40 years later, I still enjoy writing the ‘Buc Shots’ column, covering some great Belleville High athletes, like Frank Fazzini, Jennifer Apicella, Dina DeAquino, Kristin Wilson, and so many others

Feb. 1 marks 40 years since my first ‘Buc Shots’ column. In January of 1979, then-Times editor John Jurich approached me about writing a sports column for the Belleville Times. I had been writing for the paper a few years, since my first article back on Oct. 2, 1975, when I was still a student at Belleville High.

After graduating high school and starting college, I had stayed on to write sports articles, mostly track and cross country, since I had run both sports in high school. In the fall of 1978, I was asked to cover all the sports at BHS, which I was more than happy to do. John Jurich, who also edited the Nutley Sun, thought it would be good to have a sports column in Belleville, similar to the format in the Nutley Sun, which had a tremendous columnist in Jack Suffren.

I was always grateful to my high school journalism teacher at Belleville High, Susan Weintraub, who allowed me the opportunity to write a column for the student page of the Belleville Times called ‘Lamberti on Sports‘, in 1975 and ’76. I learned a little something about writing a column, and the opinion format, which of course is different from straight news reporting. So, when Jurich asked me if I’d like to write a column for the actual newspaper, I said sure. And John thought the perfect name would be ‘Buc Shots’, because the Belleville High moniker had just changed to the Buccaneers the previous fall.

I was a sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University on Feb. 1, 1979, when my first Buc Shots column was published in the Belleville Times. It was headlined “Fuccello’s girls out of the shadows“, which was a piece on the up-and-coming Belleville High girls’ basketball team, led by head coach Karen Fuccello, which was beginning to make a name for itself. That ’78-79 team would finish 16-7 and a few years later, the program really took off, led by Jennifer Apicella, Dina DeAquino, Loreli Wells and Tracy Buono.

George Zanfini was a devoted reader to my column and a good critic, as well. I miss him very much. (Click on photo for larger image)

Apicella was one of the top three athletes I’ve covered at BHS. She scored 3,105 points in 100 career games, and this was before the advent of the 3-point basket. She played her senior year with multiple injuries, including a broken wrist and more air casts on both her ankles than she’d like to remember. Jennifer set the state scoring record in 1984, and it’s hard to believe it’s been 35 years since that happened. The record was 2,745 points, which she eclipsed at Bayonne High, in February of ’84, and before the end of that season, Jenny would surpass 3,000 career points, in a home game against Morris Knolls in early March. Jen held the state scoring record for nearly eight years and still ranks among the all-time high school scoring leaders in New Jersey, for boys and girls.

There have been so many outstanding athletes and coaches to come through the doors of Belleville High since I started writing the column, and, of course, great ones prior to my time here. Trying to mention them all means I’ll forget someone, but I want to remember some nice moments. Also, a quick thank you to some of the athletic directors at BHS I’ve known over 40 years, most notably Jim Silvestri, Tom D’Elia and Dan Sanacore.

When I think of BHS football, John Senesky comes to mind right away. John was not only a great player during his days at BHS from 1961-1963, but he’d come back to be the freshman coach for five years, and then the head coach from 1977-1996. Along the way, he led some pretty good teams, including the 1979, 1980, 1982 and 1984 squads, all of which made the playoffs. When it comes to players, I think Frank Fazzini is the best all-around athlete I ever covered. From 1979-1982, he was the man, both on the football field and the baseball diamond. Frank went on to Florida State and is now a member of that school’s Hall of Fame, for his incredible baseball career. Frank also played professional baseball in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.

A classic group of Belleville High football coaches. (Click on photo for larger image)

Tony DeAquino has been a long-time friend, as well as a marvelous boys soccer coach at BHS. Tony is class, all the way, and I hope he knows how much I think of him, especially after the passing of his daughter, Dina, in 2018. Dina was a phenomenal athlete, in tennis, basketball and softball, for the Bucs, and went on to a Hall of Famer career, on the collegiate level, in softball at Montclair State.

Sam Giuffrida was a great crew coach at BHS, before his untimely passing in 1989, at the age of 46. During his tenure, Belleville’s girls won three national titles, in 1982, 1984 and 1985. In addition, Giuffrida’s boys shell captured the Stotesbury Regatta in 1976, and was later inducted into the BHS Hall of Fame.

The legendary wrestling coach and later athletic director at Belleville High, Jim Silvestri (left). (Click on photo for larger image)

George Zanfini was another legend who I loved to cover. He led the Bucs to the school’s only Greater Newark Tournament baseball championship, in 1981. I was honored to be the emcee in 2008, when the baseball field was named in his honor. Sadly, George died in 2015, but his legacy will last a long time. One of George’s good friends was Carl Corino, who was also a Hall of Fame coach, in softball, at BHS. The softball facility at Clearman Field was named for Carl in 2016. Corino won over 500 games as the head coach, along with three county and two state sectional championships.

Corino’s last state championship team was in 2001, when the Bucs, led by Kristin Wilson, Gianna Immersi, Jackie Velardi and Melanie Troise had a tremendous late-season surge to win the section and play in the Group 4 final. Wilson is, without question, one of the five best athletes I’ve covered. A year earlier, Anabel Rodriguez had a standout season in softball and basketball, including her 1,000th career point on the hardwood. Rodriguez joined Apicella, Simone Edwards and Laurie Dondarski in the 1,000 point club for BHS girls hoops.

David Grant, a 1983 Belleville High grad, played in Super Bowl XXIII for the Cincinnati Bengals. (Click on photo for larger image)

Phil Cuzzi has been a close friend for about 20 years and seeing him umpire Game #1 of the 2017 World Series was something I’ll never forget. Phil, a 1973 graduate of Belleville High, worked long and hard for the chance to be a professional umpire and overcame many obstacles to reach the top of his profession.

Wrestling, of course, has long been a popular sport at BHS. Joe Nisivoccia and Gene D’Alessandro had extraordinary coaching careers for the Blue and Gold. The program has five state champions to its credit, including Chris Musmanno, Armando Nardone, Emilio ‘Junior’ Nardone, Belleville’s only 2-time state champ, John Perna, who won perhaps the most exciting match in school history in the 1995 state final, and Anthony Conte, the last state champ, to date, from BHS, who captured gold in 1996. Conte is also the lone wrestler in BHS history to win four state medals. Later, Filiberto Colon would become the school’s all-time winningest wrestler, with 154 wins, and after that, younger brother Justin Colon surpassed Filiberto’s record, winning 163.

Cheryl Marion was a standout athlete at Belleville, from 1982-1985 and today an educator and coach at her alma mater. (Click on photo for larger image)

Ted Sochaski became Belleville’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball in 1988, the same year the program won 15 games. Sochaski later coached at his alma mater and did an excellent job, including a 15-win season in 2012. Sochaski is one of eight players to score 1,000 career points at BHS, for boys hoops, joining Abdel Anderson, Wayne Bubet, Phil Colalillo, Leon Puentes, Troy Talmadge, Dennis DeWork and Lucius Millinder.

The fact that there hasn’t been a track at Belleville High for the better part of 30 years is a disgrace, and goes to show the incompetency of the township, or the school board, who whoever wants to take credit for owning the facility this week. And despite the program being treated like second-class citizens, Belleville has had some tremendous athletes, as well as a great coach in John Tosato. I also enjoyed working with Scott Herman, who did an excellent job after Tosato retired as a teacher and coach.

Chris Cantarella (far left in this photo) has been a standout coach at his alma mater for over a decade. (Click on photo for larger image)

Mike Early is currently the longest-tenured coach at Belleville High. I first met Mike when I was in the seventh grade at Belleville Junior High and he was a history teacher. It’s great to see Mike still coaching. I covered John Spina and Chris Cantarella as athletes at Belleville High and today cover them as top notch coaches at their alma maters.

Any time I went to Belleville High, I was always greeted with a smile by Judy Apple, a wonderful administrator and better person, who passed away a few years back. I miss her a great deal. Joe Petrillo was an excellent principal at Belleville High, as was Joe Ciccone, who was my seventh grade teacher way back when and was eventually the superintendent of schools in town. In addition to writing, I was also a trustee on the Belleville Board of Education from 1989-1990, and worked with some tremendous people, including then superintendent of schools Michael Nardiello and assistant superintendent, Michael Lally.

The late Doug Cantarella (second from left) was a big fan and proponent of Belleville little league. (Click on photo for larger image)

Belleville High retired the numbers of four great athletes over the past three decades. Apicella’s #22 was retired while she still was playing at BHS, in 1984. The next number retired was also #22, for the great Rich Luzzi, in football, in 1999. In 2011, Abdel Anderson’s #15 was retired, for basketball, and Jack Cullen’s #19 for baseball, in 2013. Cullen is the only Belleville High grad to play in the majors, having pitched for the New York Yankees in the early 1960’s.

I’ve worked with some great editors, administrators and writers since 1975, including my first editor, Chuck Jackson, along with John Jurich, Michelle Jeannotte, Ed Caparrucci, Steve Politi, Steve Patchett, Juliann Walsh, Nancy D’Uva, Carmela Senesky, Dave Salata, Diane Lombardy, Maria Paladino-Fitz, Melanie Endres, Jen Endres, Helen Maguire, Steve Galvacky, Mike Perrota, Nelson DePasquale, Fred Zolla, Patty Theodore, Rob Celentano, Heidi Suchomel, Shirley Reid, Paul Smith, Eric Quinones, Nicole Canfora, Marie Towey, Anthony Buccino, Jaye Tarantino, Russ Roemmelle, Mike Lawson, Nick Gantaitis, Natalie Waldron, Phil White, Donna Abbate, Michelle Delmaster, Lurie Silberg, Karen Lynch, David Diaz, Kathy Hivish, Tina Cervasio, Mike Olahan and Dave Verdi.

Forty years? Wow. The support from the Belleville community has always been good, and I’ve always appreciated and will continue to respect the process. Thank you again.






By mike051893

Down 28-0, Wayne Valley rallies back on a huge pin by Selim Maksut and wins from Jimenez, Duncan, Colella, Murphy, Trani and Valy to defeat Passaic Tech 40-28

A 14-4 record, and what should be a good performance at the Passaic County Tournament, highlighted the Wayne Valley wrestling team’s final run toward the end of the regular season.

Coach Todd Schroeder’s team is headed to the county championships, on Jan. 26. The team will host St. Joseph of Montvale, on Jan. 30 and will close out the regular season on Feb. 1, at home, against Passaic. The Indians will then prepare for the state sectional tournament, which begins on Feb. 4. Wayne Valley could be seeded as high as second in North 1, Group 4, which would give them a first round home bout and, with a win, a home match in the sectional semifinals two days later.

Wayne Valley has put together a 14-4 record so far this wrestling season, as well as there tournament crowns. (Click on photo for larger image)

The Indians last won a sectional championship in 2014. Wayne Valley put itself in good position for this year’s sectionals with wins against Passaic Tech, 40-28, on Jan. 23, as well as sweeping a quad, on Jan. 19, versus Morris Knolls, Whippany Park and Randolph.

“We’re wrestling well,” said Schroeder, who in addition to 14 wins, has guided Valley to three tournament championships. “We’re getting healthy and looking forward to the county tournament and the sections.

Wayne Valley had fallen behind PCT by a 28-0 margin through the first five bouts, four of which were won by fall. The match began at 113 pounds.

“We lost the toss, so the matchups early on favored PCT, and they have some real good wrestlers, especially in the lower weights,” said Schroeder. “I figured we’d have to battle back at the upper weights, where we’re pretty good, but it was a bigger margin because we gave up too many bonus points.”

Wayne Valley began the comeback at 145 pounds when Matt Jimenez won by decision and Elijah Lugo, who bumped up to 152 pounds, followed with a win, also by decision, making it 28-6.

Pins by Nick Duncan (160) and Reid Colella (170) narrowed PCT’s lead to 28-18 and Dan Murphy prevailed by major decision at 182 pounds to cut the deficit to 28-22. One of the biggest wins for Valley was at 182 pounds when Selim Maksut pinned his opponent in 1:49 to tie the match at 28.

“Selim did a good job,” said Schroeder. “He’s been working hard to get back in the lineup after an illness, and that win was really important.”

Nick Trani gave Wayne Valley  the lead for good, 34-28, with a pin at 220 pounds and the Indians heavyweight, Jordan Botero, secured the team win with a hard-fought 3-2 decision. Attila Valy wrapped it up for Valley with a victory at 106 pounds.


By mike051893

Annual Jim Silvestri Memorial Match nearing at Belleville High, brings back memories of a different era and that 29-25 win over Pascack Hills, on Valentine’s Day, 1976

The eighth Jim Silvestri Memorial Wrestling Match will be held at Belleville High, on Feb. 1, and a big crowd could be on hand, as the Bucs take on Nutley High, starting at 6 p.m.

Belleville’s resurgent wrestling program, under the direction of Joe Pizzi, should make this year’s match even more special. The tournament began in the winter of 2012, to honor the memory of Silvestri, who is credited by many for establishing the Belleville High wrestling team as one of the best in Essex County and Northern New Jersey, in his role as head coach.

George D’Alessandro (right) and the legendary Pascack Hills coach Bucky Rehain were reunited for the first time in almost 40 years when Rehain attended a Silvestri match in 2014. (Click on photo for larger image)

Silvestri led the Bellboys for a decade before giving up the reigns in the fall of 1976 to become Belleville’s athletic director. Silvestri remained the AD for 14 years, before retiring in the spring of 1990. He died on Nov. 29, 2010.

Having attended Belleville High during the Silvestri era, I remember Jim as not only a tremendous coach, but an excellent mathematics teacher at BHS and a friend to many. His easy-going personality made him a popular person in the building. His humbleness was also renown, as he rarely took credit for the team’s success, instead giving the athletes the bulk of the accolades.

Silvestri’s wrestling teams at BHS had reached a new pinnacle in 1976, when the Bellboys finished 13-1 in the regular season. And, of course, when it comes to great matches, it’s hard to top the one held on Valentine’s Day, 1976. It was a Saturday afternoon, and Belleville was scheduled to host Pascack Hills, a powerful team out of Bergen County.

The legend of Pascack Hills was well known. The team, coached by the legendary Bucky Rehain, hadn’t lost a dual match in close to five years. A season earlier, when Belleville traveled to Hills for the first-ever meeting between the two schools, Pascack had won handily.

Jim Silvestri (seated, left) with assistant coach Joe Zarra during a 1976 Belleville High match. (Click on photo for larger image)

The crowd had arrived quite early for that 1976 match. Since it was a Saturday afternoon, 1 p.m., start, a lot of the fans were there by 11 a.m. In fact, Rehain, a gracious man who returned to Belleville a few years back to honor Silvestri’s memory, recalled when his team had arrived for that match, two hours early, the gym was just about packed.

Jim Silvestri (center) joined by 1976 team members (l to r) Ron Grolimond, Carl Arlt, Andy Schenke, Robert Villano and Ken Milano. (Click on photo for larger image)

Despite all the hype, Pascack Hills was indeed the consensus favorite, with four future state champions in the lineup. After Belleville’s Carl Arlt had won the first match at 101 pounds, the Cowboys won the next two matches, but one of those wins, a forfeit at 115 pounds, would turn the match around. Silvestri made a tactical move, bumping Vin Mustacchio to 122 pounds and forfeiting at 115, where Pascack’s best wrestler, Tom Husted, was waiting. Husted, a two-time state champion, was indeed the motivating force behind Pascack Hills, and although the Cowboys got six points for the forfeit, some of the steam was taken out of its attack.

Mustacchio would win a major decision at 122 pounds, moving Belleville to within 9-8. Pascack then won convincingly at 129, 135 and 141 pounds to extend its lead to 23-8. The 148 pound match would be critical for the Bellboys, as Robert Villano had to wrestle a future state medalist, in Bob Waldron. Had Villano lost, Pascack would have all but clinched the bout, making the last four matches inconsequential. But Villano worked hard and earned a 2-2 tie, which kept the Pascack lead at 15 points, 25-10.

Jim Silvestri encourages Bobby Racioppi during a 1976 match. 

Chris Tremel would begin Belleville’s comeback, with a pin at 158 pounds and Keith ‘Wildman’ Waddell followed with a major decision at 170. By the time Waddell had gotten on the mat, the fans, which had been loud all match long, were in euphoria, sensing the comeback. Waddell’s win cut Pascack’s lead to 25-20, and when Ken Milano followed with a decision at 188 pounds to make it 25-23, the dejv vu was clearly evident, as George D’Alessandro took the mat at heavyweight for the Bellboys. A year earlier, D’Alessandro stepped on the mat in the final match against Essex Catholic, with his team trailing 24-19. Big George would get the pin to provide Silvestri his biggest win, to date, 25-24.

Now a year later, D’Alessandro only needed a decision to give Belleville the improbable win, but George, with a flair for the dramatic, would get the pin early in the second period. Belleville won, 29-25, and the reverberation of the gym walls was telling. It would be Silvestri’s last dual match as head coach.

Over 40 years later, those who were there on Feb. 14, 1976, still say it was the best high school sporting event they ever witnessed.

And that’s why, when the Silvestri Memorial Match is held on Feb. 1, at home against Nutley, starting at 6 p.m., it will be a time to remember a great man, who put BHS wrestling, literally, on the mat.

By mike051893

Connor O’Neil wins gold at Powerade; Ricky Cabanillas and Nicky Cabanillas also medal for DePaul while Esposito, Bottazzi and McFadden win matches

Connor O’Neil’s seventh seed at 160 pounds in the prestigious Powerade Wrestling Tournament was far from a deterrent. If anything, O’Neil welcomed the challenge, and the DePaul Catholic junior went on to win his weight class, including victories over the top two seeds, on Dec. 28 and 29, in Canonsburg, Pa.

O’Neil was one of three DePaul wrestlers to medal at the tourney. Defending state champion Ricky Cabanillas finished seventh at 145 pounds while Nicky Cabanillas was sixth at 126 pounds. It was the first time in DePaul history that three Spartans earned medals at the Powerade.

O’Neil is the second from DePaul to win gold at the tournament. Brandon Kui won it in his junior year, en route to a state title.

Connor O’Neil stands atop the podium as the gold-medal winner at 160 pounds at the Powerade Wrestling Tournament. (Click on photo for larger image)

“It was a good performance,” said DePaul head coach Keith Karsen. “Connor did a tremendous job. As a junior, this is a big year for him, and he’s really stepped into the role. He was a finalist at the Beast of the East, and was also a finalist at Fargo and the sophomore nationals last year.”

O’Neil won his first two bouts, by fall and decision, before defeating Seth Holderbaum of Chestnut Ridge in the round of 16, by fall, in 2:27. He then upset second seeded Ty McGeary of West Allegheny, 5-3, to advance to the semifinals, where he won a 9-5 bout over Jack Blumer. In the title bout, O’Neil won a 6-4 decision over the top-seed, Tyler Stoltzfus of St. Joe’s Academy.

Connor O’Neil (center) is flanked by Ricky Cabanillas (left) and Nicky Cabanillas. All three earned medals, marking the first time DePaul had three medalists at Powerade.  (Click on photo for larger image)

Ricky Cabanillas earned the top seed at 145 pounds and won his first three bouts to advance to the quarterfinals. After losing a 10-8 decision to Cameron Robinson, Cabanills came back to win his final bout to finish seventh.

“I thought Ricky wrestled well,” said Karsen. “You need these kind of high-quality matches to test you. There are some tremendous wrestlers in this tournament, which is why we like to come here. We’ll only get better, as a team and individually, by wrestling kids like the ones Ricky saw at the Powerade.”

Nicky Cabanillas, the sixth seed, made to the semifinals at 126 pounds, including a 5-3 win over third seeded Josh Ogunsanya in the quarters. After losing a 4-0 bout in the semifinals, Nicky came back to finish sixth.

“Again, an excellent job against some quality opponents,” said Karsen. “This was the first time we had three kids medal at Powerade. I couldn’t be happier with those performances, as well as our other guys who wrestled there.”

Nick Bottazzi won a bout at 113 pounds, Derek Russell wrestled at 120 pounds, Michael Esposito captured a match at 132, Luke McFadden won twice at 152 pounds and made it to the round of 16 and Stephen Barone also competed at 170, for DePaul.

The Spartans had a relatively quiet month of December, albeit with huge matches at the Beast of the East and Powerade. But now that January is here, the schedule really ramps up.

“In a way, the timing was good,” said Karsen. “We had some kids banged up and they got a chance to get healthy heading into January. We’ll be pretty busy now.”

DePaul was slated to face Delbarton, Don Bosco and St. Joseph, in various matches last week. On Jan. 17, the team visits Monroe Woodbury, starting at 7 p.m. and on Jan. 18, there’s a big bout, at home, against Bergen Catholic, starting at 7 p.m. On Jan. 23, DePaul hosts Paramus Catholic, also at 7.



By mike051893

It’s McMahon, Lisovicz, Dowd, Pine and Cullinan for the defense, as Mazzarella’s Ridgers open season 8-3

A key part of the 2018-2019 season awaited the Glen Ridge High girls’ basketball team, and head coach Joe Mazzarella feels his players are ready for the challenge, with a tenacious defensive presence.

The Ridgers took an 8-3 record into a game with Verona, on Jan. 15, at 4 p.m. On Jan. 17, the team is home to face Caldwell, in a 7 p.m. start. On Jan. 19, another big home game awaits, when Newark Academy visits, at 11:30 a.m. and on Jan. 22, it’s off to Orange, for a 4 p.m. game.

After losing a 34-32 decision to Bloomfield in the championship game of the Glen Ridge Holiday Tournament, on Dec. 29, the Ridgers rebounded with wins over Science Park, 50-11, Newark Central, 40-24, Livingston, 34-25 and Mount St. Dominic, 36-20.

Jenny Lisovicz, a team captain, drives up court during a recent game. (Click on photo for larger image)

“The win over Livingston was really important for us,” said Mazzarella of the Jan. 7 victory. “It was a road win, against a Group 4 school, and really helped us with power points (for the state sectional seedings, in February). “It was neck and neck, all game. In the fourth quarter, we pulled away thanks to Michaela Dowd’s 7-0 run. She stepped up big time for us.”

Livingston’s defensive scheme was to stop the Ridgers’ top two scorers, team captains Jenny Lisovicz and Claire McMahon.

“Livingston ran a triangle and 2, to Jenny and Claire,” said Mazzarella. “In essence, it made our other players step up, and they sure did.  Along with Michaela’s big fourth quarter, Haleigh Pine hit a very timely 3-pointer down the stretch as well.  It was a great team effort, great team win.”

Claire McMahon looks to the basket as Jenny Lisovicz (13) watches. Both are team captains and tremendous all-around athletes for Glen Ridge. (Click on photo for larger image)

The game was tied at 12 at halftime before the Ridgers took control with a staunch defensive effort in the final 16 minutes. Dowd and McMahon scored nine points each, Pine had five points, Sarah Cullinan and Zipporah Hommel had four each and Lisovicz finished with three points.

McMahon had 19 points to lead Glen Ridge past Newark Central on Jan. 4. Lisovicz scored 10, Cullinan had nine and Elettra Giantomenico finished with two points.

Against Mount St. Dominic, the Ridgers opened a 14-5 first quarter lead and held the Lions to seven points in the second half.

Lisovicz had 14 points, McMahon scored 12 and Dowd finished with six to pace Glen Ridge.

“After we lost to Bloomfield in the tournament final, the team realized it’s important to step up our game,” said Mazzarella. “We had three early season losses and the first few weeks of January are really important. I like the way our kids have met that challenge, so far, and we look forward to some big games coming up.”



By mike051893

Present honors the past, as Wayne Valley Wrestling Alumni gather for annual visit and current team rallies past a strong Wayne Hills squad, as Trani, Colella and Murphy star

Forty five minutes before the start of the Wayne Hills at Wayne Valley wrestling match on Jan. 9, a large crowd had already assembled. And while a Hills-Valley athletic event is always a popular draw, this was a special evening in that former Wayne Valley wrestlers had come together, to be honored by their school.

It was the third annual Wayne Valley Wrestling Alumni Night, and Indian grapplers from as recent as 2018 to as far back as 1966 were on hand, receiving a nice ovation. The names included John Lucia, Wayne Valley’s lone state champion, who won his crown at 141 pounds back in 1966. There were others, too, in attendance, including long-time coaches Bob Bishop and Al Demarest, Dave Drozjock, a standout 148 pounder who is now the school’s athletic director, Todd Schroeder, a 2000 WVHS grad and one-time state medal winner, who, of course, is the team’s current head coach and many others, who will be noted shortly.

Following the introductions, the current Indians took on their crosstown rivals, the Patriots, and came away with a hard-fought 36-21 win. Afterward, Schroeder was far from pleased, but quickly praised his opponent.

“We came out flat, but give Wayne Hills a lot of credit,” said Schroeder. “They wrestled hard tonight and went after it. I thought we could have been better, and I told our kids that afterward. But you know how it is in this sport. We have to go back to practice and get ready for the next match. It’s a busy time of the year.”

Wayne Valley took a 5-3 record into a Jan. 11 match, at home, against Passaic Valley. A long road trip then began, on Jan. 12, with a quad at Ramsey. On Jan. 16, there was a 7 p.m. match at Lakeland and a day later, a bout at Fair Lawn, also at 7. On Jan. 19, a tough quad was slated at Randolph, which will include Morris Knolls and Whippany Park, and begins at 9 a.m. On Jan. 23, there’s a quick trip to Passaic Tech, for a 7 p.m. bout and on Jan. 26, the Passaic County Tournament will be held, at West Milford High, beginning at 10 a.m. The team’s next home match is on Jan. 30, opposite a powerful St. Joseph of Montvale squad, staring at 7 p.m.

Wayne Valley Wrestling Alumni were out in full force for their annual gathering. (Click on photo for larger image)

The Indians opened an early 5-0 lead when Sean Hammer won by technical fall at 132 pounds to start the match, but Wayne Hills’ Joseph Brunetti came back to win a 5-0 bout at 138 to cut the deficit to 5-3. Elijah Lugo gave Valley an 8-3 lead with a decision at 145 pounds before Hills gained its first lead, at 152 pounds, on a pin by Brian Peschel. The lead went back and forth, with Hills taking a 15-11 lead on an injury forfeit at 170 pounds. Valley then won the next six bouts on a major decision by Reid Colella at 182, an exciting 10-7 win by Dan Murphy at 195, a pin by Nick Trani at 220, a 1-0 victory from Jordan Botero at heavyweight, Michael Antonuccio’s pin at 106 and Andy Roth’s 3-2 victory at 113.

Afterward, both Murphy and Trani noted that Wayne Hills wrestled a tough match.

“Hills has some good coaches,” said Trani, a senior captain. “And you can see their guys are coming on strong.”

Murphy agreed.

“We had to work hard tonight, but I know we can do better as a team, too,” said Murphy, also a senior captain. “The next few weeks will be a good test for us.”

The Wayne Valley alumni on hand included Lucia, from the class of ’66, Bruce Wines and Bob Bishop, Sr., from the class of 1967, Jimmy Payne and Joseph Albanese (1974), Drozjock and Kevin McKiernan (1979), Nadal Hozien (1988), Randy Halat (1989), Eric Fauerbach (1990), Schroeder and Gary Didieo (2000), Kyle Hughes (2002), Carlo Fioranelli (2003), Enrico Fioranelli (2004), Bob Bishop Jr. (2007), Pat McHugh (2007), Mario Fioranelli and Mike Tepper (2008), Adam Baczynskyj (2013), Brandon Davis, Anthony Duncan, Vincent Rigoglioso, John Rohndi and Nick Milone (2014), Bassel Chaghlil and Ryan Lynch (2015), 2016 grads Resul Maksut, Louis Paduano and Dominic Rigoglioso, Nick Pellegrino, Thomas Astarita and Connor Murphy (2017) and last year’s graduates, Moe Baghal, Hunter Davis and Cole Drozjock.

Dave Drozjock was very pleased with the turnout for the event.

“Our third annual Wayne Valley Wrestling Alumni Night, which gathered over 40 former wrestlers and coaches, was another huge success,” said Drozjock. “We had former wrestlers from every year going as far back as 1966, and our wrestlers who just graduated from 2018, including Hunter Davis and my son Cole Drozjock.

“Alumni night is a special night for me because I’m not only the assistant principal in charge of athletics at Wayne Valley, but an alumnus, former wrestler and also a parent of a former wrestler. Our Alumni night brings out a feeling of tremendous Valley Pride, to be a part of such a great program and tradition of excellence. It was a great night for all, and I have to thank our current wrestling coaches, Todd Schroeder and assistant coaches Pat McHugh and Gavin Bannat, as well as our booster club, for the huge commitment they make, so we continue to have one of the top wrestling programs in the state.”

By mike051893

Holsworth enjoying his team’s progress while looking to what could be a tremendous future for the PV boys’ basketball program

It’s been a good start for the Passaic Valley High boys’ basketball team, which won the Vernon Viking Holiday Tournament and played an excellent game against undefeated Wayne Hills, on Jan. 3.

Head coach Jim Holsworth’s squad was 3-3 heading into a game at Lakeland, on Jan. 8. On Jan. 10, the Hornets host Clifton at 4:15 p.m. and on Jan. 15, Fair Lawn comes to PV for a 4:15 p.m. contest.

The Hornets had played a solid tournament in Vernon over the Christmas holiday. In the first round, PV defeated the host school, 80-50. before winning a close game against Mount Olive in the title game, on Dec. 28, 34-32. It was the first time the Hornets had won a holiday tournament in four years.

PV head coach Jim Holsworth, with standout players Steven Nitch (to Holsworth’s left) and team captain Elliot Whitney. (Click on photo for larger image)

“It felt good to get those wins in Vernon,” said Holsworth. “Our kids are working hard, and we knew that winning the tournament would be a good thing for a very young team. We had to travel about two hours, each day, and that means keeping a good mental approach. It was a good experience, in a nice environment. Vernon has a beautiful facility.”

Versus Vernon, Brian Whitney, a freshman, led all scorers with 23 points while older brother Elliot Whitney, a sophomore, had 14 points and Brandon Timothy finished with 13 points.

Zander Timothy had seven points, Alex Actable, Steven Nitch and Angel Rodriguez scored five points each, Rashaun Rex and Antonio Bargiel scored three each and Justin Paruirigan finished with two.

In the win over Mount Olive, Elliot Whitney led the way with 15 points while Nitch had 11. Whitney was named the tournament’s outstanding player and Nitch earned a spot on the All-Tournament team.

With a 3-2 record, PV played its first home game on Jan. 3, opposite an undefeated Wayne Hills squad. Wayne Hills is now coached by Rob Carcich, the long-time PV head coach.

Holsworth and Rob Carcich meet before a game on Jan. 3. (Click on photo for larger image)

“We knew Wayne Hills would be a tough assignment, but I really liked the way our kids performed,” said Holsworth, who was an assistant to Carcich for three years, before being named head coach in 2016. “Rob is such a great coach, and there’s so much Hills can do with their guard play and big guys up front.”

Wayne Hills improved to 7-0 by defeating the Hornets, 61-47, but PV was very much in the game until the Patriots pulled away in the fourth quarter. Brandon Timothy led the Hornets with 15 points while Actable scored 13 and Elliot Whitney finished with 11.

“The key was the play of Jake Belli,” said Holsworth, referring to Wayne Hills’ point guard. “Jake is a seasoned player, he knows how to create opportunities and he’s tough to defend. Wayne Hills had a little more size and strength, and that’s something we can improve on, as our kids continue to grow as players. We’re a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, with some good juniors. Our schedule will be tough this year, but I really think that’s going to make us a much better team.”

Belli led all scorers with 21 points while Pulast Thaker and Nebi Ademi scored 12 each and Jason Sanfilippo scored 10 for Wayne Hills.

By mike051893

The 9th Gift of Life Wrestling Duals, this Jan. 12; the Rose Bowl Parade, 2020, and the Transplant Games coming to NJ highlight a busy time for the legendary Michael DiPiano, Sr.

The ninth Gift of Life Wrestling Duals will be held on Saturday, Jan. 12, at St. Benedict’s High, in Newark.

The event focuses on the need for organ donation, and is spearheaded by the legendary Michael DiPiano Sr., who has been a staunch advocate for the importance of organ donation, especially after his life was saved 20 years ago last October when he received a new liver and pancreas from a donor.

DiPiano had a tremendous career as a wrestling coach and administrator at St. Benedict’s High School. However, his health had taken a turn for the worst over 20 years ago, and at one time, he had the Last Rites administered by St. Benedict’s Headmaster, Fr. Edwin Leahy.

Michael DiPiano (right) with sons Michael (left) and Frank. All three are in the St. Benedict’s Athletic Hall of Fame. (Click on photos for larger image)

“They were planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s,” DiPiano recalled. “And now today, I’m celebrating a new lease on life. That’s why it’s so important to understand the need for organ donation and why this wrestling tournament is so special to me.”

This year’s tournament will begin at 10:30 a.m. There are four teams competing, in Nutley, St. Benedict’s, Barringer and Demarest High Schools. The first features St. Benedict’s vs. Demarest, while Nutley takes on Barringer.

The second round of wrestling starts at noon, with Nutley facing Demarest and St. Benedict’s against Barringer. Following the second round, there will be a Gift of Life presentation, where DiPiano speaks of compelling stories on how organ donation not only saved him, but a number of other lives in the local area.

The Gift of Life Duals began in 2011 and will celebrate its ninth renewal this Jan. 12.

At about 1:45 p.m., the final round of wrestling begins, with Nutley vs. St. Benedict’s and Barringer vs. Demarest.

The theme of the event is once again ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision‘, using a wrestling analogy to emphasize the need for people to become organ donors, usually by a notation on their driver’s license.

DiPiano’s sons, Michael and Frank are both actively involved with high school wrestling. Michael is the head coach at Nutley, while Frank is an administrator at St. Benedict’s and a one-time head coach at Nutley. Before Michael succeeded his younger brother at Nutley, he was the head coach at Demarest. Both Michael and Frank, along with their dad, are enshrined in the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame.

In May of 2011, Michael DiPiano Sr. received St. Benedict’s highest honor afforded to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.

Among the many charitable events Mike attends to is playing Santa Claus for children in local hospitals.

This past year was an especially memorable one for DiPiano Sr,, who celebrated his 20th year of good health, after receiving a double organ donation from a young man named Sean, who was killed in an automobile accident on Oct. 24, 1998. A day later, Michael received a pancreas and liver from Sean, who had indicated his desire to be an organ donor, on his driver’s license.

Michael Sr. has a tattoo on his arm, remembering Sean’s sacrifice, with the date 10-25-98, along with Sean and Mike’s name.

The tattoo say it all. (Click on photo for larger image)

On New Year’s Day, 2020, Michael DiPiano Sr. will be appearing in the Rose Bowl parade, in Pasadena, California, to be honored for his tireless work on passing the word on the need to be an organ donor. Also, in 2020, the Transplant Games will be held at the Meadowlands, from July 17-22, and DiPiano was on hand last winter, at MetLife Stadium, when that announcement was made.

DiPiano has also traveled the globe, competing in multiple Transplant Games, in track and field, while also speaking at many schools and other organizations.

“I’ve been very blessed over the years,” said DiPiano, a husband, father and grandfather. “I can never thank my donor, Sean, enough for saving my life. There have been so many lives saved by organ donation, but there are so many more lives that can be saved with more people signing up to be donors.”

DiPiano and his wife, Karen, have been married for nearly 46 years. They have three children, Michael, Michelle and Frank and a grand daughter, Mia, who is in the eighth grade.

By mike051893

Carcich-led Wayne Hills improves to 7-0, as former PV coach ‘returns’ to old stomping grounds; Jake Belli standing out for Patriots, along with Thaker, Sanfilippo, Ademi and Woods

Rob Carcich admitted that coaching a game at Passaic Valley, as an opponent, felt a little strange. But such was the case on Jan. 3, as Carcich took his undefeated Patriots into Little Falls and came out a winner, 61-47.

Hills improved to 7-0 with the win and prepared for its biggest game of the season, against Wayne Valley, on Jan. 8, at Hills. On Jan. 10, the Patriots welcome another strong team, Fair Lawn, to its gym, for a 7 p.m. game. On Jan. 13, Hills takes on Dwight-Englewood High, at St. Joseph Regional, in Montvale, starting at 2:30 p.m. and on Jan. 15, Montville comes to Wayne for a 7 p.m. start.

Passaic Valley head coach Jim Holsworth (right) shares a light moment with Wayne Hills counterpart Rob Carcich. The two are colleagues at PV and Holsworth was an assistant to Carcich for 3 years at Passaic Valley. (Click on photo for larger image)

Carcich had spent 12 seasons as Passaic Valley’s head coach and put together 11 straight winning campaigns, as well as a state sectional championship, in 2007 and a conference title in 2013. He had won over 200 games at PV, before stepping down to take an administrative role at Passaic Valley after the 2015-2016 season.

Jake Belli was the MVP of the Jack Stone Holiday Tournament. Belli is Wayne Hills’ leading scorer, as Patriots are 7-0. (Click on photo for larger image)

Now back on the sidelines as a coach, Carcich found the game at PV a little surreal.

“It was strange,” said Carcich. “Obviously, I know (Passaic Valley head coach) Jim (Holsworth) very well. He was my assistant for three years and we both teach at PV now. We kept it low-keyed, but knowing all the PV players, from the youth summer league days and now, as students, it was different. I’m glad we got the win, but I think our Wayne Hills kids know we can play better.”

Hills had all it could handle from a young PV squad before putting the game away with an 18-10 fourth quarter run. Jake Belli had a tremendous game for Hills, with a game-high 21 points while Nebi Ademi and Pulast Thaker scored 12 each and Jason Sanfilippo had 10 points. All of Hills’ points came from its starting five.

“Passaic Valley played hard,” said Carcich. “Jim is doing a real good job with the program and I’m happy he has a lot of talented young kids. They have a good future ahead of them.”

Holsworth had a lot of praise for Hills and Belli.

“Obviously Rob is a great coach,” said Holsworth. “And Jake is such a talented player. There’s nothing he can’t do well on the court.”

The Patriots had a good week during the Christmas holiday, winning three games and the championship of the Jack Stone Holiday Tournament, at St. Mary High, in Rutherford.

Hills defeated Perth Amboy, 57-26, on Dec. 26, Indian Hills, 63-33, on Dec. 28 and St. Mary, 79-45, on Dec. 30. Belli led Hills in scoring in all three games and was named the tournament’s outstanding player.

“We got a good team effort in all three games,” said Carcich. “Jake is our go-to guy, but I really like the way everyone contributes. As I’ve said a few times, this is a great group of kids to work with. I couldn’t be happier.”

By mike051893

Three tournament championships in 3 weeks highlight a tremendous start for Wayne Valley wrestling

Make it three tournament championships in three weeks for the Wayne Valley High wrestling team.

Head coach Todd Schroeder’s Indians captured the Parsippany Holiday Tournament, on Dec. 29, to go along with winning the Hopatcong and West Orange tourneys the previous two weekends.

A busy time awaits the team, which was scheduled to wrestle at West Milford, on Jan. 4  at 7 p.m., and at home, in a big time quad, on Jan. 5, against North Hunterdon, Raritan and West Essex, starting at 9:30 a.m. On Jan. 9, Wayne Valley hosts Wayne Hills, in a 7 p.m. start and on Jan. 11, Passaic Valley comes to town, also at 7. On Jan. 12, the Indians visit Ramsey, beginning at 9 a.m. A busy schedule continues with dual matches at Lakeland, on Jan. 16 and Fair Lawn, a day later, with both of those beginning at 7.

Wayne Valley wrestlers gather after winning another tournament title. (Click on photo for larger image)

Schroeder hasn’t let up in his praise for the team’s early season success, as well as the need to continue to get better.

“It’s a good start, for sure,” said Schroeder. “But there are some big time matches coming up, too. And we all know we have to keep improving. There are too many good teams on our schedule, and that’s why we enjoy this kind of competition. Our kids are looking forward to the challenge.”

At Parsippany, the Indians had seven champions in Michael Antonuccio (106 pounds), Andy Roth (113), Nick Duncan (160), Reid Colella (170), Dan Murphy (195), Nick Trani (220) and heavyweight Jordan Botero.

In addition, Matt Jimenez finished second at 138 pounds while third place finishers for Wayne Valley were Adam Zindaki, Sean Hammer, Elijah Lugo (145) and Selim Maksut (182).

“We’re getting healthier, as a team,” said Schroeder. “And heading into January, that’s important. Having Nick Duncan back, and seeing him win the Parsippany Tournament was really good. Andy Roth and Michael Antonuccio also won their first varsity tournaments.”

This was the 54th straight year that Wayne Valley competed at the Parsippany Tournament.

“It’s good to have traditions like that,” said Schroeder. “Parsippany always has a good tournament during the holidays, and that was the case this year.”

Schroeder also noted the solid performances of Trani and Colella.

“Reid is really looking good,” said Schroeder. “He completely dominated at Parsippany and Nick was strong, too. But now, it gets tougher, and that’s why it should be at this time of the year.”

By mike051893