By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
There was a meeting that took place last August, set up by long-time Queen of Peace athletic director and do-everything Ed Abromaitis, with the new QP principal John Bellocchio and the sports columnist of The Observer.
Abromaitis told me that Bellocchio was concerned about negative publicity the athletic program had received in the paper and wanted to make sure that the Golden Griffins would get a fair shake in the future under his watch.
Bellocchio was told at the time that I was concerned about the direction that former QP principal Brother Larry Lavallee took the athletic program, that there was a constant revolving door at the school with coaches coming and going almost on a yearly basis.
Since Brother Larry had resigned last June and Bellocchio was hired as his replacement, he assured me that things were going to change in the future, that QP athletics was moving in a positive direction.
Well, it certainly didn’t last long.
It’s not even a year in Bellocchio’s tenure and already changes are being made.
For one, Abromaitis, who has had to endure two strenuous tenures as the school’s athletic director, has been reassigned by Bellocchio to a non-athletic role as a mentor to the school’s younger teachers and a physical education teacher.
Abromaitis, who declined to comment for this column, was reportedly not happy with the shift. But Abromaitis, who has spent nearly 40 years at the school as a coach and athletic administrator, has always been one to fall on the sword for Queen of Peace.
As Abromaitis’ replacement, Bellocchio has hired Mike Miello, the former Hackensack, Ramapo and William Paterson head football coach. Miello had been an associate of Bellocchio when the two worked together in Hackensack.
Miello may have a name recognition, but he’s certainly not a true green and gold bleeder like Ed Abromaitis.
Bellocchio, to his credit, did return my phone calls.
“Eddie Abromaitis is as good as it gets,” Bellocchio said. “I described him best as being a legend here. He’s done a phenomenal job. I’m able to offer him as a role model, as someone who knows tradition, who has impeccable and exceptional character. He’s going to help us grow. I needed him internally to help as a mentor. In my eyes, he has extraordinary talents there. This is right for Queen of Peace.”
Bellocchio continued to sing Abromaitis’ praises.
“He’s been a role model to me,” Bellocchio said.
Then why replace him? Why rip the man’s heart out – now for a second time – in order to give him a thankless position inside the school? Abromaitis is and was Queen of Peace athletics. Anywhere in the state that you could go, if you mentioned Queen of Peace, the first name that came to mind was Ed Abromaitis.
During his tenure, not only was Abromaitis the athletic director for almost 30 years in two different stints, but he was also the highly successful head baseball coach. He also served as an assistant football coach for many years and was asked to step in as an interim head football coach when former coach Tom Ferreiro was removed a few years ago.
In fact, when someone asked Abromaitis to do something there, he did it without a question or qualm. When the school was replacing coaches left and right a few years ago, Abromaitis was left to pick up the pieces and tell the media the reasons why the coaches were gone. The school administration left Abromaitis to twist in the wind time and time again. Then, the school replaced him and then brought him back after three years.
Now, he’s out again and replaced by an outsider in Miello.
“Mike Miello is my former colleague,” Bellocchio said. “He’s another legendary character in northern New Jersey. He’s a very decent man and an exceptional individual.”
Now, there’s another coaching change to deal with.
Mike Flynn – who was another soul dedicated to Queen of Peace in every facet imaginable – has decided to step down as the girls’ soccer coach after serving 16 years.
Flynn was saddened by his decision, but he realized he couldn’t remain at the school, especially after what took place with his longtime friend Abromaitis.
“He’s the principal and he set down rules,” Flynn said of Bellocchio. “I don’t have to agree with them. It’s one of my favorite places in the world. I love that school. I just don’t like the direction the school is going in. I don’t like the way they treated Eddie. And I don’t think I could work for anyone else other than Eddie. I would go up there on an August morning at 8 a.m. and Eddie would be there. Don’t get me wrong. We had our arguments. But he’s a great man and a great man to work for. He bled Queen of Peace colors.”
Added Flynn, “Everywhere I go, everyone asks me, ‘How’s Abromaitis?’ He’s so well known. It’s just a pleasure to know Eddie and he deserves much better than this. John’s the principal and he’s the boss. I just don’t have to listen to him.”
Flynn served a variety of roles for the school. Not only was he the girls’ soccer coach, but he was also the former head softball coach, worked the sidelines at football games and drove the athletic teams to different games and events.
“I’m going to miss a lot of the girls,” Flynn said. “The hardest thing I had to do was to call parents and tell them that I wasn’t going to be there. I wish nothing but the best for the school. I just didn’t like the direction in which the school was headed.”
Flynn took pride in the fact that his soccer teams qualified for the Bergen County Tournament 14 times in 16 years. He hopes to find another coaching job somewhere.
“I love coaching and I love the game of soccer,” Flynn said. “It’s a sad day.”
Flynn said that he was promised a tuition break for incoming freshmen, so he went out and found five promising players, all coming to QP as long as they were receiving some tuition assistance.
“He told me that he never offered that deal,” Flynn said of Bellocchio. “I said, ‘You most certainly did.’ But he denied it. How can I tell those parents that they went back on their word? Maybe it’s better if they bring someone else in.”
Bellocchio sang Flynn’s praises as well.
“You never like to see talented people leave,” Bellocchio said. “I wish him the best for the future. Everyone has said nothing but the best about Mike Flynn.”
The principal is saying all the right things. But the purist knows that Abromaitis didn’t want to leave his position and Flynn didn’t want to walk away from the school and the kids he loved.
So the revolving door spins once again, this time involving two of the rare longtime coaches. It’s astounding the number of coaching changes this school has gone through in the past decade. No one seems to learn from past mistakes and the door just keeps spinning and spinning, this time involving two of the truly good people in local athletics.