Dubuque Saturday: Remembering 17 years later, as Joe Dubuque’s performance at Region 4, and subsequently the states, epitomized a true champion and provided great memories for Anthony Montes and Anthony Messina, as well

Long after the final whistle sounded, and the cheering ended on a wrestling mat in North Jersey, three friends remain tied to each other, in part due to a weekend 17 years ago, that will forever bond them.

This is the story of Joe Dubuque, Anthony Montes and Anthony Messina, wrestlers from neighboring Essex County high schools in Glen Ridge, Nutley and Bloomfield, respectively, who formed a triangle at Passaic Valley High in Little Falls, which has transcended time.

It’s what makes high school wrestling, and its subsequent competition, so special. And while the friendship amongst the three had begun long before a fateful weekend in March of 2001, what occurred over a seven day period 17 years ago has forever changed their lives. It’s a story of courage, raw emotion and the ultimate victory which would alter Dubuque’s life, strengthen a friendship, and create the legacy of ‘Dubuque Saturday.’

Left to right, Joe Dubuque, Anthony Montes and Anthony Messina, on March 3, 2001, after the Region 4 championships. (Click on photo for larger image)

In 2001, Dubuque was a senior at Glen Ridge. He had won an NJSIAA championship at 112 pounds a year earlier. He was rolling through his senior year at 119 pounds, undefeated, and for that matter, unstoppable. Dubuque had won his fourth straight Essex County Tournament championship earlier in the 2000-2001 season, and had just turned in a dominant effort at District 13, for his fourth straight title there.

Regions 4 championships, March 2-3, 2001

On Friday, March 2, 2001, Dubuque won his Region 4 quarterfinal at Passaic Valley. Already a three-time region champion, he was scheduled to wrestle Messina, then a sophomore who was just beginning to gain credibility in the sport, the following morning in a semifinal. Dubuque was also excited about having just set a new state record for takedowns in a season, eclipsing the mark of 204 by perhaps the best high school wrestler, ever, in New Jersey, Damion Hahn of Lakewood. (This was obviously well before Jordan Burroughs, Anthony Ashnault and Nick Suriano would dominate the NJ high school landscape).

“I remember going to bed that night and thinking I had to wrestle Joe the following morning,” Messina recalled. “I knew I didn’t have much of a chance, but I was also looking forward to wrestling him. I figured, no one was expecting me to win and I had nothing to lose. What’s the worst than can happen? I lose? Okay.”

The two stepped on the mat around 9:15 a.m. on March 3. Messina planned to be aggressive and see if he could gain some momentum.

“Right off the bat, I caught him with a high crotch and thought I got the two points, but  referee, Mark) Sherman said my foot was out of bounds,” Messina said. “We’re walking back to the center of the mat and I’m thinking ‘(Joe) is going to kill me now.”

Dubuque was a devastating wrestler on his feet and would often shoot toward opponents’ legs to gain leverage. As Dubuque moved in, his head collided with Messina’s forehead and Dubuque crumpled to the mat, losing consciousness for about 20 seconds.

“My friends had nicknamed me ‘Rock’, because I have a hard head,” Messina said. “When we hit, I didn’t feel anything, but then I saw Joe lying there.”

Dirk Phillips, Glen Ridge’s wrestling coach at the time and today the Glen Ridge Superintendent of Schools, recalls the moment like it was yesterday.

“I remember him lying on the mat, and I’m saying ‘Joe, Joe, you okay,’” Phillips said. “He wasn’t responding, but he eventually started coming out of it. Back then, while we had trainers, the response to head injuries is not nearly what it is today. The trainers would not let him continue, and a doctor who was at the match wouldn’t allow him to continue without being examined first.”

Messina, confused by what was happening, suddenly had his hand raised in victory, marking Dubuque’s first loss of the season.

“At first, I was happy because I won,” Messina said. “But I was more concerned at that point about Joe. I went down to the locker room and apologized, but Joe was quick to say there was nothing to apologize for and that it was a part of the sport. It happens. Still, it was weird.”

With Dubuque off to a doctor, the buzz around Passaic Valley was deafening. Dubuque had left quickly, hoping to get a doctor’s clearance to continue wrestling. Having lost, he would need to wrestle back for third place if he any hope of winning a second consecutive state championship. His first wrestleback would be 90 minutes after his loss to Messina, so time was critical.

A somewhat dazed Joe Dubuque manages a pin in his first bout after suffering a head injury in 2001. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I was determined to wrestle back,” Dubuque recalled. “It was a freak accident, but that stuff happens. It certainly gave me a new perspective on the sport.”

Dubuque hurried to an ImmediCenter-type facility to get a clearance, which was obtained.

As Phillips had said earlier, the protocol for head injuries today is so much different than it was in 2001. Had the injury occurred today, there’s no way Dubuque could have wrestled later in the day, and of course, the hope for a second straight state title would have disappeared.

Dubuque returned to the gym in time to face Angel LaPorte of Kearny in the first of two wrestlebacks he would need to win to clinch third place. Montes, then a junior who had won the other 119-pound semifinal, remembers well watching Dubuque try and wrestle LaPorte.

“I didn’t think he should be out there,” said Montes, one of Dubuque’s best friends to this day. “He was wobbly throughout the match. I remember when I was wrestling my semifinal at the same time Joe and Anthony were on the mat and all the commotion when Joe got hurt.”

Dubuque’s eyes were red and he appeared to wobble at times when standing up. But somehow, he caught LaPorte, who in his wildest dreams never thought Dubuque would be in a wrestleback, for a pin in the third period. What probably saved Dubuque’s season that day was referee Joe Luongo, a seasoned wrestling official who was keeping a close eye on him.

“When you’re officiating at that level, you have to know the kid,” Luongo said. “I had worked enough of Joey’s matches to realize he could wrestle his way through it. I handled him with kid gloves that day, but also knew how tough Joey was. I had to give him the opportunity and didn’t want to stop it, especially after he was cleared to go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation for a kid. You don’t want to stop it and the kid turns out to be okay.

“However, if I saw any indication he was in jeopardy, I was stopping it. With Joey, he always talked a lot during his matches, so I had a few conversations with him in that particular match. When he’d go out of bounds, I’d ask him ‘how are you’ and ‘what day is it’, stuff like that, and he was responding like usual. It also helped that I had a good relationship with his head coach, Dirk Phillips. We had spoken before that match and Dirk seemed okay to let Joey go out there. Ultimately, it was still my decision and I’m glad it worked out the way it did.”

After defeating LaPorte, Dubuque had another hour to try and recoup before he faced Lou Rabelo of North Bergen for third place. Only the top three wrestlers from each weight class advanced to the state championships back then, so there was just one way for Dubuque to qualify. The extra hour seemed to do him some good. His eyes were much clearer and he seemed more focused.

Dubuque put on a typical take down show against Rabelo, building up a big lead before registering a fall to clinch third place.

“Yeah, I remember that well,” said Jerry Maietta, North Bergen’s head coach then, and now. “That was some day. Actually, I talk to Lou Rabelo a lot, now. He’s on the Board of Ed at North Bergen.”

As the day’s events at Region 4 were concluding, Dubuque received a thunderous standing ovation from the crowd of nearly 2,000 at Passaic Valley. Dubuque was somewhat overwhelmed by all the attention. He even garnered some votes as the tournament’s outstanding wrestler, which was unheard of for someone who finished third.

“Honestly, I still don’t remember a thing from that day,” Dubuque recalled. “The entire day was a blur, literally.”

Because of predictions of a massive blizzard the day after the regions, the NJSIAA pushed the next round of wrestling, then called the super regions, back a day to March 7, in deference to the storm. Since Dubuque finished third in the region, he would need to win his first match at the super regions to assure himself a trip to Continental Airlines Arena in the Meadowlands that weekend for the state championships, then win a second time that evening for a chance at winning a second state title.

The aforementioned snowstorm never occurred. But the extra day off for the super regions would help Dubuque’s recovery. This is also where the friendship between Montes and Dubuque took another turn.

Super Regions, March 7, 2001

Dubuque and Montes had hoped to wrestle each other in a state championship final in 2001. A year earlier, Montes had made it to the 112-pound semifinals before losing and eventually finishing sixth in the state. Dubuque, who was wrestling in the other semifinal that year, went on to win the state championship at the Meadowlands.

“We had come pretty close to facing each other a year earlier for a state title,” Montes said. “So we both felt that it would be our year. When Joe got hurt, it changed all the matchups for the super regions. There was even talk after he originally got hurt that maybe I’d medically forfeit the region final, so we would avoid having to wrestle each other in the super regions.”

Montes didn’t forfeit the Region 4 final. He defeated Messina, 13-8, for the 119-pound title. But that meant he would most likely face Dubuque in the super regions at Union High School, assuming Dubuque defeated Roselle Park’s Dan Appello in the preliminary round earlier that evening.

“I couldn’t forfeit a region final,” Montes said. “You have to understand that when we competed back then, wrestling was everything to us. That’s the way it was meant to be (17) years ago. I always kid (Messina) that he messed everything up that year. In a way, the best thing I ever did was wrestle Joe that night in Union. I’ll never forget it.”

Nor, would the large crowd in attendance that evening at the super regions.

Dubuque won his first round match over Appello, ending Appello’s season and setting the stage for his match with Montes later that night. Both guys were assured of a trip to the Meadowlands, but the victor would be advancing to the winner’s bracket.

Dubuque, who was back in good health, won a 7-5 decision. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, the two embraced and Dubuque raised Montes’ hand in victory, even though Dubuque had won. Many in the crowd had tears in their eyes. The standing ovation lasted at least two minutes.

“There were other matches going on, and most of those matches stopped for a few seconds,” Montes said. “It was unbelievable. The crowd was so loud. Our A.D. back then (Angelo Franicola) often talked about what an incredible level of sportsmanship that match had represented. I’ll never forget it, and I had lost. While you never like to lose, I felt good in that I had wrestled really well that night.”

Dubuque would later say, and continues to reiterate today, that there was no loser in that match.

“We had wanted to face each other in the state final,” Dubuque said. “But I wouldn’t trade that experience for anything.”

State Championships, March 10-11, 2001

Now at the Meadowlands, Dubuque would not be stopped. On March 10, he won by technical fall in a bout that lasted just four minutes. The following day, he started with a 15-5 victory in the semis, setting the stage for the state final opposite Matt Anderson of South Plainfield, himself a state champion in 2000 at 103 pounds. Dubuque would wrestle a vintage match in the finals, recording four take downs en route to an 11-5 victory. As the final horn sounded before nearly 14,000 fans that day, Dubuque broke down and cried.

“If you knew Joe, you’d know he wasn’t the type to be emotional,” Phillips said. “But he had been through so much that week, and to realize he was a state champion again meant the world to him.”

Dubuque called Anderson the nicest person he had ever met in the post-match press conference. He thanked his family and friends for their love and support. He would stand on the top deck of the podium that afternoon, and Montes would stand on the podium as well, having finished seventh in the state at 119 pounds.

“When you deal with an injury that could end your season, it puts things in perspective,” Dubuque had said at the time. “I got a second chance, and I’ll never forget it.”

That second title meant so much more to Dubuque in the subsequent weeks.

“If he was unable to continue after the injury,” Phillips said, “I doubt he would have had the college career he did. At the time, Joe wasn’t known, nationally, as a great wrestler. But winning in 2001 gave him a chance to compete in the senior nationals, and he won there as well.”


Dubuque received a scholarship to wrestle at Indiana University. In 2005 and 2006, he would win a pair of NCAA championships.

“Winning two national championships was great,” said Dubuque, who finished his high school career with a 134-7 record. “But I’m not sure any of it happens without winning that second state title. It changed my life.”

Phillips admits to this day that he’s still not sure he did the right thing in allowing Dubuque to continue wrestling at the regions back on March 3, 2001.

“It still have doubts,” Phillips said. “Obviously, it turned out good for Joe, but I wonder if I should have let him continue. For sure, if that kind of injury happened today, there’s no way he could have continued. There are so many safeguards in place now for head injuries and a lot more awareness.”

Messina, whose season ended at the super regions in 2001, also wouldn’t trade the experience of that weekend.

“I remember watching the state finals with some friends on television that year and hearing them announce Joe’s name and that his record was 30-something and 1, and my friends saying ‘yeah, his only loss was to you,’” Messina said. “I know he was the better wrestler, and I wish he hadn’t gotten hurt, but it does mean a lot to me, today, to know that I was a part of that story.”

Montes would go on to earn a third state medal in 2002 and later was a successful assistant wrestling coach at his alma mater.

Looking Back

“There were so many good wresters from that era in New Jersey,” said Dubuque, who today is a husband and father of two. “I think of guys like Montes, Messina, (Frank) DiPiano and (Pat) Trabucco and how talented they were. To be a part of that experience was something I’ll never forget. I’m still close to all those guys because of that, and I’ll always be grateful.”

Dubuque won his second state title on March 11, 2001. Many will recall what happened six months to the day later as a timeline in their own lives.

“Things were really different,” Dubuque said of his high school days in the pre 9-11 era. “The times were less complicated. Yeah, there were cell phones and computers, but it wasn’t like now. I’m glad I grew up when I did. I’ll never forget the little things which made that time special. As close as we were off the mat, when we wrestled, it was a battle. When it was over, we were back to being friends. And that will continue for the rest of our lives.”

And thus, the legend of Dubuque Saturday, March 3, 2001.


By mike051893

District 10 wrestling championships moved to Belleville on Feb. 17

Nutley High athletic director Joe Piro announced that the District 10 wrestling championships, originally set for Feb. 16 and 17, at Nutley, will now be contested at Belleville High School.

The tourney will now be a one-day event, on Feb. 17, beginning at 10 a.m. The schools competing at District 10 include Nutley, Union, Newark East Side, Becton, Columbia, Delbarton, Orange, Verona, West Orange and Wood Ridge.

Nutley athletic director, Joe Piro, worked quickly, after it was determined Nutley High couldn’t host the District 10 tourney. It will now be held at neighboring Belleville High, on Feb. 17. 

By mike051893

Nutley’s Frank DeMaio will wrestle at Delaware Valley University this fall, gains 100th career victory at NHS

Since he was in the second grade, Frank DeMaio has loved the sport of wrestling.

So, it was of little surprise that the now-Nutley High senior decided to continue wrestling on the collegiate level. And on Feb. 9, DeMaio, the son of Jodi and Frank DeMaio, made it official that he’ll attend Delaware Valley University, in Doylestown, Pa., this fall, where he’ll major in Physical Therapy and continue wrestling, either at 157 or 165 pounds.

“I’ve always loved it,” said DeMaio of competing on the mat. “I enjoy playing football, too, but once I hit high school, I was pretty sure that wrestling would be where I’d focus in college,”

DeMaio has put together a 27-1 record so far in the 2017-2018 season, wrestling mostly at 160 pounds. He won his 100th career match on Feb. 10, during  a quad at Notre Dame High School, in Lawrenceville.

Frank DeMaio with his mother, Jodi, and dad, Frank, on Feb. 9, at Nutley High, after making his college choice official. (Click on photos for larger image)

That quad signified the end of the regular season, but just the start of the real season for most wrestlers, as the district championships begin on Feb. 16. For Nutley, that means hosting the District 10 championships on Feb. 16 and 17.

Nutley wrestling coach Mike DiPiano isn’t surprised by DeMaio’s commitment to excellence.

“Frank is our captain, and he conducts himself like it every day, both in practice and in matches,” said DiPiano. “I’m really happy to see him continue wrestling in college. He’ll do well at Delaware Valley.”

DeMaio suffered a serious shoulder injury two years ago, which required surgery last year. He would miss a good part of the 2017 football season, but DeMaio was determined to get back in the lineup.

“I wanted to play my senior year of football, with my friends,” said DeMaio. “I guess that wrestling mentality made me work hard to get back.”

In his first football game for the Raiders last fall, he would intercept two passes. But typical of a good athlete, he looked at the one which got away.

“I should have had three interceptions that day,” he said stoically.

DiPiano feels confident DeMaio’s best wrestling this season is still ahead, at the districts, regions, and hopefully, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City. The coach noted the top caliber student-athlete that Nutley High has produced. DiPiano also coaches the girls soccer team in the fall and is an assistant softball coach at NHS in the spring.

“I’ve been so fortunate to coach some great kids here,” said DiPiano. “We have three girls who will play college soccer next fall, and that’s nine to play in college since I was named head coach (in 2012). Any time you coach a kid and see them move on to continue competing at the next level, that’s very gratifying. I’m so proud of Frank and what he’s done, and I know his parents feel the same way.”


By mike051893

Coach Mike DiPiano takes pride, as Maisie Jelley, Lauren Holden, Jillian DeSantis and Frank DeMaio all make college commitments

An official college signing day for high school seniors generally runs the gamut of emotions, from parents, friends, coaches and, of course, the student-athlete.

At Nutley High, the inclement weather of last week pushed back the day, but on Feb. 9, those senior student-athletes, who made their collegiate choices known, had the chance to revel in the glow of a lot of hard work.

For Mike DiPiano, the head girls soccer and wrestling coach at Nutley High, the day was especially gratifying, as four of his athletes were joined by parents and relatives to celebrate a major decision in their respective lives.

Nutley’s girls soccer team was represented by Maisie  Jelley, who will attend Ramapo College, in Mahwah, as well as Lauren Holden, who chose Scranton University, in Scranton, Pa., and Jillian DeSantis, who will play at LaSalle University, in Philadelphia, Pa.

In addition, Frank DeMaio, a standout 160 pound wrestler, will continue his education and athletic career at Delaware Valley University, in Doylestown, Pa., this fall.

Coach Mike DiPiano (back row, left) joins (front row, left to right) Jillian DeSantis, Lauren Holden and Maisie Jelley and (back row, right) Frank DeMaio, after the student-athletes made official their college choices on Feb. 9. (Click on photo for larger image)

The smile on DiPiano’s face was evident.

“It means a lot, to see this,” said DiPiano. “These are great kids. In a way, they’re family, because I know their parents well and have seen them grow up. Now, here they are, getting ready to go to college. Where does the time go?”

The coach felt that all his athletes made the right choices.

“Maisie will do great at Ramapo,” said DiPiano of Jelley. “It’s a great place for her, and I think she can play right away there. Her parents will be able to see her play. I’ve known Maisie a long time. Her older sister is a very good athlete and her younger sister plays soccer with my daughter (Mia, a seventh grader).”

Jelley can’t wait for the next phase of her life.

“My experience of playing at Nutley was something I will never forget,” said Jelley. “I learned so many lessons and have a lot of memories during my four years on the varsity. I can’t wait to hear from the rest of the girls going to college, to play soccer, and to come back and support my younger teammates in seasons to come at Nutley. I chose Ramapo for the soccer program, and the education program. I hope to become a gym teacher and coach soccer.”

Holden, who started every game since her freshman year, and was a stalwart defender, should excel at Scranton.

“I think Scranton will be thrilled with Lauren,” said DiPiano. “She really plays the game hard and always wants to get better. Again, with Lauren, I also coached her older sister (Emily) in softball, and she’s doing well in college. I’m so happy that she’s happy with her decision.”

Holden recalled some great times at Nutley.

“I really enjoyed playing all four years on the varsity soccer team,” she said. “One of my highlights of my senior year was defeating Montclair Kimberley Academy, our big rival, in double overtime. The bus rides and pasta will never be forgotten.

“I’ll be attending the University of Scranton, because they have a great business and soccer program.”

DeSantis, Nutley’s goalie in 2017, also picked an excellent school.

“I believe Jillian will do great at LaSalle,” said DiPiano. “It worked out great for her, and this should be a tremendous opportunity. We loved having her on the team and wish her the best.”

DeMaio’s work ethic always impressed DiPiano.

“Frankie is another person I’ve known since he was a little kid,” said DiPiano. “He’s been a leader in our (wrestling) room for a number of years. When the younger kids see him work hard, they have no choice but to do the same. He leads by example.”




By mike051893

Colella, Baghal help Wayne Valley wrestling rally past Mendham, in sectional tourney; Indians seek to repeat as district champions

Mo Baghal didn’t need to be reminded about the situation.

The Wayne Valley 160 pound wrestler knew his team trailed, 29-28, heading into the final bout at his weight class. And while the stakes were high, Baghal never flinched.

Baghal hit a quick takedown to take a 2-0 lead early in the first period, and then registered a five point near fall at the end of the first. From there, he went on to a 9-2 decision to clinch a first round, North 1, Group 4 sectional win for Wayne Valley, seeded fourth, over fifth seeded, and defending champion Mendham, in Wayne.

Orion Cua has been a key contributor to a good season at Wayne Valley.

The Indians improved to 16-5 with the victory and were scheduled to wrestle at top seeded West Morris Central in the sectional semifinal, on Feb. 8, starting at 7 p.m. West Morris advanced with a 51-15 victory over Old Tappan.

For Baghal, he felt little pressure going onto the mat.

“I knew what the deal was,” Baghal said. “I enjoy those kind of situations. The physicality of the sport is something I enjoy, so I wanted to get a quick start in the match. Once I had the lead (7-1 after one period), my coaches were telling me not to take any chances, just work hard for the next two periods.”

Wayne Valley head coach Todd Schroeder (left) hopes his team will have reason to celebrate more on Feb. 17, at the district championships. 

Since his team trailed by just one point, Baghal needed just a simple decision to ensure a Wayne Valley win. The victory was Wayne Valley’s 13th in its last 14 matches, after starting the season 3-4.

Wayne Valley head coach Todd Schroeder figured the match would go down to the final bout.

“The more I looked at the possible matchups, I could see it would be a one, or two point match,” said Schroeder. “I saw us possibly winning eight matches, and that’s how it ended up. It was a good tough match, against an excellent team,”

The bout started at 170 pounds, and Wayne Valley took command quickly, as Dan Murphy and Gabe Ortiz recorded pins at 170 and 182 respectively, and Mo Rabee won a 5-3 decision at 195 pounds to make it 15-0.

Schroeder opted to move Nick Trani from 220 to heavyweight, and following a Mendham pin at 220, Trani got three points back with a decision to extend Valley’s lead to 18-6. Hunter Davis followed with another decision at 106 pounds for Valley, for a 21-6 lead, but Mendham (15-5) rallied back with four straight wins, from 113 to 132 pounds to give the Morris County-based school its first lead, at 23-21.

“We knew Mendham was real good at the lower weights,” said Schroeder. “And I felt we had the advantage at the upper weights. The key was to cut back on bonus points, and our kids did that.”

Perhaps the best example of that was the performance of Valley’s Elijah Lugo at 132 points. Lugo lost an 8-5 decision, but stayed off his back after almost getting pinned late in the match.”

“That’s huge,” said Schroeder of Lugo’s performance. “He saved us three valuable points there. And Davis’ win at 106 saved the match for us.”

Nick Duncan got Valley the lead back, 24-23, with a 6-0 win at 138 pounds, but Mendham picked up a quick fall to take a 29-24 lead, with two bouts remaining. In essence, Valley had to win both matches to advance, and Reid Colella started the rally with a major decision at 152 pounds to narrow Mendham’s lead to 29-28, setting the stage for Baghal’s victory at 160.







By mike051893

Passaic Valley wrestling team gears for ‘second season’, after a good regular season run, led by Karmi, Marretta, Geleta, Galletta, Rodriguez, Sabbak and Sconciafurno

The second season of high school wrestling is officially underway, and at Passaic Valley, that means a return to the NJSIAA sectional championships.

Head coach Joe Benvenuti’s squad had a tough first round assignment, as the Hornets headed to Roxbury on Feb. 5. PV was seeded seventh in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 while Roxbury was the second seed.

Should PV win on Feb. 5, it would move onto the sectional semifinals on Feb. 7, either at second seeded Fair Lawn, or at sixth seeded Mount Olive. The sectional finals are on Feb. 9, and the winner there would advance to the group championships in Toms River, on Feb. 11.

From there, the focus moves to the 32 district championship sites, where wrestling commences on the weekend of Feb. 16-17. Passaic Valley is a part of District 8, and will compete at Hopatcong High, on Feb. 17. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at the districts move onto their respective region championships, at eight different sites, beginning of Feb. 21 and continuing Feb. 23 and 24. PV will be at Mount Olive for the Region 2 championships. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at the regions move onto the NJSIAA championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from March 2-4.

Passaic Valley captains Tom Marretta (left) and Yousef Karmi.

Benvenuti also noted that if his team did not advance at this week’s sectional tourney, it would probably schedule a few dual matches, or a quad, to wrap up the regular season this weekend.

Passaic Valley was 12-7 on the season after splitting matches last week. The Hornets lost to Fair Lawn, 50-21, then defeated West Milford, 42-33.

“We had to come from behind twice in order to win, against West Milford,” said Benvenuti. “We were down 21-0 after the first four matches, but we made a nice run with (Jordan) Sconciafurno, (Greg) Sabbak, (Logan) Rodriguez, (Luke) Geleta and (Jeremy) Galletta all picking up pins,  We were actually losing 33-30 going into the last two matches of the night, but lucky for us, we ended with our big boys (Tom Marretta and Yousef Karmi) and of course, they came through with back to back pins (at 220 and 285 respectively) to win the match.”

Galletta, Marretta and Karmi won both their matches last week, by fall.

“Jeremy Galletta has really put together a nice senior season,” said Benvenuti. “Last week he won the Passaic County Tournament and this week he looks like he is not taking his foot off the gas. It is so important that at this point of the season that a wrestler is focused and confident, and Jeremy is definitely locked in right now. He has 19 wins and 14 pins and has been a major point getter for our team. I am confident he can keep this up and that would set himself up for a great seed for districts and regions.”

Marretta and Karmi, who are also the team captains, haven’t let up all season.

“Tommy is 24-3, with 12 pins, and Yousef is 25-2, with 16 pins,” said Benvenuti. “They continue to be dominant. It’s very similar to last year, with our senior captains at 106 and 113 (Nick DeNora and Ken Kerwin). We have the luxury of scoring back-to-back pins most times out, and that becomes a great advantage. More importantly than all of their winning, I am most proud of these two because of the leadership they have brought to our young and inexperienced team.  The fact is we have seven wrestlers who are in our line-up getting their first taste of varsity wrestling.  Yousef and Tom have been excellent at being an extension of our coaching staff, and being great teammates for the others to learn from.”

Sconciafurno and Geleta have also been wrestling very well of late, according to Benvenuti.

“Both had key pins against West Milford,” the coach said. “These are also kids that can be seeded very well for districts and regions, if they keep up their great work.”

By mike051893

Coach Couso’s Wayne Hills cheerleaders mix athleticism with determination and tenacity

Their athleticism is extraordinary. Their perseverance speaks volumes. And the hard work has paid off for the Wayne Hills competitive cheerleading squad, which won a tournament recently in Saddle Brook.

Coached by a former Patriots cheerleader, Nicole Couso, Wayne Hills has put together another outstanding squad this winter. Many of the girls who are on the competitive squad this winter also cheered this past fall for the football team.

“We have a lot of girls who were on both squads,” said Couso. “But there are separate tryouts for cheering and then the competition cheer. We have our tryouts in August. Competitive cheer is a little different, as far as preparation. We go to weekend cheering competitions, usually on Sundays. The girls really enjoy it.”

Wayne Hills Patriots cheerleaders celebrate winning a tournament in January, 2018. (Click on photos for larger image)

The season will culminate with a trip to the Magic Kingdom, in Orlando, for the AmeriCheer International Competition. on March 24-25.

A good deal of choreography, gymnastics and tumbling encompass competitive cheer.

“Conditioning is very important,” said Couso. “There’s a lot which goes into it.”

The Patriots had a tremendous effort at the Saddle Brook High School competition, on Jan. 14, taking first place accolades. It was the team’s first performance of the year.

“The kids were excited,” said Couso. “We felt pretty good after our performance that we could win.”

An intense group of cheerleaders await the judge’s decision.

Couso’s assistant coaches include ToniAnn Piccirillo, who was the head coach last season, and Brittany Warther. There are six seniors on the squad.

During the fall, the Wayne Hills cheerleaders can be seen at all football games. In addition, the girls take part in decorating the players houses before games, as well as practicing their routines and keeping good grades in the classroom. Wayne Hills head football coach Wayne Demikoff has long appreciated the cheerleader’s work.

“Those girls are tremendous,” said Demikoff. “They’re always there, supporting our team, and we, as a program, couldn’t be more appreciative. They’re really nice kids and very respectful. It’s great to hear that they’re having a good competition season.”

Members of the team are Olivia Monisera, Danielle Cohen, Ashley Peyser, Alexa Radziszewski, Sam Facciollio. Delaney May, Teressa Lange, Elizabeth Alechammas, Amber Servidio, Amanda Ferguson, Stephanie Gianinni, Megan Dunleavy, Carli Haneveld, Diana Rondi, Morgan Kratzer, Grace Skiba, Monica Borsella and Gabrielle Romanelli.

“Many of the girls have been cheering since they were little kids,” said Couso, who has been involved with competitive cheer at Hills, first as a student and the last nine years as a coach. “Some of the girls may continue cheering in college. They’re a hard-working group, for sure.”





By mike051893

Belleville’s legendary football coach, Joe D’Ambola, will be posthumously inducted into Essex County Football Coaches Hall of Fame

For four decades, Joe D’Ambola was one of the most beloved coaches and teachers in the Belleville school system.

‘Coach D’, or just ‘D’ as many student-athletes called him, would be one of those gruff-speaking, hard-nosed men who threw compliments around with the ease a manhole cover, but deep down, had a heart of gold.

D’Ambola was a long-time assistant football coach at Belleville High, including the head coaching tenures of Rocco Cafone, Tom Testa and the 20-year run of John Senesky.

When Senesky stepped down as head coach following the 1996 season, D’Ambola followed suit. He and Senesky remained in the school system as valued educators for a number of years.

In this 1978 photo, D’Ambola (back row, second from right) is joined by other great Belleville High coaches in (front row, left to right) Carl Papiani, Ralph Borgess and Joe Vitiello. Back row, left to right, Bill Bakka, Carl Corino, Mike Welsh, head coach John Senesky, D’Ambola and William ‘Doc’ Ellis. (Click on photos for larger image)

D’Ambola would retire as a teacher a decade ago, and sadly, passed away on Dec. 23, 2016, at the age of 71. Joe and his wife, Patty, were married for 47 years, and the couple had two daughters, as well as celebrating the birth of three grandchildren. After retiring as a teacher, Joe and Patty had moved to Barnegat, NJ.

Joe’s work as a coach has not been forgotten. And last week, it was announced that D’Ambola would be enshrined into the Essex County Football Coaches Hall of Fame.

Circa 1974 (or 1975) left to right, Belleville High football coaches Tony Sorrentino, Joe D’Ambola, head coach Tom Testa, John Senesky and Bill Trimmer.

D’Ambola will join long-time Glen Ridge head coach Duke Mendez, along with the late Tom Dean, a tremendous football coach at East Orange and Irvin ‘Poochie’ Hill when the 2018 class is inducted at the 25th annual Robeson Football Classic, in East Orange, on June 14.

Bloomfield High head football coach Mike Carter was one of the major contributors to nominating D’Ambola for the Hall of Fame.

“Coach D’Ambola represented what was right about being a coach,’ said Carter. “He was a class act and taught his players the right way to play the game.”

D’Ambola (middle, with light blue shirt), joins some good friends and former BHS football players at an event at the Chandelier. (Click on photos for larger image)

Upon the announcement that D’Ambola would be enshrined, the reaction from former Belleville football players, as well as family, students and friends, was overwhelming.

“I had coach D in class,” said Michael SanPhilip, a 2001 BHS grad who was also a standout football player for the Bucs. “(Joe) shared a ton of Belleville football history with me. What a great man and mentor, Congratulations and God bless the D’Ambola family.”

“A well deserved honor for a great guy,” said Tom Starr. “I only wish he could be here to enjoy it. Salute to Joe D.”

Ted Hahula, who worked as an educator with D’Ambola, was also ecstatic for his dear friend.

“Wonderful news for a great teacher and coach,” said Hahula. “I had great memories of working with him.”

Joe’s widow, Patty D’Ambola was also overwhelmed by the news.

“What an honor,” Patty wrote. “Thank you so much for the news.”

By mike051893

Two years later, remembering Anthony LaRezza’s laugh, passion for coaching and legacy

It was always about that laugh.

It could be live, or one of his famous ‘Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha, Ha’ texts. Whatever it was, Anthony LaRezza lit up a room. Or, in Anthony’s world, light up a softball field, day, or night, with that smile, or some kind of joke.

So, there was a certain irony when news of Anthony’s untimely passing came in the form of a text, to me, from Jim Stoeckel, III.

And this Feb. 4 will mark two years since Coach LaRezza left us, just weeks after celebrating his 50th birthday.

Anthony had celebrated his 50th birthday in January, 2016, with his beloved brothers. (Click on photos for larger image)

His last phone call to me came right before Christmas, 2015. Anthony asked me how he sounded, since he had recently undergone oral surgery. I told him the truth, he sounded good.

“I can’t wait for the start of softball,” he said. “It’s just a few months away. Merry Christmas, I’ll see you soon at Rutt’s Hut.”

The IHA players always believed Anthony was looking over them. (Click on photos for larger image)

Physically, Anthony wouldn’t be here to celebrate his beloved Immaculate Heart Academy’s second straight Non-Public A championship in 2016, or that first Tournament of Champions crown last spring, that, of course, included a third straight Non-Public A crown.

Anthony always knew Diana Fasano would be a good head coach. (Click on photos for larger image)

But his players will say that he was there. The heart strings tugged hard, and Anthony’s spirit would remain alive and well, in the form of his brothers, Allen and Joe, who have been regulars at IHA games the past two years, as well as his extended family, players and friends.

In 2016, the Bergen County Tournament honored Anthony. (Click on photos for larger image)

We’ll never forget him. I’ll always remember the trips to Rutt’s Hutt, the Dick Ruthven, Jerry Reuss, Pigs-and-Chickens, the legend of Upset, the Horse, beating Man ‘O War, Nestor Chylak, the 2010 Memorial Day meltdown, Doug Buffone and many a talk about politics.

Reese Guevarra (partially hidden) and Taylor Kenerson (16) doused LaRezza after IHA won the 2015 Non-Public A title. (Click on photos for larger image)

I often wonder what Anthony would say about the current state of political affairs. It would be interesting, for sure.

Anthony (back row, center), and his 2015 team, which would eventually win a state championship. (Click on photo for larger image)

But most of all, it was about those softball players at IHA and the dynasty he had built in Westwood.

Anthony would have enjoyed this cake.

We miss you Anthony.

Joe LaRezza was a regular at IHA games in 2016 and 2017.

IHA players remembered Anthony with this patch, beginning in 2016.

Miss those trips to Rutt’s.

Anthony took a lot of pride when Steph Thomas won her state record 113th career game in 2014. (Click on photos for larger image)

Anthony influenced a number of coaches, including Sergio Rodriguez (above, with ball, while Anthony attempts to work through a pick, from many years ago) and Phil Delgado, below (blue shirt).

By mike051893

Trani (Named Outstanding Wrestler), Davis and Murphy capture county championships for Wayne Valley, which continues to roll as post-season nears

With the state sectional championships quickly approaching, the Wayne Valley wrestling team has put together its best run of the 2017-2018 season, so far.

Head coach Todd Schroeder’s team took a 13-5 record into a match with West Milford, at 7 p.m. on Jan. 31, which will also be Wayne Valley’s ‘Senior Day.’ On Feb. 2, the Indians are home to face Clifton, also at 7 p.m. in the regular season finale. Entering this week’s action, Wayne Valley had won 10 of its last 11 matches.

The Indians will begin a quest for a state sectional championship in North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4, on Feb. 5. Schroeder was to receive the official seedings sometime this week, but was hoping his team would have a home match in the first round. The semifinals are set for Feb. 7 and the sectional finals are on Feb. 9, at the gym of the higher seed. The state sectional winners will advance to the Group championships, at Pine Belt Arena, in Toms River, on Feb. 11.

Following the sectionals and group matches, the district championships will be held on Feb. 16 and 17, followed by the regions (Feb. 21, 23 and 24) and ultimately, the NJSIAA championships on the weekend of March 2-4, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City.

The Indians finished second in the Passaic County Tournament, on Jan. 27, and were led by Nick Trani, who won the 195-pound championship and garnered the prestigious Outstanding Wrestler Award. The team also won some big matches against Passaic Valley, on Jan. 23, 39-16, and Passaic Tech, a day later, 46-18. Wayne Valley also excelled in a quad match on Jan. 20, defeating Old Bridge, Middletown North and Lenape Valley.

Left to right, assistant coach Gavin Bannat, county champions Nick Trani, Dan Murphy and Hunter Davis, along with head coach Todd Schroeder.

Schroeder has obviously been pleased with his team’s performance of late.

“The team has stepped up its effort, for sure,” said Schroeder. “I thought we did an excellent job in the quad match (on Jan. 20) and came through with two big wins against solid teams in Passaic Valley and PCT. (Passaic Valley head coach) Joe (Benvenuti) does an excellent job every year with that program and we were looking forward to competing against them. That was a back and forth match and I was happy with the way our kids responded. And then to come back against another good team and defending sectional champ in Passaic Tech was a good sign for us.”

Benvenuti, for his part, praised Wayne Valley’s performance.

“No question, they’re tremendous,” said Benvenuti of the Indians. “In every weight class, they have a kid who is ready to compete and goes hard in every match. They’re going to be real tough to beat in the sectionals.”

At the county championships on Jan. 27, at West Milford High, Wayne Valley had three champions in Hunter Davis (106 pounds), Dan Murphy (170) and Trani. The Indians finished second to six-time champion DePaul in the team score, as the Spartans won 197-166. Passaic Valley was third, with 152 points.

“Nick Trani was tremendous,” said Schroeder. “He dropped down to 195 pounds and worked hard against some really good wrestlers. Hunter and Dan were also outstanding. As a coaching staff, we were very pleased.”

In addition to the three county champs, Wayne Valley also got good efforts from Elijah Lugo (third place, 126 pounds), Daniel Betamor (second place, 132), Reid Colella (second place, 152), Mo Baghal (second place, 160), Gabriel Ortiz (third place, 182) and Jordan Botero (fourth place, 285).

“Reid, Daniel and Mo all made the finals, and did a really good job,” said Schroeder. “And Elijah, Gabe and Jordan also came through and provided a lot of valuable points,”

Schroeder also noted that Murphy has won every tournament he’s competed in this year.

As for the remainder of the regular season, Schroeder hopes his team will get some good matches in this week, and then prepare for the states.

“West Milford and Clifton will be good tests for us,” the coach said. “And then, it’s time to get ready for the post season. I’m glad we don’t have a match this Saturday. It will be good to get some practice and rest in, before the sectionals begin.”



By mike051893