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.