken leg in the first round of the NJSIAA playoffs, but was able to come back two weeks later and helped the Patriots edge Wayne Valley, 31-24, in a thrilling state final, at MetLife Stadium.

Zaccone is the eldest of three children, born to Jodi and Michael Zaccone, Sr.. The elder Mike Zaccone has served as an assistant football coach at Hills since 2012, and is also a Wayne police officer.

By mike051893