The North Bergen Recreation Department, built entirely with the hard work of volunteers, is one of the more successful and established departments in the state. The department consists of various teams, as well as softball, baseball, and football fields and courts to play on.
The department also serves as a springboard for High School sports. Many of the students who came up through the recreation program were athletes on the North Bergen Bruins football team, which recently took home the trophy for the state championship (see cover story).
Graduates of the North Bergen youth football program have gone on to other notable achievements, like Mark D'Onofrio, who played at Penn State and with the Green Bay Packers and is currently the defensive coordinator at the University of Miami. Other graduates have gone on to play sports at big-time colleges.
“A lot of great people [who are] not with us anymore have given North Bergen the best recreation program in the State.” – Jay Sticco.
With their bare hands
According to Sticco, who is 81 and still active with the department, many of the facilities at the recreation center at 4600 Meadowview Ave. were constructed years ago by parents, coaches, and friends, such as the Little League field, the adjacent field house, and the youth center.
Volunteers also built the spacious arena roughly 10 years ago, which houses the basketball courts, as well as offices for staff members.
“I was lugging around a wheelbarrow of cement,” said Sticco with a laugh, “and I’m a pencil pusher.”
Sticco mentioned that the volunteer work was largely coordinated by Lou Piantadosi, one of the founding fathers of North Bergen youth football during its inception in 1961. The youth center was named in his honor, after his passing 20 years ago.
The youth center also houses the North Bergen Red Raiders of the Hudson County Football League. The team was recently barred from the playoffs after a scandal involving an allegedly ineligible player. The snafu led to the resignation of Roy Miller, commissioner for 23 years. See the recent cover story in The Reporter for more on the story.
“He [Piantadosi] would wake me up at six in the morning to work,” said Sticco, adding that he and many of these other volunteers became coaches in the program.
“Nowadays, volunteerism is fading,” continued Sticco, mentioning that he believes the rough economy to be largely responsible.
Across the street from the Recreation center is Stan Newman field, named after a baseball and football coach of 25 years. According to Sticco, Newman coached North Bergen’s teams from his wheelchair for the last years of his life.
“A lot of great people [who are] not with us anymore have given North Bergen the best recreation program in the state,” added Sticco.
Sticco mentioned that Bruins Stadium, located in North Hudson James J. Braddock Park, was funded through money obtained from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres program. The grant provides funding to county and municipal governments to acquire land for open space and parks.
Sticco said that aside from the overwhelming number of local volunteers, the support from town officials, such as Mayor Nicholas Sacco, has helped to give the department a solid reputation.
“These things were done out of love from the volunteers, parents, and friends,” said Sticco.
Stephen LaMarca may be reached at email@example.com.