By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
When Joe Fischer decided to take over the Belleville High School football program once again for a second stint, he wanted to change the perception more than anything.
“We were starting from scratch,” said Fischer, who was the head coach for four seasons from 2004 through 2007. “I had to put together a plan.” And what did that plan include?
“We had the players pick up garbage,” Fischer said.
Simple enough, no? A day after the Belleville Class of 2014 went through their commencement exercises at Belleville Stadium, Fischer had the 40 or so returning football players go to clean the stadium top to bottom.
“It shows the kids that no one is above picking up garbage,” Fischer said. “It instills pride in their surroundings, where they practice and play. They have a nice field, a nice facility that they should be proud of. And it stops them from throwing stuff on the ground.”
Fischer said that the plan showed its first signs of working when a player went up to a teacher and told the teacher that they can’t throw empty bottles on the ground.
“One of the players ran over, picked up the empty bottle and said, ‘You can’t do that,’” Fischer said. “They know that if they’re going to pick up garbage to play, then they’re going to pick up garbage. It’s that simple. I knew I had to start from scratch. I knew that these kids had no pride in their program.”
The clean-up program was a sign to the players that times had indeed changed.
“They knew that things were changing,” Fischer said.
In May, the Belleville football players picked up 25 bags of garbage from the area around Belleville Stadium. After graduation, there was more of the same.
“Discipline doesn’t work if the kids don’t care,” Fischer said. “The kids simply had no pride in their program. It is a form of discipline when they have to take care of where they spend most of their time. We have a nice field. They should take care of it.”
Fischer said that the cleanup routine has already filtered down to the players.
“I told one of the seniors, Nick Nardicchone, that if I found any bottles around, we were going to run gassers for every bottle,” Fischer said. “He made sure that there were no bottles. That’s just the way it is. I’m not a yeller or a screamer, but they are following through with what I say.”
Fischer said that he instituted a similar plan when he became the head coach in 2004.
“We had a bad locker room with old rusty lockers and animals lived there and that ran in and out,” Fischer said. “So we re-did the entire locker room and built new wood lockers. They’re still there. It’s a team building concept.”
The Buccaneers were in the midst of a 33-game losing streak, the longest in the state, when Fischer took over the first time. They snapped the slide and eventually made the NJSIAA North 1, Group IV state playoffs in 2007, the last time the program reached the postseason.
Fischer said that the players received a treat in May, when 25 of the Buccaneers were treated to partake in the National Football League draft at Radio City Music Hall.
“I have a friend, Gerhardt Sanchez, who used to be the recreation director in Montclair,” Fischer said. “He ran a 7-on-7 for the NFL in Montclair. We’ve become friends. He now works for the NFL. He called me and asked if I wanted to take some kids to the draft. So we brought 25 kids.”
The Belleville gridders got to meet Giants punter Steve Weatherford and Jets running back Chris Ivory while watching the draft.
“There were coaches and general managers walking around,” Fischer said. “It was really a nice day, another day toward team building. Half of the players had never even been to New York City before. It might be only 12 miles away, but it’s totally different to them. It was such a great day. The kids are still talking about it.”
The Buccaneers might not set the world on fire this season, but there’s one thing for sure. There’s a new sheriff in town. Actually, it’s the old sheriff, but he’s making sure that things are being done the right away and being done with a sense of pride.
“We’re starting from the bottom, but we’re moving in the right direction,” Fischer said.