HE IS THE G-O-A-T. A man of many skills, Vinnie Russo’s love of life includes family, friends, NJ high school wrestling and lots of time on a fishing boat

When Vinnie Russo’s name is discussed around Bloomfield and neighboring communities, the accolades are long and kind-hearted. A simple post on social media recently, regarding his improving health, elicited a bunch of responses.

“One of the best guys around.”

“Great man.”

“So happy to see you back on the mat, best of health Vinnie.”

“Vinnie is the role model for all (high school wrestling) officials in New Jersey. He is the consummate professional, and a wonderful human being.”

“Not only is Vinnie a superb referee and a good friend to myself and my brother, Sam, he’s much more than that. He’s a loving family man, an outstanding individual, a genuine and kind-hearted man who goes out of his way to hep others. Blessed to call him my friend! Continued good health Vinnie, and many blessings always !

“Long time friend, great man.”

“Vinnie is a class act. Always been one of my favorite refs, on and off the mat.”

“Great man and mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”

And the one which everyone agrees, on, coming from one-time Bloomfield wrestling great, Rami Ratel, “Vinnie is the G-O-A-T.” (Greatest of all Time)

It goes on and on.

When Vinnie Russo takes to the mat to officiate a high school wrestling match, it’s a continuation of a busy schedule for a loving family man. A native of Bloomfield and resident of Cedar Grove, Vinnie and his wife of 33 years, Lorraine, have three daughters, Kandice, Mia and Shea.

Vinnie and his younger brother, Guy Russo, himself the first state wrestling champion at West Essex High and today a long-time wrestling coach at the Delbarton School, are partners in a successful family business, begun by the Russo family’s patriarch, the late Vincent Russo, Vinnie’s dad. Eldest brother, Mark, is a successful chiropractor and himself a distinguished wrestling official.

“The biggest lesson my dad taught all of us was to be humble,” said Vinnie. “Work hard, and do something good for someone else. My parents (the late Marguerite and Vincent Russo) were all about hard work. They taught my brothers and I well.”

Russo holding the initial Golden Whistle Award, in 2013, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City. A year later, the award was changed to the Vinnie Russo Golden Whistle Award. This weekend, another official will be the recipient. (Click on photo for larger image)

When Russo isn’t running his construction company, or officiating a match, he’s been the NJSIAA’s wrestling official assignor, and state rules interpreter, since 2009. Among his many responsibilities include the placement of every official for the state sectional and group team championship matches, as well as all 32 districts, 8 regions and the ultimate venue, Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the state championships. He also handles the assignment of officials for 85 New Jersey high schools. Russo’s diligence in providing a quality product for high school officiating included the placement of numbers on the back of each official.

“A lot of those officials are also my friends,” said Russo. “But when it comes to those who officiate the big matches, it’s all done on merit. Friendship has no significance, and never will. You have to draw that line. I have to be honest and straight-forward. I’ve had to tell plenty of friends that they were being re-assigned, or moved off a bigger match. It’s part of the job. I’m a purist and realist. And most appreciate the honesty and work hard to get better. It’s not an easy sport to officiate.”

His cell phone is constantly buzzing, from officials checking in for an upcoming event, as well as a myriad of friends and coaches checking to see how he’s doing, and that all-important reminder when it’s time to take some medication.

Because, you see, Vinnie Russo, 58, considers himself fortunate to be alive and well.

Vin and his wife, Lorraine, have three daughters, left to right, Mia, Kandice and Shea. 

Two years ago, a surgical procedure on his heart was followed by an even more serious condition, which led to his barely negotiating the kitchen floor at home, without family assistance. He lost over 40 pounds, as his pituitary, adrenal and thyroid glands all began to malfunction. He’s on a strict medical regimen now, and will be for the rest of his life. The medication has him back to good health and he’s been fortunate enough to begin officiating again, including working the NJSIAA girls regional wrestling championships, on Feb. 17.

“That was incredible for me,” said Russo. “I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed working the matches and just seeing how those girls conducted themselves in a big venue. They were great, so classy and hard-working. I’m so glad this sport is catching on with the girls. And I’ll tell you what, every official who I assigned that day all said it was one of the best events they’ve ever been a part of.”

Just a year earlier, Russo wasn’t sure what was in store for him.

“My wife and daughters had to literally help get me to the shower,” said Russo. “I was really sick and the doctors didn’t know what it was. I really thought I was checking out.”

Wresting has long been a part of Vinnie’s life. His parents began the first wrestling program for youngsters in Bloomfield when Vinnie took to the sport at South Junior High. When Vinnie got to Bloomfield High, he wrestled for coach George Middleton and assistant, Bruce Lackey. He was good enough in high school to earn an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Training Center after his senior year of high school. Vinnie later wrestled at Montclair State.

One of Vinnie’s closest friends is former Bloomfield High wrestling coach, Sam Fusaro. The two are the same age, with Fusaro graduating from nearby Belleville High, in 1978 before landing a teaching and coaching job at Russo’s alma mater. They are inseparable, whether it be on a fishing boat, or spending time together, talking wresting.

“Two summers ago, a surprise party was planned at Rami Ratel’s house, for Sam to celebrate his retirement as Bloomfield’s wrestling coach,” recalled Russo. “I was pretty sick, but I told my wife I had to get to that party, at least for a little while. The party started at 2 p.m. and around 3, my wife is helping me walk up the steps to Rami’s house. Sam is already there, and talking to the crowd about what the party means to him. He’s getting pretty emotional, saying how much he wished his friend Vinnie Russo could be there, but that I wasn’t feeling well. Meanwhile, I’m about to walk in at that very moment. You couldn’t plan that any better. It was like a scene from a movie. Sam is a special guy.”

Fusaro, never one to talk about himself, returned the accolade.

“Vinnie is a great man, no other way to put it,” said Fusaro. “What he’s done for wrestling in this state, and to make sure quality officials are a part of this sport, is incredible.”

Ironically, Fusaro and Russo will be inducted together into the Bloomfield High School Hall of Fame this coming May 3, along with another BHS wrestling great, Joe Chiaravallo, a 2000 graduate and state finalist that year.

Vinnie officiated his first wrestling match in 1983. Sixteen years later, he recalled vividly working the epic 1999 match between state powerhouses Phillipsburg and Paulsboro, which, he said, put him on the map.

“That was something special,” said Russo. “Two great programs, Paulsboro won (27-26) and that really got me going.’

Russo has officiated 12 NJSIAA state championship bouts, beginning in 1992. Among the finals he worked was the legendary 2003 final between Jerry Rinaldi, of Lodi, and defending champion Jeff Black of Absegami, in the 189-pound championship, at Boardwalk Hall.

“That was crazy,” said Russo. “Wrestling fans are generally attached to a certain team, or area, but I’ll tell you what, the entire crowd that day was into every move. It went into overtime and Rinaldi won (6-4). What a great match.”

In 2013, Russo was awarded the first Golden Whistle Award, at the NJSIAA championships, in Atlantic City, for outstanding work as an official. A year later, the name of the award was amended to the Vinnie Russo Golden Whistle Award.

“That was overwhelming,” said Russo, a member of the Northeast Chapter of officials. “To have an award reflect my name for excellence in officiating is something I’ll always treasure. Every year, when they give that award out, it has my name attached. Like my dad always said, be humble, and believe me, I am.”

In 2016, Russo was named Wrestling USA Magazine’s Official of the Year, the first from New Jersey to garner the award in its 20-year history.

2019 will be another big year for accolades in Russo’s life. In addition to his upcoming induction in the Bloomfield High Hall of Fame, he will receive the prestigious Richard C. Mirshak Award at the NJ state wrestling finals on March 2, in Atlantic City. This summer, another Hall of Fame will open its doors when he’s inducted into National Wrestling Hall of Fame.

Russo will tell you that on New Year’s Eve, 2019, he gets his biggest honor, when he will walk his daughter, Mia, down the aisle.

It’s no wonder that another New Jersey high school wrestling legend, Mike DiPiano. Sr., called Russo, “absolutely the best. LaFamilia.”

“Mike is a treasure,” said Russo of DiPiano. “And it’s not just what he accomplished with wrestling, it’s his legacy through his sons, Frank and Michael, who are both tremendous coaches, and all the work he’s done to promote organ donation. Twenty years ago, his life was saved by organ donation and he’s given back every day, since.”

As another wrestling season concludes this weekend, Vinnie Russo takes stock in his life, as he always does.

“My family is everything,” he said with a broad smile. “My wife, daughters and family members were there for me when I could barely move. And I’ll always be there for them. I have a great life, with so many wonderful friends. Wrestling has done so much for me, and I just try and give back as much as I can. I just try and do what my dad said, to be humble.”

As Rami Ratel said, Vinnie Russo is indeed, The G-O-A-T.

By mike051893

A classy Justin Colon returns to Belleville High to congratulate David Guerra and Alisa Safforld on qualifying for states

Justin Colon still looks like he can be in high school, but it’s been seven years since he attended Belleville High, and he’s accomplished a lot during that span.

Colon, Belleville High’s all-time winningest wrestler, with 163 victories from 2008-2012, was the last Buccaneers wrestler to qualify for the NJSIAA Tournament, when he won a state medal at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, after capturing the Region 4 championship a week earlier and being named the Outstanding Wrestler in the region, in 2012, at 126 pounds.

Justin was back at Belleville High to meet Alisa and David before a practice session, on Feb. 26. (Click on photo for larger image)

Colon qualified for the states in all four of his high school seasons. He won three Region 4 titles during his career, as well as one state medal, and to this day, is still among the top six wrestlers in the state, all time, with victories, trailing Andrew Campolattano (175), Anthony Ashnault (170), Quinn Kinner (169), Michael O’Malley (168) and Frank Cagnina and Joe Heilmann (164).

Justin’s older brother, Filiberto Colon also had a tremendous career at BHS, from 2004-2008, winning 156 matches, as well as three state medals, four county and district titles and one region championship. Like Justin, Filiberto qualified for the states for four straight years.

Justin, along with Belleville High head coach Joe Pizzi, as well as Alisa and David, at the Belleville High School gym. (Click on photo for larger image)

Justin Colon returned to his high school alma mater on Feb. 26, to say hello to the first two Belleville wrestlers to qualify for the state tournament since he did it seven years ago. David Guerra finished second at Region 3, on Feb. 23 and Alisa Safforld will compete at the states in the first year of wrestling for females, as she finished second in her weight class at the regions on Feb. 17.

“Be proud,” said Justin, as Guerra, a junior and Safforld, a sophomore, listened intently “You’re here because of your work ethic and some tremendous coaching. It’s not easy to get to Atlantic City, much less get a medal. But you’re there, and it’s because you wanted it.”

The three chat a little, before practice began. (Click on photo for larger image)

Having qualified in all four years of high school for the states, which is quite an accomplishment in itself, Justin knows what it’s like to be under those bright lights at Boardwalk Hall, especially for the first time.

“It’s different,” recalled Colon, the son of Tina and Filiberto Colon. “But if you go there with one single focus, and lock in to what you want to accomplish, you can be on that (medal winning) podium. “It meant a lot to me when I won my medal. I remember really wanting to break through. And I know Alisa and David can do it. I had some great coaches when I was here and Alisa and David do, too. They’re the leaders of this program now.”

Seven years ago, Justin’s outstanding wrestling career at Belleville High was recognized at a Board of Education meeting. It was nice to share in that ceremony. (Click on photo for larger image)

Belleville head coach Joe Pizzi was proud to have Justin return to speak to Safforld and Guerra.

“Justin is class,” said Pizzi. “He comes from a great family and did really well here. I think our kids realize what a great wrestler he was.”

Colon had an excellent collegiate career, at Johnson & Wales University. He was 59-30, with 17 pins, 91 takedowns, 80 reversals and 49 escapes.

“I still enjoy the sport,” said Colon. “I’ve stayed in pretty good shape since college. Wrestling is a great sport.”

Colon noted the tremendous strides Safforld and Guerra have made.

“I started wrestling in the recreation program in town in Kindergarten,” said Colon. “David and Alisa didn’t start wrestling until their freshman year of college. And now, they’re heading to the states. That’s incredible.”

Safforld and Guerra took a few minutes to talk about some of their favorite moves with Colon.

“I’m going to be rooting hard for those two in A.C. this weekend,” said Colon. “They are really nice kids. My parents raised my siblings and I to be respectful to others and I can see where David and Alisa also are respectful. But like my brothers and sisters, David and Alisa are competitors, too, and that’s why they’ve gotten this far.”



By mike051893

Reid Colella (37-1), Wayne Valley’s first region champ in 5 years and Nick Trani (39-1), making his third straight trip and the Indians’ all-time winner, will wrestle in state championships at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City

The focus never wavered.

Reid Colella’s day on Feb. 23 began with a hard-fought 3-1 victory in the 170-pound Region 2 semifinals, at Mt. Olive High. Colella would have to wait about four hours until his title bout against top-seeded Michael Conrad, of Montvale. And for a majority of that time, he sat in the stands, relatively alone, just staring out onto the mammoth floor, as numerous bouts were being contested over eight mats, and then eventually, four.

“It’s all about mental preparation at this point of the season,” said Colella. “There’s not much more I’m going to pick up, other than to be mentally focused.”

When Colella finally got back on the mat, it was all business once again, with the same result as the semifinal, a 3-1 victory. It was the first regional championship for a Wayne Valley wrestler in five years, since Tyler Hrycak won a crown and eventually was one of three Indians to earn a medal at the NJSIAA championships, in Atlantic City. The win improved Colella’s season record to 37-1.

Reid Colella (second from left) and Nick Trani are headed back to Atlantic City for the state championships for a second straight season. (Click on photo for larger image)

For the second straight season, Colella and Nick Trani were headed to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, for the state championships, which began on Feb. 28 and concluded on March 2.

Trani earned his third straight trip to A.C. by finishing third at 220 pounds, in the region. After losing a close bout for his first loss of the season in the semifinals, Trani defeated Passaic’s William Rozembersky, 6-1, to assure himself an appearance in Atlantic City, then defeated Christopher Cherry of Mt. Olive, 9-3, to clinch third in the weight class. That finish should assure Trani a good seed for the states, with his 39-1 record, as well as a county and district championship.

Trani was satisfied with his performance.

Nick Trani, after his victory which assured him a third straight trip to Atlantic City for the state championships, from Feb. 28-March 2. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Not everything went as I hoped,” said Trani. “But I’m proud of the way I dealt with the adversity. In the end, the only goal is advancing. Anything can happen in Atlantic City. I’m not worried about any seed, because if a seed mattered, what’s the point of even wrestling? Anyone can be beat on any day. I’m excited for the following week, and what it’s going to bring.”

It was also a record-setting weekend for Trani, who became the school’s all-time winningest wrestler with his 131st victory in the final bout at the regions. Trani surpassed the record set by Hrycak in 2014.

For Colella, a second opportunity to wrestle in Atlantic City will be a vast difference from 2018.

“To be honest, it was a little overwhelming last year,” said Colella. “It won’t be that way this time. I’m looking forward to getting back there and standing on that (state medal) podium on Saturday night. I worked hard for this. Winning a region is an awesome feeling, and I’m looking forward to what I can do this week.”

Wayne Valley coach Todd Schroeder was pleased with his team’s effort at the regions, and for the entire 2018-2019 season.

“I was hoping one or two more kids could have made the trip to Atlantic City, but everyone gave a tremendous effort in a very tough district and region,” said Schroeder. “This team won a state (sectional) championship and three regular season tournaments.

“Reid and Nick are captains, and they’ve performed like that all season. They both have the experience of wrestling in Atlantic City and I’m hoping they’ll have a real good three days coming up.”



By mike051893

Eileen Apicella: Wife, Mother, Grandmother and Matriarch of a legendary Belleville family

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line? If we had the chance to do it all again, Tell me, would we? Could we?

I’ll never forget. It was Jan. 23, 1981, a Friday night.

I’m in a backyard, playing the basketball game, H-O-R-S-E, with this high school freshman basketball player. Our first game was around 10 p.m. Like I said, this was January, in Belleville, NJ, not exactly the warmest time of the year. But we didn’t care.

On occasion, a family member of the freshman basketball player would pull into the driveway, say hello and go inside the house, while the marathon games continued.

Jennifer Apicella and I must have played 50 games of H-O-R-S-E that evening, (I probably lost 47 of them) on her legendary driveway/basketball court. The games spilled into the early hours of Jan. 24. The sound of a bouncing ball on the macadam, or one of us keeping a verbal score of a particular game, was usually transfixed by laughter, or a few bad words, usually prompted by a good shot, or a missed layup.

Suddenly, from the upstairs window of Jenny’s house, came a voice.

Mr. and Mrs. Apicella. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Do you two know what time it is?”.

Memories light the corners of my mind, Misty water-colored memories, of the way we were. Scattered pictures, of the smiles we left behind, smiles we gave to one another, for the way we were.

We both looked at each other, then looked up to where the voice emanated, since we seriously had no idea of the time. Sheepishly, we both said, ‘No, what time is it?’

“It’s almost 2 o’clock in the morning,” was the response. “You want to keep playing, go ahead, but I don’t want the neighbors complaining.”

Sure enough, Eileen Apicella, Jenny’s mom, was 100 percent correct.

As usual.

So, I headed home, which was all of a five-minute drive. There would be plenty of more games played in that backyard over the next three years, but that night certainly stood out.

Jennifer Apicella would go on to set amazing scoring records at Belleville High, including a then state-record 3,105 points, in just 100 varsity games. And through it all, Jen’s family was always there, including of course, her mom and dad, Tom.

On Feb. 21, 2019, Eileen Apicella departed this life to join her husband, who had passed a few years ago. And while Mr. and Mrs. Apicella’s time on this earth have been completed, their legacy has no boundary.

Oh, why does it seem that the past is always better? We look back and we think the winters were warmer, the grass was greener, the skies were bluer and smiles were bright…

There were so many great times at the Chandelier, a catering hall in town which the Apicellas built, with a lot of hard work and diligence, into a classic gathering place, complete with good food and ambiance, often to celebrate a marriage, hundreds of Varsity Club dinners, the beginning of life, the celebration of a completed life, or anything else in between. And when they weren’t providing a lifetime of memories through hard work at the Chandelier, you’d see Tom and Eileen at sporting events, as all four of the Apicella children were a part of the Blue and Gold.

Eldest daughter Eileen was a cheerleading captain, Jenny played hoops while older son Tom and youngest, John, were a part of some tremendous football teams.

Mrs. Apicella was always in the background. She was the matriarch of the family, a wife, mother, grandmother, friend and confidant. I often thought of her as the glue. All families need that, and she did her job with class and buoyancy. You only needed to speak to her to know how she exuded respect.

She was always Mrs. Apicella to me, from age 21, when I first met her, through this week. And she always will be. We talked about the NBA (she and I liked the Boston Celtics back when the playoff games with the 76ers were legendary), high school hoops and just about everything in between. She never raised her voice, always smiled and treated everyone well, while we always knew where we stood with her, which is not an easy thing to do.

God Bless you, Mrs. Apicella. Say hello to my mom and dad when you get a chance. You were all a part of a wonderful generation of parents who taught us so much about life. Thank you will never be enough

Mrs. Apicella’s son, John, said it best on social media.

“Last night my family lost the heart of our family. She was the the epitome of grace, compassion and love. She spoke with a quiet strength and even though she was slight in stature she could bare the weight if the world on her shoulders while never complaining . She taught me compassion, forgiveness, empathy and kindness. I am a better person because of you,”

Memories may be beautiful and yet, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget. So it’s the laughter, we will remember, whenever we remember, the way we were. 





By mike051893

Passaic Valley sophomore Taylor Hill scores a career-high 41 points; Steven Nitch’s 29 points lead PV boys basketball on Senior Night

The Passaic Valley girls’ basketball teams closed out its season with a 53-49 loss to Newark Academy, on Feb. 21, in Little Falls, despite a marvelous performance by sophomore forward Taylor Hill.

Hill scored a career-high 41 points, including four 3-point baskets and nine field goals, along with 11 foul shots. Entering the game, the injury-plagued Hornets were without senior captain Brittany Bove, who was battling an illness.

Taylor Hill is a tremendous all-around athlete and marvelous student at Passaic Valley. (Click on photo for larger image)

“I knew without Brittany in the lineup, I’d have to take more of a scoring role,” said Hill, who is also a standout soccer and softball player. “I was feeling pretty good out there today and my shot was falling.”

With Hill taking on the scoring roll, she was often double teamed, but still managed to have a tremendous game.

“That’s because of my teammates,” said the unassuming Hill. “I don’t have that kind of game without them. We gave it a good run, but we wanted to win.”

Passaic Valley head coach Marc Salvatore was very impressed by Hill’s effort.

“It was an unreal performance,” said Salvatore. “With Brittany out, it was all Taylor on the offensive end. She was double teamed, but they couldn’t stop her, whether it was a 3-pointer, pull ups or from the free throw line. Taylor threw out the whole arsenal tonight.”

Hill (left in this photo) will soon be getting ready for the softball season. (Click on photo for larger image)

Hill couldn’t believe she had scored over 40 points in the game.

“I had no idea,” said Hill. “I was just playing and trying to help my team win. Forty one points? That’s hard to believe.”

Hill scored 19 points while Bove had 18 and Krisha Rana finished with 13 as the PV defeated METS Charter, 64-17, on Feb. 15, in Little Falls. Madison Leech scored four and Victoria Langevin and Eva Pavloska had two points each for the Hornets.

Hill (second from left) was a team captain, as a sophomore, this year in basketball. (Click on photo for larger image)

The PV boys’ basketball team lost its season finale on Feb. 21 to Fair Lawn, 59-46, and finished its season with a 7-15 record.

Coach Jim Holsworth’s team won its Senior Night game against METS Charter, 90-64, on Feb. 15. The Hornets were led by Steven Nitch, a senior who scored a career-high 29 points on a big night. Nitch also hit seven 3-point baskets.

Brian Whitney had 16 points while Elliot Whitney and Brandon Timothy scored 11 points each. Angel Rodriguez scored nine points, Rashuan Rex had seven, Jared Irizarry scored four and Zander Timothy finished with three points for PV.

The 90 points was Passaic Valley’s highest point total since it scored 92 in a state game at Mount Olive, on Feb. 27, 2012.

PV played a good game against Passaic Tech, on Feb. 19, losing 56-53, in overtime. Elliot Whitney had 20 points to lead PV while Brian Whitney scored nine and Nitch, Rodriguez and Timothy had eight points each. Passaic Valley led, 24-16, at the half before PCT rallied in the third quarter to take a one point lead.

Brian Whitney had 13 points in PV’s season finale game at Fair Lawn.


By mike051893

Monumental weekend for Bloomfield High female wrestlers highlights a solid week for Bengals wrestling program, including a district champion in Kevin Adorno, 7 advancing to Region 3 and Ryan Smircich named District 9 Coach of the Year

The inaugural NJSIAA regional wrestling tournament, for females, at Red Bank Regional on Feb. 17, produced a lot of tremendous performances and the indication that girls wrestling is here for good.

Bloomfield High had an excellent day, as the Bengals sent four wrestlers to Red Bank, a beautiful facility in Monmouth County, and in front of a large crowd, the Bengals had a combined 8-8 record against the best wrestlers in Northern New Jersey.

Bloomfield coach Ryan Smircich was very pleased with his wrestlers’ performances, as well as the entire event. It was Smircich, along with assistant coach Jason Galioto, who had put together a tremendous holiday tournament for girls wrestling six weeks ago. This is the first year that the NJSIAA has sanctioned high school wrestling in New Jersey. The top six wrestlers in each weight class, from the North and the South regions will head to Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, for the state finals, from Feb. 28-March 2.

“This is great,” said Smircich during a break in the tournament on Feb. 17. “Look at the turnout and the way these kids are going after something that means a great deal to them. This will only get bigger in the years to come. I’m glad we had four kids here for the first-ever regional tournament. I hope it’s something they’ll always remember.”

While Bloomfield didn’t have a wrestler advance to Atlantic City, the team was well represented. Claire Daity finished 4-2 on the day and Noura Kakadendi was 2-2 and just missed on a berth in the states, finishing fourth in her weight class and earning a medal on the champion’s podium.

Noura Kakadendi (right) earned a medal at the NJSIAA regional tournament. (Click on photo for larger image) 

Angelina Faura and her sister, Giana Faura, each won a match at the regions.

The BHS boys wrestlers did very well at the District 9 championships on Feb. 16, at Nutley High. The Bengals advanced seven to the Region 3 tournament, at West Orange High, which began on Feb. 20, continued on Feb. 22 and concluded on Feb. 23.

Kevin Adorno won a district title at 145 pounds for Bloomfield, as he defeated Nicholas Anderson of North Bergen, 4-0, in the title bout. Having won the district title, Adorno advanced directly to the Feb. 22 quarterfinal round of the regions.

Bloomfield head coach Ryan Smircich (right) was named District 9’s Coach of the Year last weekend. (Click on photo for larger image)

Bloomfield’s Jeff Diaz (285 pounds), Gerald VanBaelen (113) and Zachary Andruchowitz (182) each advanced to the final of their respective weight class and finished second. Jacob Febo (120), Paul Flores (132) and Javon Whitehead (220) each took third.

Diaz, VanBaelen, Andruchowitz, Febo, Flores and Whitehead were all scheduled to wrestle in the regional preliminaries on Feb. 20, and if they won, would move on to the quarterfinals on Feb. 22 and an assurance of wrestling through Feb. 23. The top four wrestlers in each weight class at Region 3 would punch their ticket to the state wrestling championships, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.

The Bengals finished third in a strong region, as Delbarton won convincingly and Livingston finished second in a nine-team field.

It was also a special day for Smircich, as he was named the District 9 Coach of the Year, by his coaching peers. In his second year as head coach, Smircich led Bloomfield to a team-record 22 victories in the regular season.






By mike051893

Vinnie Russo was right: The NJSIAA female wrestling tournament had Energy, Excitement and plenty of Decibels

Vinnie Russo is one of the best high school wrestling officials in New Jersey. He’s also a fun-loving guy, who elicits smiles from all those who get the chance to speak with him.

Russo was on hand for the inaugural NJSIAA regional wrestling championships for females, on Feb. 17, at Red Bank Regional High School.

Mr. Russo is not only an administrator for high school officials, but works many a match himself, and he couldn’t have been more impressed with the tournament.

Belleville High’s Alisa Safforld is joined by her coaches after finishing second in her weight class at the inaugural regional tourney for females. (Click on photo for larger image)

With his eyes ablaze when I asked Vinnie what he thought of the day, Russo was quick to reply.

“Three words,” he said to me. “Energy, exciting and decibels.”


“Yeah,” said Vinnie. “Between the crowd noise and the kids’ excitement after winning a match, it was pretty loud. I’ll tell you what. My guys (the officials assigned to the tournament, all of whom are top-notch) all said ‘this is one of the best tournaments I’ve ever been a part of.’

“And I couldn’t agree more. This is a first-class environment. I’m talking the coaches, the officials, the venue, and most importantly, these young ladies. I’m so glad I’m here, not only as an official, but as a fan of this sport.”

Vinnie Russo, here officiating a championship match, couldn’t have been happier with the way the NJSIAA regional tourney for girls was contested on Feb. 17. (Click on photo for larger image)

Having never been to Red Bank Regional High School for an event myself, I couldn’t believe how spacious the gym was. There was plenty of room for eight mats, and with a big crowd on hand, easy maneuverability from mat to mat for the fans.

The matches were fun to watch. Win, or lose, the girls hugged each other after each bout. There were bumps and bruises, laughter and tears, but most of all, a lot of appreciation for the efforts of the wrestlers.

A number of coaches said how much they enjoyed working with the girls in this first year of state-sanctioned wrestling for high school females in New Jersey. The maturity of the wrestlers, not to mention the tenacity and determination was obvious, as the top three wrestlers in each of the 10 weight classes, from the Northern and Southern parts of the state, 60 in all, punched their ticket to the NJSIAA championships, which the girls will share with the boys at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.

Regardless of how a wrestler does in Atlantic City, all of the girls will stand on the ultimate podium at Boardwalk Hall, when their weight class is called, and be presented a medal, from an NJSIAA official, from sixth place to first.

The public address announcer at Red Bank said, before the final round of bouts, that history had been made. There was a new face of wrestling in New Jersey.

Those new faces include the 60 young ladies headed to Boardwalk Hall. They made history. Here they are:

Sydney Petzinger, Alisa Safforld, Randi Miley, Isabel Saire, Daniela Tacuri Andrade, Katy Ayala, Christine Gavasheli, Sheridan Torres, Stephanie Andrade, Melanie Sancho, Veronica Whitacre, Hailey Budney, Amanda Pace, Gabby Miller, Jewel Gonzalez, Donna Walker, Erin Emery, Sandra Guerrero, Kiera Hubmaster, Elise Harrison, Jazmine Aizley, Anmarie Lebron, Chlo Ayres, Johnae Drumright, Bella Serrano, Mia Bruno, Olivia Mena, Angelina Romero, Kayla Gregory, Angelina Vitola, America Garay, Emma Matera, Paige Colucci, Olivia Heyer, Diane Johnson, Madison Pesavage, Mia Lazaurs, Jordyn Katz, Joelle Klein, Sarah Mireles, Quanizja Legagneur, Julia Manolas, Rebecca Brown, Devon Kueny, Makenna Cooper, Jess Johnson, Brandi Rado, Katherine Bott, Kerly Borbor, Kaila Mungo, Breanna Cervantes, Shannon Gulick, Najee Cuevas and Casandra Auletta.

By mike051893

His life renewed by organ donation, West Essex wrestling coach Mike Markey celebrates his good health, and a state championship, while reflecting on the health of his uncle, dear friend and former Nutley coach, Carmen LoRe

Mike Markey had just been lifted onto the shoulders of the West Essex High wrestling team, after guiding the Knights to a state sectional title on Feb. 8. Two days later, Markey’s team won the school’s first-ever Group 3 state championship.

For Markey, the moment had to be surreal, for so many reasons, as he had battled back from some serious health afflictions for over a decade.

And while the 36-year-old couldn’t be happier, he also had his uncle, Carmen LoRe, the man who turned him on to wrestling as a youngster, and later as a coach, on his mind.

LoRe is the former Nutley High wrestling coach and successful businessman, who is currently battling health issues of his own, and requires a new lung. He’s currently on a transplant list. Carmen’s sister, the former Angie LoRe, is Mike’s mom.

“Carmen and I go back a long way, when it comes to wrestling,” said Markey. “I think about him every day. I remember when I first got into coaching, in 2009, Carmen said to me, ‘Michael, get them to buy in and get them in shape.’ It has been my mantra ever since, thanks to him.”

Mike Markey (right) and his uncle, Carmen LoRe. (Click on photo for larger image)

If anyone understands the miracle of a transplant, it’s Mike Markey. In 2002, while a student at the College of New Jersey, where he played football and wrestled, Mike received devastating news that he had Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis (PSC), a rare liver disease. It was the same illness which eventually claimed the life of NFL great, Walter Payton, ironically a childhood idol of Markey’s.

PSC is caused by progressive inflammation and scarring of the liver’s bile ducts, whose cause can be from a bacterial infection, virus, genetic predisposition or a problem with the immune system. Treatment for a cure is a transplant.

For three years, from 2002-2005, Markey would make regular trips to an infectious disease center, in Bloomfield, for doses of antibiotics. He also had a permanent I.V. In Sept. 2005, Mike received a liver transplant, a 10-hour procedure. But shortly after, he was back on the operating table after he began bleeding internally.

For the next three years, Markey’s health struggled. He needed tubes in his upper abdomen for drainage of the liver. He had kidney and renal failure, as well as sepsis, and lost a lot of weight. In December, 2006, he underwent bile duct surgery, which was unsuccessful.

Mike Markey during his days wrestling at Caldwell High School. (Click on photo for larger image)

While recovering, with tubes in his stomach, Mike worked hard to complete his college degree, at TCNJ and was trying to establish a career in education, and coaching. He got a break when he was hired at West Essex, as a Physical Education and Health teacher.

A graduate of nearby Caldwell High School, where he had a standout wrestling career, with over 100 wins and a state medal in 2000, Markey found solace as a volunteer assistant coach with the West Essex wrestling team. Eventually, he would be an assistant to Greg Ruggiero.

However, Mike’s health was still a problem. There was more internal bleeding and transfusions. Mike also had his gallbladder removed.

Michael DiPiano, Sr., here with his son, Frank, helped Markey see a new doctor, who helped him to improved health, in 2009. (Click on photo for larger image)

Enter LoRe, who introduced Markey to the legendary St. Benedict’s wrestling coach and administrator, Michael DiPiano Sr., in 2009. Eleven years earlier, DiPiano had a life-saving transplant, when he received a new kidney and pancreas. Last fall, DiPiano celebrated 20 years of good health. For the past nine years, DiPiano has hosted the Gift of Life Wrestling Tournament, a high school event, with the theme ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision.’

DiPiano intervened, noting that Markey didn’t look well. A few phone calls helped Markey visit Dr. Jean Emmond, at Columbia Presbyterian, in New York City. There, Markey underwent a cutting edge procedure, in the summer of 2009, in which 50% of his liver was removed. (Remember, the liver can regenerate). The procedure helped rid Mike of the invasive tubes, which had protruded from his abdomen for the better of four years following the original transplant, and his health began to improve noticeably.

“That was all Carmen,” said Markey last week. “I don’t know where I’d be if Carmen hadn’t introduced me to Mike DiPiano and get me to Dr. Emmond at Columbia Pres.”

Markey was able to begin working out with the West Essex wrestlers after the surgery, in his role as an assistant coach. He was on the West Essex coaching staff in 2011, when the Knights won a state sectional title and advanced to the Group 2 championship, where it lost a close match to Brearley High.

Eight years later, Markey’s health is good, although he admits he doesn’t wrestle as much with the team anymore. Since 2009, he’s undergone additional surgeries, including two abdominal reconstructions, the first in 2013 and a second two years ago.

“After my second abdominal reconstruction in 2017, I’m taking it a little easier now, when it comes to actually wrestling on the mat. I can work out for a few minutes, but then I leave it up to my coaching staff, to roll around more with the guys. I feel like I have plenty to contribute as the head coach.”

After nine years as an assistant coach, Markey would succeed Ruggiero as head coach, prior to the 2017-2018 season. In essence, the two switched positions, as Ruggiero is now a valued assistant.

What wrestling has meant to Markey for three decades has clearly helped him win the many health battles he’s faced for 17 years.

“No question about it,” he said. “The mental and physical preparation of being a wrestler really helped me. In wrestling, you never give up, and that goes for life, too. I started wrestling in the third grade, along with my best friend, Matt Dancy. I remember my first-ever match was at Nutley, in the third grade, and I got pinned in 36 seconds. And who was there to encourage me afterward? Carmen.

“I always tell my wrestlers what the sport did for me. You have to have faith. There is no end game in wrestling. It stays with you for a life time.”

Mike Markey’s life was saved by some marvelous medical professionals, as well as a loving uncle, who wanted the best for his nephew and a never-quit attitude.

Eleven years later, Mike is now hopeful he can be of help to Carmen.

“Organ donation awareness has saved so many lives, including mine,” said Mike. “And we’re hopeful that Carmen can get his transplant, soon. Whenever it got complicated in my life, he was always there. And now here I am, coaching a state championship team, with some great kids and a wonderful coaching staff. I spoke to Carmen when I got home from the state championship match (on Feb. 10). He was so happy.

“I love my uncle. I know he’s having some tough days, but we’re hopeful he’ll get the medical attention he needs soon.”




By mike051893

A week to remember for Wayne Valley wrestling; A state championship, ‘Hammer Time’, Lugo bumping up 2 weight classes, Botero’s escape with 2.8 left, key pins by Tsay and Jimenez; Colella’s 100th career victory and Trani remains unbeaten

It was a week to remember for the Wayne Valley wrestling team. Coach Todd Schroeder saw his team rally from big deficits in the North 1, Group 4 semifinals and championship round to capture the program’s second state crown in the last five years.

Wayne Valley finished the regular season with an 18-5 record after losing to Phillipsburg in the Group 4 semifinal, on Feb. 10, in Toms River. The Indians will compete in what will be a rugged District 7, at Bergen Catholic, in Oradell, on Feb. 16. The top three wrestlers in each weight class at District 7 will move onto the Region 2 championships, at Mount Olive, in Flanders, which begins on Feb. 20, continues to Feb. 22 and concludes a day later. The top four wrestlers in each weight at all eight regions throughout the state move on to the state championships, at Boardwalk Hall, in Atlantic City, from Feb. 28-March 2.

Ryan and Sean Hammer had a huge impact on a state championship run. (Click on photo for larger image)

Wayne Valley’s run to the sectional championship gained a lot of steam on Feb. 6, when the Indians came back from 21-4 down to defeat Mount Olive, 37-31, at home, in the sectional semifinals. The Indians were led by Ryan Hammer and Sean Hammer, who won back-to-back matches at 126 and 132 pounds to cut into the deficit. Valley then got wins from Adam Tsay, who won a huge match at 145 pounds, by fall, after trailing for most of the bout, Elijah Lugo, who bumped up two weight classes to win by decision at 152, Nick Duncan (160), Reid Colella (170), Dan Murphy (182) and Nick Trani, who opened the match with a win at 220 pounds.

Left to right, Jordan Botero, Nick Duncan, Nick Trani, Dan Murphy, Reid Colella and Elijah Lugo after the state sectional championship was secured. (Click on photo for larger image)

In the title bout, at top-seeded Roxbury on Feb. 8, Wayne Valley, the second seed, fell behind 16-0 before the Hammer brothers came through again, with consecutive wins to narrow the Gaels’ lead to 16-6. Lugo was back at 138 pounds and won his match, by decision, before a big pin by Matt Jimenez made it 16-15, Roxbury. Later, with the Indians down, 25-15, Colella got a pin for his 100th career victory, at 170 pounds and then, with the score 31-21, Wayne Valley won the final three bouts to prevail, 33-31. Murphy won by decision at 195 pounds, Trani remained unbeaten with a pin at 220 and Jordan Botero wrapped it up with a dramatic victory, in four overtimes, when he escaped with 2.8 seconds left for the winning point.

Jordan Botero, taking in the moment, after winning the final bout in four overtimes. (Click on photo for larger image)

“Crazy,” said Schroeder afterward. “These kids are incredible. They’ve worked so hard this season and came back from a lot of adversity, against a really tough schedule. And to win it they way we did, with Jordan escaping at the buzzer, was something else. I’m so proud of them.”

The win moved the Indians into the Group 4 semifinals, in Toms River, on Feb. 10. There, the team fell short to Phillipsburg, 44-16. Trani, Colella, Murphy and Botero had wins for Valley, with Colella gaining the Indians’ only fall.

“I told our kids to be proud,” said Schroeder afterward. “We won a sectional five years ago, and those kids were tremendous. But this group? They really did something special this year. They won a state championship in incredible fashion. It’s something they should always look back at with pride.”

Getting ready for the districts means facing the state’s best team, in Bergen Catholic, among others.

“It’s a tough district,” said Schroeder. “But this is what we’ve been preparing for all season. We faced a strong schedule, which put us in good position to win a sectional title. Now, we’ve got two weeks left and hopefully, we’ll be ready to peak.”

Wayne Valley coaches enjoying the moment. (Click on photo for larger image).

Thanks to Christine Colella for the photos. 

By mike051893

‘Hammer Time’, the Sequel, was just as big a hit as the original and resulted in a state title for Wayne Valley; Reid Colella’s 100th career win came at the perfect time and Nick Trani remained undefeated

When Wayne Valley fell behind in its state sectional semifinal against Mount Olive, 21-4, it needed a quick boost. The Indians got that when Ryan Hammer won by decision at 126 pounds and his brother, Sean Hammer followed with a pin, at 132. The victories moved Valley to within 21-13, and the team went on to win, 37-31.

Two days later, with Wayne Valley trailing in its state sectional final match at Roxbury, 16-0, Ryan and Sean came through with wins that cut the deficit to 16-6. Elijah Lugo would follow with a win and Matt Jimenez recorded a big time pin that made it 16-15.

Ryan and Sean Hammer were certainly a big part of Wayne Valley’s post-season success. (Click on photo for larger image. Photo courtesy of Christine Colella)

After Valley fell behind 25-15, it never faltered, as the heavier weights came through, starting with Reid Colella’s pin at 170 for his 100th career win, and continuing at 195 pounds, where Dan Murphy won by decision to make it 31-24, Nick Trani remained unbeaten with a pin at 220 to cut Roxbury’s lead to 31-30 and the rally was climaxed by Jordan Botero winning in 4 overtimes, on a last second escape, to give the Indians a 33-31 win for the program’s second state sectional title and first since 2014.

The entire team celebrated Reid Colella’s 100th career win, as well as a state championship, on Feb. 8. (Click on photo for larger image)

But clearly, it was the Hammers who put their team in position to win, both in the semifinals and championship rounds, with determined efforts.

It was, for sure, Hammer Time, I and II.


By mike051893