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Cops break up narcotics operation


Armed with a battering ram, Essex County sheriff’s officers and Bloomfield police last week forced their way through a steel-fortified apartment door and arrested three suspects on drug-trafficking charges, Sheriff Armando Fontoura reported.

Fontoura said detectives from Bloomfield and his department’s Bureau of Narcotics executed a search warrant last Tuesday afternoon at a third-floor apartment at 147 Franklin St. and took into custody Julio (Big Man) Lebron, 27, Joel Alejo, 23, and Denise Taveras, 28, all of whom are residents of the Bronx.

According to authorities, the warrant was obtained after a two-week joint investigation that had been prompted by “numerous neighborhood complaints” of narcotics trafficking at the location.

“Entry into the apartment was difficult,” the sheriff said, noting that “the door was fortified by both 2×6-inch wood beams and steel I-bars.”

Reportedly seized during the raid were 9 grams of heroin, 26 grams of crack cocaine, 256 grams of marijuana, 21 Xanax tablets and 17 vials of Propofol. The estimated street value of the drugs was $8,000.

Fontoura said the alleged distributors “apparently had access to a wide variety of narcotics, as Propofol is particularly unique for us to come across.”

Propofol, he noted, “is the narcotic that caused the death” of Michael Jackson.

Lebron, Alejo and Taveras were each charged with five counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, possession of CDS with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute within 1,000 feet of Bloomfield Vocational School.

The suspects were also charged with maintaining fortified premises, possession of narcotics paraphernalia and conspiracy to violate New Jersey’s narcotics laws.

Bloomfield Municipal Court Judge John Paparazzo set bail at $450,000, cash bond only, on each of the suspects.

They were remanded to the Essex County Jail with arraignments expected later in the week.

– Karen Zautyk 

Unneeded meds welcome 24/7 at HQ


Got any unneeded or out-of-date medications at home that you’ve been meaning to dispose of?

Now you can do exactly that – safely and conveniently – by participating in the Lyndhurst’s “Project Medicine Drop.”

The Lyndhurst Police Department has installed a drop box in the hallway of its headquarters at 367 Valley Brook Ave., where residents are invited to deposit “unused, excess or expired prescription medications.

” In past years, the LPD has partnered with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) in “Operation Take-Back” in designating a specific date and location for residents to drop off their old, unwanted prescription drugs but now they can do it on a 24/7 basis, noted Det. Captain John Valente.

Drop-offs may be done anonymously and with no questions asked.

This new program is part of an initiative by the state Attorney General, in cooperation with the state Div. of Consumer Affairs, to put a dent in the diversion and abuse of prescription drugs, including highly addictive opiate painkillers.

Municipal police departments, county sheriff’s offices and State Police barracks across New Jersey are all opening their doors to these drop boxes.

“Project Medicine Drop is a natural addition to our commitment to help improve the public safety and quality of life in Lyndhurst,” township Public Safety Commissioner John Montillo Jr. said.

This initiative also aids the environment by keeping these drugs out of landfills and the water supply.

For more information about Project Medicine Drop, including a full list of drop-off locations, check out www. NJConsumerAffairs.gov/meddrop. Or to learn more about the LPD drop box, call 201- 939-2900, ext. 2740.

KPD: Axe & you shall be seized

At 4 a.m., Sunday, Feb. 1, KPD Officer Patrick Becker, responding to a report of a suspicious person lurking near vehicles on the 90 block of Elm St., saw a young man alight from a 2007 Chevy and run north.

After a short foot pursuit, he collared 19-year-old Abner Villanueva of Kearny, who police said had a cut on his hand and was in possession of: a motion detector, a white rope, screwdrivers, several pairs of gloves, one pair of glasses and $215 in cash.

Meanwhile, backup Officer Glenn Reed inspected the Chevy and found another pair of gloves, and an axe, outside the vehicle. The axe had apparently been used to gain entry.

The auto’s owner was contacted and confirmed that he was also the owner of the items in the suspect’s possession, police said.

Villanueva was charged with burglary, criminal mischief and possession of burglar tools and stolen property and was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Jan. 30 

At 4:30 p.m., Sgt. Charles Smith, on patrol near Grand Place and the Belleville Pike, spotted Brandon Hidalgo, 18, of Newark, whom he knew to be wanted on a Belleville warrant. After verifying same, he arrested Hidalgo and took him to headquarters, and the Belleville PD was notified.

• • •

Vice detectives, conducting surveillance at Johnston Ave. and Chestnut St. at 4:45 p.m., witnessed what they believed to be a drug transaction taking place in a motor vehicle. Police said Bernardino Matos, 21, of Harrison, exited the vehicle holding “a large quantity of currency” and was subsequently taken into custody. The car left the scene but was stopped by other detectives at Passaic Ave. and Belgrove Drive, where its occupant, Guy Bartolomei, 52, of Nutley, was allegedly found to be in possession of a “bundle” of wax folds of heroin, stamped “Scorpion.”

Bartolomei was charged with possession of heroin and drug paraphernalia; Matos, with distribution of heroin, distribution in a school zone and possession of paraphernalia. Police also seized from him $115, believed to be the proceeds of a drug deal.

• • •

Officer Brian Wisely, approaching a parked car at Bergen Ave. and Devon St. at 9 p.m., saw what appeared to be loose marijuana scattered on the floor and the male occupant apparently trying to hide something between the seats. Police said Wisely recovered three cigars and two ripped-open ziplock bags containing pot. Joaopaulo Silva-Neto, 18, of Kearny, was charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia.

Feb. 3 

Kearny residents Robert Conlin, 32, and Elizabeth Kempf, 34, were arrested by Sgt. Peter Gleason and Officer Jay Ward at 8:30 p.m. at a Davis Ave. residence on charges of unlawful possession of a loaded shotgun, an assault rifle, two blackjacks, a can of OC spray and a large-capacity magazine containing ammunition for the assault rifle.

If this sounds familiar, that is because Conlin was taken into custody on similar weapons charges Jan. 22 following a verbal altercation with another man at his Linden Ave. home. After a follow-up investigation by Det. Scott Traynor, additional charges were drawn up against both Conlin and Kempf, and warrants for their arrest were issued Feb. 1.

At the time of the second arrest, Conlin was reportedly free on $45,000 bail.

• • •

Pursuant to an ongoing prostitution investigation, Vice detectives were at Highland Ave. and Patterson St. for a 9:15 p.m. “rendezvous.” Arriving at the scene was a 2011 Mitsubishi with Pennsylvania plates, a vehicle police reportedly determined had been stolen in Elizabeth earlier that day.

The female driver, Ryanashle Robinson, 27, of Red Bank, was charged with engaging in prostitution, receiving stolen property and driving while suspended.

Police said she also had two warrants, from Newark and Monmouth County. She was remanded to the Hudson County Jail.

Her passenger, Michael Williams, 29, of Newark, was charged with receiving stolen property and possession of drug paraphernalia — a crack pipe.

Feb. 4 

At 4 p.m., Officer Wisely saw Shaeed Epps, 37, of no known address, entering the Kearny Public Library and confirmed that he had outstanding warrants from Hackensack and Elizabeth. Epps was arrested and was to be turned over to Hackensack police.

• • •

Vice officers near the Wawa on Harrison Ave. at 9 p.m. saw someone in a Kia discard items out the window. Approaching the car to issue a summons for littering, they reportedly detected the odor of marijuana and asked the occupant, Alexis Espinal, 24, of Harrison, to illuminate the interior. He complied, and the officers saw two cigars and a napkin containing suspected pot, police said.

Espinal was charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia. In addition, police said he was found to have an outstanding Harrison warrant. He also got the summons for littering.

– Karen Zautyk 

Tasty treats from Silver Lake Association


Want to prepare a special delicacy for an Easter holiday meal for the family?

How about a tasty desert?

Or even a dazzling beverage to top off your dinner?

Recipes for all of the above are available in “From Our Hearts to Your Homes,” a cookbook prepared by the Silver Lake Civic Association of Belleville which is marking its 21st anniversary this year.

“We’ve sold out the 50 we had to start with,” said Councilwoman Marie Strumolo Burke, president of the association, “so we’ve ordered another 50.”

The cookbooks are available for $10 apiece and proceeds from their sales go to the association for charitable endeavors in the community. The recipes were contributed by members of the association and others.

Readers will find more than 100 menu suggestions for Easter pies, pumpkin soup, macaroni dishes, salads, entrees and spirits.

To order the book, email Strumolo Burke at mariesburke@comcast.net with a request or call her at 973-759- 6849.

Here are a few samples from the text:

Chicken Rollatini 

(submitted by Mary Veniero) 


1 lb. chicken cutlets 

2 eggs beaten 

Flavored breadcrumbs 




Grated cheese 

2 chicken bouillon cubes 


Salt & pepper 


Dip cutlets in beaten eggs and then in flavored bread crumbs. Lay cutlets flat. Place a sprinkle of grated cheese on cutlets, then one slice of mozzarella and one thin slice of prosciutto, roll and hold together with toothpicks.

Fry in oil and 1/2 stick of butter, then set aside.

In sauce pan, saute one or two onions in a stick of butter until onions are soft, add fresh or canned mushrooms. Fry together for a few minutes. When ready, add one large package of frozen peas, and enough water to cover mixture (onions/mushrooms/peas), add 2 chicken boullion cubes and 1/2 cup of marsala wine and heat thoroughly.

Place chicken rolls in baking pan and pour onion mixture over chicken. Cover with foil tightly and bake in oven for 30 minutes at 350. Uncover tin foil and bake another 15 minutes.

Easter Sweet Pie

(from Rita Charles) 

Ingredients – Crust:

 3 cups flour 

1/2 cup sugar 

3 eggs 

3 tsp. baking powder

 1 tsp. vanilla 

1 stick margarine 


Mix all together and add some water to hold together. Set aside.

Ingredients – Filling:

3 lbs. pot cheese

1 tsp. vanilla

2 cups sugar

1 can evaporated milk

1 stick margarine soft

6 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1 pkg. chocolate chips


Mix all ingredients in large bowl, except chocolate chips.

Roll out dough to pie plate (9 1/2 wide x 2 1/2 deep). Save some dough for strips on top.

Put mixture in pie plate and drop chocolate chips in and mix with knife to fall to bottom of mixture. Put strips on top.

Bake at 350 for about 2 hrs.

Cool out of oven.

around town


Belleville Elks Lodge 1123, 254 Washington Ave., holds its monthly breakfast Sunday, Feb 15, 9 a.m. to noon. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for children under age 10 and free for children under age 3. In case of inclement weather, the breakfast will be cancelled. Call the lodge at 973-759-9623 to check if the event is still on.


Bloomfield Public Library, 90 Broad St., announces the following programs:

  • Humanoid Cartooning class offers an opportunity to learn to draw human proportions Feb. 11, 4 to 6 p.m. Registration is required. To register, visit http://www.bplnj.org/programs/.
  • Elder law attorney Benjamin Eckman will discuss senior related issues Feb. 18 at 6:45 p.m. Eckman has lectured extensively on elder law, special needs and disability planning and estate planning. This seminar is free.
  • The Finance Book Club resumes Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. The club meets every Tuesday night, Feb. 17 to March 31, 6 to 7:30 p.m.

The library will be assisting the Junior League of Montclair-Newark in collecting toiletries for children in the foster care system through the Bloomfield Office of the Department of Child Protection and Permanency. Collection boxes will be available in both the children’s and adult buildings throughout February.

Donors are asked to contribute toothbrushes and toothpaste, lotions, soap, hair brushes, deodorants, feminine hygiene products, washcloths, blankets and reusable back packs or duffle bags that will be delivered to the Bloomfield DCP&P for distribution to the children they serve on an as need basis.

The library is open from Mondays to Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursdays and Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. During inclement weather, call the library at 973-566- 6200 to check on its status. The library will close Feb. 16 for President’s Day.

Seniors: Are you single and looking to mingle? Come and join other seniors to socialize, engage with peers and enjoy refreshments, music and raffle prizes at Job Haines Home, 250 Bloomfield Ave., Saturday, Feb. 14, 2:30 to 3:30 p.m.

This event is free and open to the public. Registration starts at 2:15 p.m. R.S.V.P. by calling Donna Plotnick at 973-743-0792, ext. 133.

To learn more about Job Haines Home, visit: www.Job-Haines.org.


Harrison Lions Club announces a flapjack fundraiser breakfast Sunday, Feb. 22, 8 to 10 a.m., at Applebees, 175 Passaic Ave., Kearny. The Lions will serve pancakes for charity with the help of volunteers from Harrison High School. Tickets are available through a member or at the door. Adults’ tickets are $10. and kids under 10 will only be charged $7 for a plate of pancakes, sausages, and eggs cooked by the staff at Applebee’s. Proceeds will go towards helping the Harrison Lions Club to continue to do its charity work. For more information go to http://eclubhouse. org/sites/harrisonnj/index.php or email us at harrisonlionsclub@yahoo. com.


Presbyterian Boys and Girls Club, 663 Kearny Ave., hosts a Valentine’s dance Friday, Feb. 13, 7 to 10 p.m. The dance is open to teenagers only and will be supervised by PBGC Executive Director Tom Fraser and board members.

Kearny Public Library, 318 Kearny Ave., announces free programs for children in February. Registration is not required unless otherwise noted. Here’s what’s available:

  • Children are invited to celebrate Valentine’s Day at the library Friday, Feb. 13, 4:15 to 5:30 p.m., by making valentines to take home and listening to Valentine’s Day stories. All ages are invited to participate.
  • Art classes will take place Thursday, Feb. 26. Preschool Art for ages 2 1/2 to 5 starts at 11 a.m. and ends at noon. School-age Art for ages 5 and older starts at 4:30 p.m. and ends between 5:30 and 6 p.m. The library provides the art materials. Space is limited and will be first-come, first-served,
  • Celebrate the Chinese New Year at the library Thursday, Feb. 19, at 6 p.m. This event includes a food demonstration with samples, an ancient music recital and a calligraphy demonstration. • Children can dress in their prince and princess finery for a special breakfast featuring a theme from the Disney film “Frozen” Saturday, Feb. 21, at 11 a.m. This special event features a “Frozen”-themed craft and a visit from some of the characters who appear in the film, with plenty of photo opportunities. Donuts and juice will be served. This event will be free, but space is limited. Call the library at 201-998- 2666 to reserve a spot.
  • Children ages 5 to 12 are invited to spend some time reading to Fosse, a registered therapy dog, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Each session will last 10 minutes and will only be open to a limited number of children. Call the library to reserve a spot.

Kearny High School’s Project Graduation sponsors a fundraising trip to Atlantic City’s Bally’s Casino Sunday, Feb. 22. A bus will depart Kearny Federal Savings, 614 Kearny Ave., at 9 a.m., with check-in at 8:45 a.m., and will return to Kearny by 8 p.m. The cost is $30, with $20 back in slot dollars. Coffee, tea, donuts and rolls will be served on the bus. For reservations, call Judy at 201-991-5812 or email jh519aol.com. Reservations can also be made with Vi Abello at the front hall of Kearny High, at Mid Realty at 572 Kearny Ave., or by sending payments to Kearny Project Graduation, P.O. Box 184, Kearny, N.J. Deadline is Feb. 17.

W.H.A.T., 65 Oakwood Ave. (in residence at the First Lutheran Church), holds auditions for “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley Wednesday, Feb. 18, 7:30 to 9:30 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 22, 6:30 to 8 p.m. Come with a 32 bar cut of a musical theater audition song that you feel best suits your voice and personality type. Also be prepared to learn a short dance cut and if you have tap experience, bring tap shoes. Acting sides will be provided. “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” will be presented April 17, 18, 24, 25. For additional information, visit www. whatco.org.


Knights of Columbus Council 2396 will hold a Tricky Tray Friday, Feb. 20, at the Senior Center, 250 Cleveland Ave. The $10 admission includes coffee plus one prize sheet of tickets. No alcohol is permitted. No tickets will be sold at the door. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, call Steve Cortese at 201-657-0800 or Sal Russo at 201-446-7244.

Lyndhurst Police Emergency Squad holds its annual Tricky Tray fundraiser Feb. 19 at The Fiesta, 255 Rt. 17 S, Wood- Ridge. Doors open at 7 p.m. Drawing starts at 8 p.m. A variety of ticket packages are available at different prices. For more information, call 201- 804-2469, email trickytray@emergencysquad.com or visit lyndhurstnj.org.

The New Jersey Meadowlands Commission announces the following events:

  • Lucky Great Backyard Bird Count, co-sponsored by the Bergen County Audubon Society, is set for Friday, Feb. 13, 10 a.m. to noon, at DeKorte Park, Lyndhurst. Visitors will walk along the park’s trail system, counting waterfowl, raptors and any other birds they can find.
  • Third-Tuesday-of-the- Month Nature Walk, cosponsored by the Bergen County Audubon Society, is set for Feb. 17, 10 a.m. to noon, at Losen Slote Creek Park, Little Ferry. Admission is free. To register for these events, contact Don Torino of the BCAS at greatauk4gmail.com or call 201-230- 4983 or visit www.njmeadowlands. gov and click on “Events.” The Lyndhurst Library Children’s Room, 355 Valley Brook Ave., hosts the following February events: • Winter/Spring Storytime, for ages 3 to 4 1/2, is available for two sessions at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. and will be offered every Thursday from Feb. 19 to May 14. Registration deadline is Feb. 13.
  • Children in grades 1 to 4 are invited to create a Valentine mobile and St. Valentine’s Day cards Thursday, Feb. 12, 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Registration is required. Call ahead of time.

To register for programs, call the library at 201-804-2478.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3549, 527 Valley Brook Ave., hosts a karaoke party Friday, Feb. 20, at 7:30 p.m. The VFW hall is available for rental for all occasions. For more information, call 201- 939-3080.

Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139 Rehabilitation Committee holds a ward party for veterans at Chestnut Hill Extended Care Facility, Passaic, Tuesday, Feb.17, at 2:30 p.m. St. Michael’s Church and the Lyndhurst Food Pantry, chaired by Beth Bogdanowicz, donated items for the party. Post members play games of chance with hospitalized veterans and distribute treats to them. Anyone interested in sponsoring a ward party is invited to call John Deveney at 201-438-2255.

North Arlington 

North Arlington Public Library, 210 Ridge Road, will screen “The Raw and The Cooked,” a documentary on Taiwanese cuisine, on Friday, Feb. 20, 11 a.m. to noon.

For more information on library programs, call 201-955- 5640 or visit northarlington.bccls.org.

North Arlington Elks, 129 Ridge Road, host a Fish Fry Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, 4 to 7 p.m. Admission is $12. Dinner includes fish (fried or broiled) or fried shrimp, plus French fries, a bowl of clam chowder, a baked clam and coleslaw. Also available are shrimp cocktails, and clams on the half shell for $5 for a half and $8 for a full dozen.


Nutley Public Library, 93 Booth Drive, offers the following programs: Registration is not required unless otherwise noted.

To register, call the library at 973-667- 0405.

  • Two-Year-Old Story Time is set for Fridays, Feb. 13, 29 and 27, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Must be a Nutley resident. Registration is required.
  • Patrons are invited to play Bridge at the library every Tuesday at 1 p.m. • Preschool Story Time, open to ages 3 to 5, takes place Wednesdays, Feb. 11 and 25, at 9:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Participants must be Nutley residents. Registration is required.
  • Wednesday Afternoon Knitters meets every week at 1 p.m.
  • Computer Class for teens is set for Wednesdays, Feb. 11 and 25, at 3:30 p.m.
  • Manga/Anime Club meets Thursdays, Feb. 12 and 26, at 3:15 p.m.
  • Movie Week for children and families takes place Feb. 17 to 19 at 2 p.m. The program includes crafts and refreshments.

Registration is not required unless otherwise noted. To register, call the library at 973-667- 0405.

ATM at bank compromised, police say

Something suspicious was going on at a local financial institution that prompted Nutley PD to visit on Feb. 2.

Police said the branch manager told them that it appeared that someone had placed a skimming device on the ATM located on the outside of the building near the drive-thru.

Officers observed an adhesive residue left on the machine where the ATM card is inserted, police said.

Photographs of the area were taken and detectives were assigned to continue an investigation. Police did not identify the banks involved.


In other situations logged between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6, Nutley PD responded to 33 medical calls, 10 disputes/ disturbances, 26 motor vehicle accidents, 15 suspicious incidents/persons and these issues:

Jan. 31 

A fraud victim told police they’d received an email indicating that an additional phone and phone number had been added to their existing account. All account information was changed, police said.

Feb. 1 

Police responded to Prospect St. and Vreeland Ave. on a report of a suspicious male. After interviewing the suspect, police arrested Michael Dickerson, 65, of Newark, on two outstanding warrants from Clifton and Caldwell. He was turned over to Clifton PD after failing to post bail.

Feb. 3 

An Eastwick College student reported that someone broke into their vehicle and took their $300 Michael Kors pocketbook containing their wallet, valued at $200, containing $30 in cash and credit cards. Detectives are investigating.

• • •

A Union Ave. property owner reported damage allegedly to be done by the previous tenants. The owner showed officers damage to walls along the staircase leading to the second floor and to carpets in various areas including a large burn hole on the third floor and ripped carpet on the staircase leading to the third floor. The owner also said that various large objects were left behind and that the apartment was left in a general state of disarray. No estimate of the damages was given. Feb. 4  Police received a report on several instances of identity theft. The victim showed officers several forms of mail with information on accounts – three checking and two savings – opened with their name, their mother’s maiden name, their address and social security number. Police said all accounts have been canceled and Social Security was being notified.

• • •

A resident reported that their W-2 form was found to be damaged upon receipt by mail, with some personal information accessible for public viewing.

Feb. 5 

Police ticketed four homeowners for allowing a hazardous condition for allegedly having failed to shovel their sidewalks on Kenzel and Franklin Aves. and New St. within a 36-hour grace period as provided by township ordinance.

Feb. 6 

A U.S. postal employee reported a suspicious incident. They said that when they applied for a loan through the company savings bank account they were told that their password had been changed even though they had not requested a change and that, therefore, they suspected the account may have been compromised. Police advised the employee to notify the savings bank and their employer.

• • •

A motor vehicle stop resulted in the arrest of Windy Jeanbaptiste, 25, of Hillside, for outstanding traffic warrants from Irvington. He was turned over to Irvington PD and subsequently released with a new court date.

Local wrestling teams move on to NJSIAA sectionals


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

Is there a doubt about what the prominent winter sport is in the area?

There shouldn’t be now, especially after three of the local wrestling teams from The Observer circulation area (out of a possible five) have earned berths into the prestigious and perennially tough NJSIAA state sectionals this week.

That’s right, three local teams, namely Nutley, the Lyndhurst/North Arlington cooperative and Queen of Peace have all punched their respective tickets to the state sectional playoffs with the hope of being crowned a Group team champion by the end of the week, when the championships are held at the Sun National Bank Arena in Trenton.

For now, let’s start with what we know for sure.

Nutley earned the second seed in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group III bracket, one of the toughest sectionals in New Jersey. The Maroon Raiders (20-3) earned a bye in the sectional and will play host Wednesday (weather permitting) to the winner of the West Essex match against another of the local qualifiers, Lyndhurst/North Arlington.

The Maroon Raiders have enjoyed a complete metamorphosis this season, going from a 10-17 team a year ago to a 20-3 powerhouse this season.

“It’s a credit to all the hard work the kids put in,” said Nutley head coach Frank DiPiano. “Our goals this year were to win the (Super Essex Conference) American Division title, the county and get to the states. Well, for us to come back from 10-17 and have this kind of year is huge. We’re doing it with a lot of the same guys as well.”

Senior Joe Ferinde has been a major stud for the Maroon Raiders. Ferinde has a 26-2 record thus far, with his lone losses coming against potential state contenders.

“He’s our captain and he wrestles hard all the time,” said DiPiano of Ferinde, who finished eighth in the state last year.

Junior Robert Duxbury owns a 28-2 record, making a huge jump in weight classes from 106 pounds last year to 132 pounds this year.

“I expected him to do well, but I didn’t think this well,” DiPiano said. “He has never let the size thing get in his mind. He’s a hard-nosed kid.”

Senior Kenny Pena represents the improvement more than any other wrestler. Pena was 11-13 overall last year as a junior and now he owns a 27-2 mark.

“His work ethic is second to none,” DiPiano said of Kenny Pena. “He’s become committed to the sport tremendously and spent a lot of his free time on the mat.”

Incredibly, Pena was ready to walk away from wrestling for good two years ago, because he didn’t see improvement.

“He quit, but I told him to take a couple days to think about it,” DiPiano said. “He did and came back more committed.”

Junior Darwin Pena is another vastly improved wrestler. A cousin of Kenny, Darwin Pena has a 28-2 record.

“I don’t think they’re overachieving,” DiPiano said. “I knew they all would be good. These are guys who were proven wrestlers.”

However, there has been some startling improvements from others, like senior Andrew Aiello, who had a 4-22 record last year and this year, he owns a 25-5 mark.

“He’s grown up a lot over the year and it all just finally clicked for him,” DiPiano said.

Two freshmen have also contributed right away in 106-pounder Frank Gabriele, who has come in and learned the system and Frank De- Maio, whose father, Frank Sr. runs the Nutley Recreation wrestling program. The two Franks have pleased the head coach Frank.

“Frankie DeMaio has had a tremendous year,” DiPiano said. “He’s behind two seniors, but he’s found the time to get into the lineup and done well. Frankie Gabriele came through the Recreation program and adjusted real well.”

Lyndhurst/North Arlington was a moribund program without a state sectional playoff berth since 2000. But third-year head coach Mike Goff has turned things around and people in both towns are getting excited about the team’s progress.

“It’s a good thing,” Goff said. “We have things moving in the right direction. The kids are working hard all year and it’s paid off. It’s definitely a good feeling to qualify.”

Goff will take his team to face perennial state sectional participant West Essex.

“One of the goals this year was to make the sectionals,” Goff said. “I thought it was a reasonable goal. I knew that these kids work hard in the classroom and in the wrestling room. They definitely deserve this.”

Junior Devin Yunis has the highest win total among the Lyndhurst/North Arlington wrestlers with a 22-8 mark. Andrew Fernandez and Matt DeMarco both have 20 wins already this season. It’s hard to remember another Lyndhurst team that had three wrestlers with 20 or more wins this early in a season.

“It’s definitely a good first step,” said Goff, whose team prepared for the state sectional with wins last weekend over East Orange Campus and Kinnelon. “Whatever happens with West Essex, we definitely took the first step this year.”

The third local qualifier is Queen of Peace, which returned to competitive wrestling this year after a brief hiatus.

Still, the idea of a basically brand new program qualifying for the NJSIAA Non-Public B bracket is still amazing.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Scot Weaver, who returned to QP this season after a brief stint at Brearley Regional in Kenilworth and guided the Golden Griffins back to the state playoffs in the first year of his return. “The entire school and the community are behind it. The student body is cheering for their classmates. There are a lot of good things going on with the future of the QP wrestling program.”

The Golden Griffins will play host to Pingry in the opening round of the Non- Public B bracket Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

Weaver was asked if he was worried about whether he would field a competitive team this year.

“I really was concerned, but I’m always concerned,” Weaver said. “When I took the job, we had no wrestlers, no roster, no place to practice. All we had were some incoming freshmen.”

The Golden Griffins also secured a host of transfers, including senior Jeff Velez (24-5), who was a region champion last year at Brearley.

“He’s become a good teammate and a very good wrestler for us,” Weaver said.

Another solid competitor is senior Anthony DeLorenzo, who has won 25 and lost just once this season. DeLorenzo is a Nutley native who transferred to QP after a falling out with the Nutley coaches.

Senior Joe Rocca (24-6) transferred in from Saddle Brook.

Junior Mike Scaravelli (21-4) and 106-pound freshman Enrique Sanchez of North Arlington (25-3) have been excellent additions to Weaver’s once-again fledgling program.

Weaver knows that his team will more than likely see state-ranked DePaul in the second round.

“DePaul is as rock solid as they come,” Weaver said. “We’re going to have our hands full with them. But in terms of being competitive, we’re going to be right there. We’re ecstatic about being there. I’m happy to be where I am. We have a new (wrestling) room built and the kids are happy about being there. It’s all just a good thing.”

And it’s good for local high school sports to have three teams competing for a state wrestling team title.

Bloomfield is also a state playoff team, with the Bengals facing Clifton in the opening round of the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 1, Group IV playoffs.

The 700 Club welcomes NA coach Corsetto


By Jim Hague

Observer Sports Writer

When Rich Corsetto began his basketball coaching career 43 years ago, he never thought he would still be at it, coaching the game he loved.

“At the time, I was 22, 23 years old,” Corsetto said. “I never thought I’d be coaching for five years, never mind this long. Back then, I didn’t know how long I would be in coaching.”

Corsetto began coaching at Passaic County Tech in 1972 and remains active in the game today as the head boys’ coach at North Arlington, where he’s been for the past two seasons.

And last Thursday night, when Corsetto’s Vikings defeated Becton Regional, the coach was able to reach an impressive milestone. Corsetto collected the 700th win of his coaching career.

Most of his wins have come at the college ranks, first at Hudson County Community College and later at Passaic County Community College, but after a three-year hiatus, Corsetto came back last year and led the Vikings to a 22-win season.

“My father told me a long time ago that I should never give up and always go for what I want,” Corsetto said. “When I was away for those three years, they were the toughest three years of my life. I knew I had to get back to coaching.”

With the support of his wife, Doreen, who is a professor at William Paterson University, Corsetto decided to pursue any and all coaching opportunities.

“I still had that drive and desire to coach,” Corsetto said. “I wanted to keep coaching. Doreen, who was my scorekeeper at Hudson and Passaic County colleges and loves to come to all the games, was very supportive. She knew what I wanted to do.”

So Corsetto looked around and found the opening at North Arlington, after long-time coach and NA alum David Walsh stepped down.

“I appreciate North Arlington for giving me the opportunity.” Corsetto said. “It’s a beautiful place with a great administration and great community. The Board of Education and the staff are so helpful and supportive. They all love the kids, their players. It’s a very close-knit town. There are a lot of different cultures here. It really is a great place. And it’s a great sports town. The parents love their sports and I get texts from them all the time.”

North Arlington athletic director David Hutchinson realizes how fortunate his school was to get a coach of Corsetto’s stature.

“It has been a pleasure to have him,” Hutchinson said. “He’s a legendary figure in New Jersey basketball. He’s revitalized our program. He’s been to the recreation league games and been all over. Everyone is excited about basketball in the town again. Last year was an exciting year for us and everything has been a positive for us since Coach Corsetto arrived. He had a good track record before he came here and he’s been successful everywhere he’s been. We were lucky to get someone who has such a real passion for the game. He wanted to get back into coaching and he hit the ground running.”

Corsetto said that he never fathomed the idea of becoming a member of the 700 Club _ the hardwood variety, not the evangelical television show.

“I never thought I’d get 100 wins, never mind 700,” Corsetto said. “For me, it wasn’t about the wins. It was about the kids. I just helped them along. That was my goal, to help the kids, through teaching and coaching.”

Given his longevity in the coaching ranks, Corsetto looked back on some of the great teams and players he had the fortune to mentor over the years.

“There were so many good teams, good players, good memories,” Corsetto said. “It makes you sit back a little and reflect.”

Corsetto coached Eric Riggins at Passaic Tech, before Riggins became a 1,000-point scorer at Rutgers and a draft pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1987 NBA Draft. The 6-foot- 10 center Jim Lampley played for Corsetto at PCT before heading on to Vanderbilt, then Arkansas-Little Rock, eventually becoming a 5th round pick of the Dallas Mavericks and then getting a cup of coffee in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.

“We had a lot of good wins, but I suffered through a lot of tough losses, too,” Corsetto said. “If I reflect back, I know that I wouldn’t have made it without the great players and great coaches who helped me. They deserve the credit. The kids are the ones who play hard.”

Corsetto likes the make-up of his current team, which now owns an 11-6 record after defeating Lyndhurst Friday night. Before the game, the North Arlington administration presented Corsetto with a basketball highlighting his 700th win.

“It’s an honor for me,” Corsetto said. “The kids are playing hard and doing a great job. We might need a little help to get to 20 (wins) again this season, but we still may get there.”

As for the milestone?

“Well, I’m 68 years old now,” Corsetto said. “I don’t take the losses as hard anymore. But I still have a lot of fire in me. When I don’t like coming to the gym or don’t have the passion anymore, then I’ll quit. Or when I just can’t get there anymore. My wife is so supportive. A lot of other wives might have told their husbands to stop coaching. But she loves it, too. She comes to every game. She was the cheerleader when I was a player.”

Corsetto said that he gives credit to his assistant coaches George Rotondo and Marcello D’Andrea.

“They’ve been a big help,” Corsetto said.

But both were just toddlers when Corsetto began coaching.

“I remember my first loss,” Corsetto said. “I took it pretty bad. But I took our last loss just as bad.”

Yeah, the fire still burns inside Rich Corsetto. It looks like he’s going to manning the North Arlington sideline for quite a few more years to come _ and with that, quite a few more wins as well.

“I don’t know about 800,” Corsetto said of the next milestone. “We’ll have to see about that one.”

It’s the Blair Watson Project in Nutley, headed to Maryland


By Jim Hague 

Observer Sports Writer 

When Blair Watson was growing up – albeit in rapid fashion – the first sport she participated in was not basketball.

“Tennis was my first sport,” said the talented Nutley High School girls’ basketball player. “I started with tennis in third grade.”

So then basketball was second, right? Not quite.

“I started playing soccer when I visited my grandmother here,” Watson said, “I liked soccer a lot. I guess that was fifth grade. Soccer was a lot of fun.”

Soccer was so much fun for Watson that she stuck with it as she began Nutley High. “At first, I thought soccer was going to be my sport,” Watson said. “But I started with basketball in eighth grade and saw how good I was at it. Once I saw how good I was in basketball, I knew that was going to take me to the next level.”

Watson grew to stand at 6 feet tall, so she certainly drew her share of attention and interest.

But she never dreamed about where her basketball talents would take her.

“It was pretty crazy,” Watson said of the attention she received from major colleges, even when she was only a freshman. “I didn’t expect the kind of things that was happening. But I then realized that if I kept working at it, I could get some really good (NCAA) Division I schools to look at me.”

Watson said that she was blown away by one of the first letters she received from Stanford.

“That was like my big ‘Whoa!’ moment,” Watson said about the letter from Stanford. “It was unbelievable.”

Watson then soon received a letter and invitation from the University of Maryland.

“I only visited Maryland once and as soon as I got on the campus, I said, ‘This is like my home,’” Watson said. “I liked everything about it. The coaches all cared about me just about as much as my Mom. I wanted to be at a school where everyone cared about me. I got done with the visit and I called my AAU coach (John Griff of the New Jersey Panthers) and said, ‘Okay, when can I commit?’ Right there, I was ready.”

Although she had yet to enter her junior year at Nutley, Watson gave a verbal commitment to coach Brenda Frese and the Terrapins right away. There was no need to wait out a recruiting process. Watson knew she wanted to go to the home of the 2006 NCAA champions.

“It was definitely a huge weight lifted off my shoulders,” Watson said. “I knew right away that Maryland was it. It definitely took a lot of stress out of the way.”

But as the season began, the pressures of being a big-time Division I recruit got in the way. Teams were double and sometimes triple-teaming Watson, especially after she began the season with a 40-point explosion against Weequahic.

“It’s definitely been frustrating, but I’ve learned ways to deal with the frustration,” Watson said. “I’m dealing with it better. I have to say my teammates have been helping me out in teaching me that acting out my frustration is not the smart thing to do.”

Nutley head coach Larry Mitschow, who first met Watson when she was in sixth grade, can see the pressure building up inside Watson.

“You can see the frustration a little,” Mitschow said. “She has the bulls’ eye on her back and teams are surrounding her every time she touches the ball. I think in the beginning she was looking to shoot too much, because she thought she had to do everything. But the chemistry on the team is so much better. We’re moving the ball around so much better.”

The result has been five wins in their last seven games, with the only losses coming at the hands of Montclair, including one in the quarterfinals of the Essex County Tournament Saturday.

However, last week, in another game against Montclair, Watson exploded for 31 points. She also had 13 points in a win over perennial power Mount St. Dominic.

For her efforts, Watson has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.

Watson is averaging close to 22 points per game. What is astounding is her prowess from beyond the 3-point line. Watson has connected on a total of 63 3-pointers this season, almost five per game. She had eight treys in the Weequahic game to start the season and had seven in games against Newark Tech, Belleville and last week against Montclair. That is uncanny prowess from the perimeter and certainly peculiar for someone of Watson’s stature.

“Most of her points now come from out there,” Mitschow said. “If she’s open, she’s going to make that shot.”

“Definitely looking toward the future, Maryland sees me more as a wing or a guard,” Watson said. “I’ve definitely stepped up my game and added (the 3-pointer) to my arsenal. If I’m shooting the 3-pointer, I don’t have to get banged up in the paint. It’s definitely the best of all worlds.”

Mitschow said that her perimeter abilities have helped other parts of Watson’s game.

“She now can go to the basket more and if she gets fouled, she doesn’t miss free throws,” Mitschow said. “If she could develop even a little more going to the rim, she can’t be stopped. We’re trying to get her to go to the basket.”

But when Watson needs to be, she’s a 6-foot dominating force.

“Her presence there is always a game-changer,” Mitschow said. “I just let her stand inside and with her wing span, she’s blocking a lot of shots. She also does a great job of rebounding. She needs to box out more on rebounds, but she gets a lot of rebounds. She gets about 80% of all our rebounds.”

Watson realizes that she has another year of high school before she can take that quantum leap into big-time women’s college basketball. The Terrapins are currently 17-2 overall and ranked No. 5 in the nation.

“It definitely feels good not having to wait until next year,” Watson said. “I can work for the next year in terms of my ball handling and shooting. I get a chance to breathe a little. I really think my body needs a chance to recover and get everything ready for college. Coach Frese can’t wait to have me there. She’s already come to see me play here twice this year. It’s still kind of amazing that I’ll be playing at the No. 5 school in the country. It’s still a little early to be thinking about that.”

Mitschow is happy to have Watson for one more season.

“People still come up to me and say, ‘She’s just a junior?’” Mitschow said. “I have to remind myself of that. She’s still a kid who isn’t done growing yet. I think her best basketball is still ahead of her. Her potential is endless. She couldn’t have made a better decision. I got to have the coach of Maryland come into our gym twice. That showed a lot of class in my eyes. So it’s been a blessing to have Blair. She’s been great and we want it all to continue.”

At least for another year locally – and then to the Land of the Terrapins. Blair Watson is the most celebrated big-time athlete Nutley has had since baseball standout Larry Mohs some 20 years ago. Watson is gaining that kind of celebrity and she still has her senior year left.


Robert V. Connaghan 

Robert V. Connaghan, 79, died on Jan. 31.

Arrangements were by the Thiele-Reid Family Funeral Home, 585 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass was offered at St. Cecilia Church, Kearny, followed by interment in Holy Cross Cemetery, North Arlington. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.thiele-reid.com.

Mr. Connaghan was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He had lived in Kearny for the last 50 years.

He was a maintenance mechanic for Abbott Laboratories in Whippany for 20 years, retiring in 2008.

Robert was an avid Celtic supporter and member of the Irish-American Association of Kearny. In 2001 he was named Irishman of the Year and in 2003 he was the deputy grand marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade of West Hudson.

He is survived by his beloved wife of 40 years Frances (nee Lowe); his children Robert H. Connaghan, Lisa Connaghan and Angela Marie Connaghan; and one sister Rosaleen Duncan of Glasgow.

His family wishes to extend their deepest gratitude to the staff at both St. Michael’s Medical Center and the Columbus Hospital LTACH for their continued support and excellent care.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to a charity of your choice in Robert’s memory.

Alexandra Estelle 

Alexandra Estelle passed away suddenly on Feb. 5. She was 64.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, she moved to Kearny in 1981.

Arrangements are by the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral Mass will be held Tuesday, Feb. 10, at 10 a.m. at St. Cecilia’s Church in Kearny and burial will follow in Arlington Cemetery in Kearny.

Alexandra loved spending time with her family especially with all her grandchildren. She always looked forward to going to bingo every week with her daughter and seeing her “Wee” bingo friends.

Wife of Lawrence Estelle, she is survived by her daughters and their husbands Bonnie Flowers (Arthur), Trina Estelle (Adam) and Kristine Flagello (Anthony). Sister of Marie, Rosie, Geraldine, Walter, Kenny, Allan, Maggie and Nora, she is also survived by her grandchildren Alexandra, Anthony and Aiden and great-granddaughter Isabella.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Research.

George J. Hanzimanolis 



George J. Hanzimanolis, 53, of Bartonsville, Pa., died Thursday, Feb. 5.

He is survived by Kimberly, his loving wife of 31 years; son and best friend, James;, parents, James and Sharyn Hanzimanolis of Harrison; brother, Thomas Hanzimanolis and his wife Laurie Ann of Tobyhanna, Pa.; sister, Dorothy Rosa and her husband Doug of West Caldwell; nieces and nephews Dimitri Hanzimanolis, Elizabeth Rosa, Nicholas Hanzimanolis, Alexander Rosa and Alexa Hanzimanolis; and mother-in-law, Gloria Zigmund, wife of the late Ed Zigmund. He was also blessed with his closest friends, Jacqui Calicchio and her husband Anthony and Walter Scott.

George was a graduate of Harrison High School, Class of 1979, and Rutgers University, Class of 1985. A lifelong active member of the Boy Scouts of America, George was an Eagle Scout and more recently was a longtime dedicated Scoutmaster for Troop 85 of Bartonsville, Pa. George was a cancer survivor and lived every day of his life to the fullest. God, family and community were the pillars of life for George and he lived his life setting a perfect example for others.

George had a wonderful work ethic which stems from the examples set by his immigrant parents from an early age. He worked at The Spa family restaurant in Harrison before moving to Pennsylvania in the late 1980s. George built a successful business, Bankers First Mortgage, Inc. of Tannersville, Pa., and had many industry awards bestowed upon him over the years. Among them, George was named Pennsylvania Mortgage Broker of the Year, National Mortgage Broker of the Year, and past President of NAMB, National Association of Mortgage Brokers. He also was requested to speak about ethics on the floor of the U.S. Senate in Washington, D.C., and on CNBC. George was blessed with a great staff over the years, especially his two friends and current associates Debbie and Cathryn.

George’s greatest love was his son, James. They were best friends and spent many days together fishing, camping, attending NBA games and travelling. George will be missed by all but leaves behind a wonderful legacy.

There will be viewing hours from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 10, at the William H. Clark Funeral Home, 1003 Main St., Stroudsburg, Pa. A Catholic prayer service will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the funeral home. Private cremation will follow.

In lieu of flowers, his family suggests donations be made to Boy Scout Troop 85 of Bartonsville, Pa.

Arrangements are by the William H. Clark Funeral Home, 1003 Main St., Stroudsburg, Pa. (www.wmhclarkfuneralhome.com).

Mhairi Mussenden 

Mhairi Mussenden (nee Macaulay) 78, died suddenly on Feb. 4 at home in Kearny.

Arrangements were by the Thiele-Reid Family Funeral Home, 585 Belgrove Drive, Kearny. A funeral service was held at the funeral home followed by a private cremation. Condolences and memories may be shared at www.thiele-reid.com.

Mhairi was born in Greenock, Scotland. She immigrated to this country in 1963 and lived in Elizabeth. She had lived in Kearny since 1969. She was a member of the Rutherford Chapter No. 24, O.E.S.

Mrs. Mussenden is survived by her daughters Avril Mitchell (William) and Sandy Hyde (Michael); grandchildren Brett and Brittany Mussenden, Heather Lisk , Krystal and Dallas Mitchell, Kayla Sgro and Michael Hyde; great-grandchildren Aidyn, Cody and Isabella Lisk and Makenzie Martinez.

She was predeceased by her husband George D. Mussenden; her daughter Karen, Mussenden; her son George Mussenden, Jr. and granddaughters Krysten and Kyleen Hyde.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at www.cff.org.

Nicholas C. Petito 

Nicholas C. Petito died Feb. 4 at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark. He was 75.

Born in Newark, he lived most of his life in Harrison. A memorial service will be held on Feb. 22 at the Armitage Wiggins Funeral Home, 596 Belgrove Drive, Kearny, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Former husband of the late Barbara (Yurick), he is survived by his daughter Kassandra Petito, his cherished grandson Trent, his brother Joseph Petito and sister Magee Davey.

In lieu of flowers, kindly consider a donation to Nick’s daughter Kassandra.