Former NA coach Constantino California bound

Rocco Constantino had a great run as a softball coach and teacher at North Arlington High School more than a decade ago.

Constantino then left to carve his niche as a highly successful college softball coach at nearby Bloomfield College.

He then also had a two-year stint as the athletic director at New Providence High School, one of the best scholastic and academic high schools in New Jersey.

So what does Constantino do for his next challenge? He’s headed to the land of La La on the far West Coast.

Constantino just recently announced his plans to become the new athletic director at Santa Barbara City College, a two-year junior college right on the beach in southern California.

“It was a tough decision to make,” Constantino said. “But if I am going someplace, it’s not a bad place to go.”

Santa Barbara City College is a powerhouse JUCO that sends a lot of its athletes to schools like the University of Mississippi, Washington, Arizona State and UNLV. The school offers 19 different sports, including football and basketball.

“I saw an advertisement and became interested,” Constantino said. “I replied to the ad and that’s about it. I flew out to California for the interview and at the very least, I had a good trip to California.”

But then  Constantino got a second interview over the Internet. And then a third.

“I flew out and met the school president and vice president,” Constantino said. “I then had to make a decision to leave New Jersey. I like the coaches and the kids in New Providence. The kids are great and the teams are really successful. We have good students. But when I was coaching in college, I knew that I wanted to get back into being an administrator.

Added Constantino, “I left Bloomfield College and I absolutely loved being there. But I knew I had to branch out and it would lead to bigger and better things.”

Santa Barbara City College participates in the Western State Conference. Of the 114 junior colleges in California _ imagine that number? _ Santa Barbara City ranks No. 15 in California in terms of academics and athletics.

“And it’s right on the beach,” Constantino said. “The football field overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The school gets kids drafted in baseball and football every year. It’s a good feeding system. I’m excited about it. I’m sad that I’m leaving my home, but I’ve met and talked to a lot of people out there. I think I’m ready for the change. I’m excited for the job. As exciting as it is, it’s sad to leave here.”

But Constantino leaves with one prevailing thought.

“My office looks out into the (Pacific) ocean,” Constantino said.

Not a bad gig for a beloved former local coach and teacher. We wish him the best of luck in California.

Behnken dies

It almost flew totally under the radar last week, but the area lost a true athletic legend in the field of officiating.

Jack Behnken died recently at his home in Fairfield. He was 77 years old.

For 44 years of his life, Behnken was a health and physical education teacher in the North Arlington school district.

But for longer, Behnken earned a reputation as one of the top officials in football, basketball, baseball and soccer. He was a college basketball official in the Ivy League, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and the New Jersey Athletic Conference. He later became an observer and an assignor of officials.

He was a lifetime achievement recipient from the Bergen County Boys’ Soccer Coaches Association and was the National Federation of High Schools Official of the Year by the NJSIAA/New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association.

Jack was also the past president of the IAABO Board 33, the organization that governs all local basketball officials. He was the recipient of the Rosati Award from the New Jersey Football Officials Association.

Needless to say, Jack was like the Babe Ruth of high school and college officials. If you attended a local high school or college game, chances are Jack was officiating. He must have officiated over 2,000 games in the four sports over his brilliant career.

In later years, I noticed Jack doing the clock at many local high school football games, when his motor skills deteriorated somewhat. But he was still active, still a major part of the game.

I remember one game I was covering that Jack refereed distinctly. It was 1995 and it was a huge game between North Bergen and St. Peter’s Prep. It was a game that was going to determine the county championship.

The game was going down to the last seconds and I was on the sidelines monitoring each play like I always did, with time, down and distance. Sure enough, the clock ran out without no one noticing. I said that there were 33 seconds left in the game. Jack ran to the sidelines, looked at my notebook and sure enough, ordered to put 33 seconds back on the clock.

I guess that was a sign that he trusted me.

Rest in peace, Jack. You will be missed.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer