"I played baseball and football even before I wrestled," said Pascual, who went on to become one of the greatest wrestlers in North Bergen High School history and had a stellar career at Rider University. "Once I got to high school, I was committed to wrestling, but I played all sports in North Bergen. It was definitely a good experience for me as a kid growing up. I learned about responsibility and commitment. It was also an outlet, an exciting way to have fun and socialize. It was such a positive thing in my life."
That's why it was natural for Pascual to become the head of the recreation department. Not only was Pascual a participant in the program, but he was also a volunteer wrestling coach for many years.
"We have so many dedicated parents and people who volunteer their time, many hours a week, for the love of coaching and for the love of the kids," Pascual said. "They are the recreation program and I salute them."
Pascual said that close to 4,000 North Bergen youngsters, ages 5 through 16, participate annually in the many sports and activities that the recreation department has to offer.
"We have a wide range of programs for the youngsters," Pascual said. "Football, soccer and basketball seem to be our most popular sports. But we offer hockey, judo, dance instruction and swimming. We have a traveling cheerleading team. We have a summer camp for five weeks in the summer."
Pascual said that he is excited for two reasons. One, the township has decided to move its soccer program from the fall to the spring, beginning this year. Secondly, the restoration and refurbishing of Bruins Stadium will be completed by the end of the summer, which means that the recreation football program will play games on a new artificial turf surface this year.
"We're moving soccer to the spring for the first time," Pascual said. "Parents were concerned that it was getting too cold for the kids to play. By moving to the spring, we're giving kids a chance to play both soccer and football. They are both great programs that are run very well. I think the soccer board is happy with the decision of going to the spring. They're going to play in nicer weather and we'll be able to accommodate them."
Added Pascual, "Everything is in place in terms of fixing Bruins Stadium. Some work has already been started. We are really anticipating a June opening for the field."
Soon, the township's baseball programs will begin. The Volunteer Youth Baseball League, which is North Bergen's equivalent of Little League, will begin another season under the guidance and leadership of president Guy McCann. The league, for boys and girls ages seven through 12, plays its games at the newly refurbished Avillo Baseball Complex on 76th Street and is considered one of the finest youth baseball facilities in the state.
The recreation program coordinates the tee-ball baseball program for the boys and girls ages five and six. The recreation program also sponsors the Babe Ruth program (13- to 15-year-olds) and the Mickey Mantle program (16- to 17-year-olds).
Pascual said that the department charges a registration fee of $20 per child per sport.
"The registration fee includes everything," Pascual said. "It includes uniforms, transportation, all costs. It's very affordable, compared to some neighboring towns. I know towns in Bergen County that charge $50, $60, even $100 per sport. We try to keep it as affordable as possible."
While the township still looks for a site to build a new municipal pool - after the old site was condemned for possible toxic chemical contamination last year - the township's swim program, the North Bergen Gators, coordinated by supervisor Lydia Coleman, continues to thrive.
"We go through spring conditioning at the Union City pool," Coleman said. "When the competitions begin, we use the Secaucus pool. Our members can go to either Palisades Park or Secaucus. We're continuing our programs this summer, with the hope of getting a new pool in the future."
While the recreation department strictly caters to youngsters, Pascual said that the mayor's office coordinates recreational activities for senior citizens.
"The respective senior housing complexes also have recreational activities for the seniors," Pascual said.
Added Pascual, "We offer a lot of programs for our youngsters. We keep busy all year long, but it's always for the good of the children."
For further information on any North Bergen Recreation program, feel free to contact supervisors John Cellini or Lydia Coleman at (201) 861-9601.