DePaul’s Haley Perez wins championship; Belleville’s Alisa Safforld wrestles a great title bout, in first Bloomfield Holiday Tournament, for girls

When the long-standing Bloomfield Holiday Wrestling Tournament was discontinued three years ago, there was a sense of sadness. But this year, it was revitalized on Dec. 29, with an all-female program.

And to say the event was a success, at George Cella Gymnasium, on the campus of Bloomfield High, might be an understatement.

The NJSIAA instituted female wrestling on the high school level for the 2018-2019 school year. And with that, a new era of young grapplers are getting the chance to compete.

Ryan Smircich, Bloomfield’s head wrestling coach, helped put the Bloomfield Holiday Tournament together this year, but Smircich deferred most of the credit to long-time assistant coach and former Bengals standout wrestler, Jason Galioto.

Bloomfield High wrestling coach Ryan Smircich (right) and Belleville assistant Jay Isip enjoyed the Bloomfield Holiday Tournament, in its new format. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Jason is a whiz with the computer,” said Smircich. “And he got this tourney off and running in a big way today. But just as important, I’m so proud of all these young ladies, out there competing. This is a really tough sport, and I have the utmost respect for any girl who can compete in wrestling. I really do, and this is why it’s such a wonderful event today. These kids deserve this, and I hope they have fun. We have a great fan turnout today, and we have about 60 girls here, from 40 schools. This is great.”

DePaul’s Haley Perez (center) won the 127-pound title with an excellent all-around performance. (Click on photo for larger image)

The tournament was first class in every way. The officials included some of the best in Northern New Jersey, including Vinnie Russo, one of the most respected high school wrestling referees in New Jersey.

“Having Vinnie here, along with a number of highly experienced refs was important,” said Smircich. “We wanted the girls to get the best on the mat, as far as officials who have worked on the biggest stage in high school wrestling. The officials not only worked, they also encouraged the kids on take downs and technique. And the coaches, most of who work with the boys at their schools, were also tremendous.”

The original Bloomfield Holiday Wrestling Tournament lasted 52 years, before ending in 2015. Then Bloomfield head coach Sam Fusaro noted the changing of conferences for most of the teams which used to participate in the tournament, as a main reason for its decline.

When Smircich saw the opportunity to bring back the tournament, the girls competing at the ‘new’ gym in Bloomfield, seemed like the perfect idea.

Belleville’s Alisa Safforld (right) wrestled a tremendous match in the title bout against a nationally ranked opponent. (Click on photo for larger image)

“We have new stands and new lighting in the gym and it looks great,” said Smircich. “There’s a lot of history here.”

Locally, Belleville High advanced two wrestlers to the championship bout. Alisa Safforld did a tremendous job, advancing to the 103-pound final before losing a hard-fought, 7-3 decision to Parsippany’s Sydney Petzinger.

Bloomfield’s Claire Daity turned in a good effort on her home mat. Photo by Jerry Simon. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I thought Alisa did a great job” said Belleville assistant coach Jay Isip, who coached the Bucs today, as the boys were also competing, at home, in a quad match. “She wrestled a kid who had finished eighth in the country in freestyle at Fargo (North Dakota). Alisa has been wrestling a little over a year and went six full minutes with Sydney. I can’t say enough about the effort. She’s worked so hard.”

Also advancing to the finals for Belleville was Jeymarie Reyes. “Again, a great job to get to the finals,” said Isip of Reyes. “Jeymarie wrestled well.”

Jay Isip congratulates Jeymarie Reyes on a good performance. (Click on photo for larger image)

In addition, Soraya Safforld, Asmaa Embaby and Krystal Araujo did a good job for the Bucs.

DePaul’s Haley Perez was outstanding in winning the 127-pound championship and becoming the first Spartan to win an NJSIAA-sanctioned women’s wrestling tournament. Many of Perez’s male teammates were at the Powerade Wrestling Tournament in Pennsylvania, and while DePaul head coach Keith Karsen couldn’t be in Bloomfield, he was ecstatic upon learning of Perez’s championship.

Bloomfield had four wrestlers compete, in Claire Daity, Giana Faura, Angelina Faura and Jordyn Parker.

Jay Isip congratulates Belleville’s Asmaa Embaby on a good win. (Click on photo for larger image)

There were seven championship bouts to finish out the day. The wrestlers all competed hard, but were incredibly gracious in victory, and defeat. I spoke to a number of coaches at the tournament, who all said that the girls on their respective team were doing a great job in practice, on a daily basis.

Fusaro, the now-retired Bloomfield coach, was on hand, and couldn’t help but be impressed with the talent on the mat.

“Those kids really went after it,” said Fusaro. “I really enjoyed this. And I have to go congratulate that kid from Belleville (Alisa Safforld). She wrestled a nationally ranked girl and battled for six tough minutes. That was fun to watch.”

Smircich was proud of the way the entire community came together.

“Bloomfield has a rich history in the sport of wrestling,” the coach said. “Organizing a tournament of this size and importance is made so much easier by the support of Bloomfield’s school administration and hard work of our Bengal Wrestling Booster Club. We are proud to provide this opportunity for girls’ wrestling. As a team, and as the Bloomfield community, we wish them luck.”

A new era of wrestling is underway, and let’s hope this is just the beginning of some great times for young ladies on the wrestling mat.


By mike051893

Full Hearts Can’t Lose: Cheerleaders at Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills open their hearts to children battling cancer, at Christmastime

Success has been the norm for the Wayne Valley cheerleading squad over the past few years. There have been multiple championships, on the national level at competitions, including the past three years.

The team was invited to cheer at MetLife Stadium in 2018, prior to a New York Jets game. And the association between the Valley and Wayne Hills cheerleading squads included the teams coming together for a dinner leading up to the annual football game between the rivals last September.

And on Dec. 21, the competition cheerleaders from Valley and Hills put together a tremendous event, as the girls donated a myriad of toys to the Hackensack University Medical Center

“It really went well,” said Wayne Valley cheerleading coach Daniella Coffaro. “For the past two seasons, we’ve joined with the Wayne Hills cheerleaders for a toy drive for the children at Hackensack University Medical Center. A few years back, my assistant coach, Jen Pulizzano went out to look for a good charity that our team could donate to. As coaches, we want our kids to give back, and we thought this would be a nice opportunity. The work that Hackensack does for Tackle Kids Cancer is amazing. We started working with them three years ago.”

The Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center started an initiative to raise funds and awareness for pediatric cancer patients called Tackle Kids Cancer. Dedicated clinicians and researchers are making strides by advancing research and providing children access to the highest level of care, according to the Center.

The Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills cheerleaders with all the toys ready for delivery to the hospital on Dec. 18. (Click on photo for larger image)

The upperclassmen of both squads delivered the gifts to the hospital on Dec. 21, for children who are undergoing treatment.

“I know it meant a lot to the girls to do this,” said Coffaro. “Some of the kids won’t be able to go home for Christmas as they get treatment, so hopefully, it will put some smiles on their faces when they get the gifts.”

The cheerleaders worked with parents, family and friends to collect toys. On Dec. 18, the girls were seen at Valley, packing numerous vehicles for the eventual delivery of toys.

Wayne Hills and Wayne Valley senior cheerleaders delivered toys to Hackensack University Medical Center on Dec. 21. (Click on photo for larger image)

“And I’m here to say those cars were really packed with toys,” said Coffaro, with a smile. “People were very generous.”

Coffaro was proud of the team’s work and to help with giving to Hackensack.

“There are a lot of good charities,” said Coffaro. “We were very impressed with Hackensack University’s mission and the tremendous work they do for children. It’s easy to take good health for granted and that’s why it was obvious both squads were really invested in wanting to make this such a success.”

When Wayne Valley won a national cheerleading competition title in 2017, Coffaro noted that ‘full hearts can’t lose’, when it came to her team competing with class and intensity.

That same saying can easily be applied to the work of both the Wayne Valley and Wayne Hills cheerleaders, in giving back to those who can certainly use some joy during the holiday season.


By mike051893

Joe Rondi and Bence Polgar make it official, as Wayne Hills senior captains will play D-1 football next season, at Syracuse U. and University of Buffalo respectively

With the early signing period for high school football players to sign their collegiate letters of intent in place, Wayne Hills announced the signing of two outstanding lineman to NCAA Division 1 institutions.

Senior captains Joe Rondi and Bence Polgar will play college football at Syracuse University and the University of Buffalo, respectively. Both signed their letters on Dec. 18, at Wayne Hills High, in front of family and friends.

Rondi will play on the defensive line for the Orangemen. The youngest of four children born to Jennifer and John Rondi, Joe had the opportunity to meet with a number of outstanding football schools, before deciding on Syracuse.

Joe Rondi signs his letter of intent to play at Syracuse University as his proud family looks on, at Wayne Hills, on Dec. 18. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I appreciate all the opportunities I had to visit some great schools,” said Rondi. “In the end, there was something really special about Syracuse. I had made a verbal commitment there in May. The Syracuse coaches are great. I can’t wait to play for them.”

Rondi had a marvelous senior season for the Patriots, as he led the team to the North 1, Group 4 championship, along with a bowl game victory at MetLife Stadium, over Phillipsburg, to conclude an 11-2 season. Rondi played on both the offensive and defensive lines for the Patriots. He was a 2-year, 2-way starter for the team. In 2018, he finished with 92 tackles, 19 of which were for losses and also had nine quarterback sacks while forcing two fumbles.

For his career, Rondi had 153 tackles and 11 sacks. He earned multiple post-season accolades in 2018 and was also an excellent long snapper for Wayne Hills.

“I also have to thank (Wayne Hills head coach) Wayne Demikoff,” said Rondi. “‘Without Dem, I’m not here today talking about this moment. I’m very grateful.”

Polgar, the son of Aniko and Peter Polgar, is the youngest of three siblings in his family. Like Rondi, Bence had made his verbal commitment of the University of Buffalo a while back.

Bence Polgar and his dad, Pete, enjoy the moment as Bence signed his letter of intent to play football at the University of Buffalo. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I knew all along that Buffalo was going to be my choice,” said Polgar. “I made my official visit after our (high school) season ended and loved it. I had the chance to meet with the coaches, and some of my (future) professors, too, which was really nice. It was a great overall connection.”

Bence will play on the offensive line in college, either at guard, or center.

“I’ll be working on my footwork during the off season, as well as training hard,” said Polgar, who plans to major in Political Science. “I know the hard work and commitment needed to excel at the next level, and I’m ready for that challenge. And I’ll be working hard on the mental approach to the game, as well, which is so important.”

Two outstanding players for a championship team at Wayne Hills, Joe Rondi (left) and Bence Polgar. (Click on photo for larger image)

Bence was a 3-year starter on the offensive line, which paved the way for over 12,500 yards of offense and averaged over 30 points a game, as well as winning a pair of state sectional crowns and this year’s bowl game. On defense, Polgar had 57 tackles this season and two quarterback sacks.

Polgar also set a Wayne Hills single season and career record with four blocked kicks. He was also a huge part of the 2015 undefeated Wayne Hills freshman team and booted the winning field goal against Ramapo in a battle of freshman unbeatens that season.

Wayne Hills head coach Wayne Demikoff was ecstatic for both players.

“This is a big moment for Bence and Joe,” said Demikoff. “They’ve been a big part of all our successes the past three years, and I wish them all the best in the next phase of their lives. Their accomplishments here will never be forgotten. Joe and Bence were tremendous team captains this year, along with Joseph Mongelli, Jaaron¬† Hayek and Anthony Puntolillo.”




By mike051893

Nearly 45 years later, Abdel Anderson’s greatness has never been questioned at Belleville High

With a new basketball season on the horizon, it’s easy to reminisce about some of the glory days of the game at Belleville High.

Without question, the best player I ever saw at BHS was Abdel Anderson, who starred for the Bellboys from 1972-1975. Abdel would become the first 1,000 point scorer at Belleville, when he eclipsed the mark in a game against Orange High, on Jan. 7, 1975, as Belleville won, 78-63.

Abdel would finish with over 1,300 points in his 3-year high school varsity career. That was back before the 3-point shot was introduced to high school hoops, and was also in an era when freshmen didn’t play varsity basketball.

College scouts from throughout the country would be at Belleville games back in the ’74-75 season. Home games were complete sell outs, even the afternoon weekday contests.

Abdel Anderson (far right) here with former teammates (left to right) Rich Baker, Don Roll and John Megna, along with head coach Dan Grasso (second from right) in a 2010 photo. (Click on photo for larger image)

The 6’7″ Anderson opened that season on Dec. 13, 1974, leading the Bellboys to a 68-44 win over Garfield before a packed (and I mean packed) house in Belleville. Abdel was 16-for-17 shooting that night and 4-for-4 from the foul line for 36 points. He fouled out late in the game, to a standing ovation.

Anywhere Abdel went that season, a crowd seemed to follow. And if you knew the typical Belleville kid back then, the average height was 5’7″ while Abdel stood a foot taller. He was the most popular man in the school, and despite the fame, he never let it go to his head. He’d be nice to everyone, especially when just about every kid just wanted to shake his hand and congratulate him on a nice game.

Belleville accomplished a lot that season, including the first winning record in a decade, as head coach Dan Grasso’s team finished 13-10. The team also qualified for the Essex County Tournament, which back then was by invitation only, with just 16 teams in the tourney.

Abdel, here in this February, 1975 photo, during a game at Belleville, against Nutley. (Click on photo for larger image)

Abdel’s last game that season would be in the state tournament, on March 7, 1975. Belleville lost that night, to Montclair, in a state tournament game, at Linden High.

While the season was completed, the accolades continued for quite some time. Anderson would receive All-American accolades a month later, and again, this was before All-American honors were awarded by numerous periodicals.

After a lot of contemplating, Anderson chose Rutgers to continue his basketball career and a year later, he was a part of the Scarlet Knights squad which made the Final Four, en route to a 31-0 start. Rutgers lost in the national semifinals to Michigan that year and were 31-2.

Abdel had a great career at Rutgers, where he’s still a part of the record books some 40 years later. He would go on to a successful professional career in the Union County prosecutors office.

And finally, in 2011, Abdel’s number 15 was officially retired by Belleville High.

So, as a new season begins, a look back at Abdel Anderson’s greatness, on and off the court.


By mike051893

New team color, same intensity defines Rob Carcich, as he begins a new coaching challenge at Wayne Hills

There was a time that Rob Carcich would have never thought of himself as the head boys basketball coach at Wayne Hills.

After all, the one-time Passaic Valley head coach, who had more than his share of tremendous games against Hills, had built a tremendous program with the Hornets for over a decade.

But times change, and when Carcich, who was in an administrative role the past two years, found the opportunity to coach again too tempting, Wayne Hills was the ideal spot.

Practice began with three days of tryouts before the Thanksgiving holiday. The team then began regular practices on Nov. 26, and will begin a busy pre-season with scrimmages, starting on Dec. 4, when the Patriots host East Orange Campus, at 4 p.m. Scrimmages follow at DePaul, on Dec. 6 and at home against Ridgewood, on Dec. 8, at 11 a.m. The final scrimmage is set for Dec. 11, when Nutley visits.

The regular season begins on Dec. 14, when Teaneck comes to town for a 7 p.m. game.

Carcich is well known as a defensive coach, employing his stingy 2-3 defense built around speed and intelligence.

“We’re gradually working the 2-3 into our practices,” said Carcich. “You have to remember, I came onto the job (in October), so there was no summer time to get the kids acclimated. Right now, I want them to get comfortable with my defensive philosophy, and eventually, we’ll get the 2-3 rolling.

“I’ll tell you what, these are absolutely great kids to work with. And they’re talented. I like the speed, the size and effort in practice, as well as how smart these kids are, on and off the court. I couldn’t be happier. We had an excellent turnout of players, including a lot of freshmen, and there’s the possibility that a few freshmen will get the chance to play JV and varsity right away.”

Wayne Hills head boys basketball coach Rob Carcich gives instruction, as assistants Matt Aquno (standing, left) and Mike “Moose” Moussab listen in. (Click on photo for larger image)

When Carcich took over at Passaic Valley in 2004, the program had struggled, winning just six times in its last 69 games. In his first season in Little Falls, he guided PV to a 9-12 mark, and then followed with 11 straight winning seasons, including a state sectional title in 2007. There were also dominant teams in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

At Hills, he takes over a team that has won 20 games the past three seasons, including a Passaic County Tournament crown last season. But this is a new team for Carcich, and a new style.

“The kids are picking it up pretty well,” said Carcich. “They work hard in practice. I make corrections and they seem to pick up on it.”

While the team is getting established, a few new players should make their way to the hardwood on Dec. 3, as football season was set to conclude on Nov. 30.

“I wouldn’t expect them to come in a day after playing a (Bowl Game) against Phillipsburg, at MetLife Stadium,” said Carcich, with a chuckle. “I’m sure they could use the weekend off, but we’re expecting the football kids to be in practice in early December. And they will be a big help, as well.”

Carcich’s coaching staff includes assistants Mike Moussab, Kevin Milack and Matt Aquino. Milack and Aquino were on head coach Kevin Grimes’ staff last year while Moussab was an assistant to Carcich at PV a few years back and most recently coached girls basketball at Caldwell High.

‘It’s a really good staff,” said Carcich. “I’ve known Mike and Matt for a long time and it took about five minutes to realize what an energetic young coach Kevin is, and very knowledgeable, as well.

“This is a tremendous situation for me, to be back in coaching, and working with these guys. We have some good scrimmages lined up and before you know it, we’ll be playing Teaneck in the opener. It’s exciting.”




By mike051893

A dad’s love and pride, as Wayne Demikoff Sr. reflects on his son’s coaching accomplishments

A travel snafu made it impossible for Wayne Demikoff Sr. to attend the North Group 4 bowl game, at MetLife Stadium, on Nov. 30, between Wayne Hills and Phillipsburg.

It was especially difficult for Mr. Demikoff, who had wanted to see his son, also named Wayne, and the head coach at Wayne Hills, coach the Patriots one more time in 2018.

Wayne Demikoff and his dad, Wayne, share a moment after a big win earlier this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

Wayne Hills had already won the school’s 10th state sectional title on Nov. 16, defeating defending champion Old Tappan, at home. But with the new format of a ‘bowl game’, between the two sectional champions in the northern half of Group 4, it meant the Patriots would play one more game, at MetLife Stadium.

Wayne Demikoff, his dad and sons Tyler and Troy, before a game this season. (Click on photo for larger image)

While Wayne Sr., could not attend, he had sent a heartfelt message to his son, which was read to Wayne, by his eldest son, prior to kickoff,at MetLife. The message was clear.

“Although I am 1300 miles away, I want you to know that I will be watching your game with great pride. I am proud of you, your coaching staff, and all of your players.

“You and your staff have worked hard to prepare your team for this first ever bowl game. The team is ready. I want you to know that I am proud of you and all your efforts as I watched you grow as an outstanding coach and an outstanding individual.


The bond between a father and son can sometimes be difficult. But there’s no doubting the pride and respect of a dad, to his son, and even more noteworthy, when that note was read by the third generation of Demikoffs, on the biggest stage for high school football.

After a state sectional championship for Wayne Hills, on Nov. 16, Wayne Demikoff Sr. congratulates his son. (Click on photo for larger image)

By mike051893