The late Karen Fuccello was the athletic director at Belleville High School for 20 years, but when Fuccello died a decade ago, it triggered a host of successors who didn’t have the longevity in the position that Fuccello enjoyed.
Enter the newest keeper of the Belleville athletic flame in Marcellino Marra.
You probably have heard or read Marra’s name before. That’s because for the last 10 years, Marra was the popular head boys’ soccer coach at neighboring rival Nutley.
The 40-year-old Marra was appointed last month to replace former Belleville AD Dan Sanacore, who spent only two years in the position.
Marra, who has held an administration certificate since 2006, said that he always aspired to get into the administrative end of athletics, but coaching was always a priority.
“I had an opportunity about five years ago, but I wanted to keep coaching,” Marra said. “But this is a great opportunity for me now, because I’m a vice-principal as well as athletic director.”
More importantly, Marra is a Belleville resident and has been for the last 10 years now.
“I love everything about the community and the kids,” Marra said.
Marra was selected among a field of more than 100 applicants for the position. The powers-that-be, namely Superintendent of Schools Dr. Richard Tomko and Principal Caleb Rhodes, met with Marra and decided that he was their man.
“After I met with them and talked to them, I felt like it was the right move for me,” Marra said. “I’m friends with (former Belleville athletic director) Tom D’Elia and I just knew it was a job that I wanted to have.”
Marra, a product of Nutley High, played soccer at Nutley and Caldwell College. He started coaching and teaching in Nutley in 2000 and became the head boys’ soccer coach in 2007, leading the Maroon Raiders to two league championships during his tenure.
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop being their coach,” Marra said. “My players will remain my people. But now, I have a chance to help kids on a larger scale. It’s all I’ve ever known, helping kids.”
Marra saw the handwriting on the wall.
“But coaching is a young man’s game,” Marra said. “I’m not a young man anymore. This is going to be an easy transition for me.”
Marra was asked if he was going to miss coaching.
“I don’t think I’m going to miss it as much as I think I will,” Marra said.
But Marra has now traded in his maroon and white colors for the blue and gold of Belleville.
“I felt like this was the right place for me,” Marra said. “It’s going to be an easy transition for me, because I’m committed to the job. It is close to home. I’m very excited about it. I’m excited to be a Buccaneer.”
Marra has only been in the position for a little over a week, but he likes what he sees already.
“We have some dedicated young people,” Marra said. “They’re all working hard already in the summer. I see some good things in our kids.”
Marra knows that Belleville’s athletic teams have been going through some tough times in recent years.
“But it’s not always about wins and losses,” Marra said. “Athletics teaches kids how to become teammates, how to have discipline and respect. That’s what I want to do, teach the kids about having discipline.”
Marra said that he will always treasure the time he spent at Nutley and the relationships he formed there. For example, Nutley athletic director Joe Piro is one of Marra’s closest friends. So is girls’ soccer and boys’ wrestling coach Mike DiPiano and his brother, Frank DiPiano, who was a former Nutley coach.
“I also grew up with (Clifton athletic director and Rutherford councilman) Tom Mullahey,” Marra said. “Nothing is going to change with those guys. They are guys I can call anytime if I have a problem. We’re all out to help each other. It’s like my own little family. They’re going to help me anyway that they can. They’re always going to be my brothers. Nothing will change that.”
But Marra has to get used to the fact that he’s no longer a member of Raider Nation, that it’s Buc Pride from here on in.
“I feel good about this opportunity,” Marra said. “I’ve been thinking about doing administrative work for a while now. It’s all about timing and opportunity. This is the right place at the right time.”
And hopefully, Marra is around long enough to enjoy the position for a long time.