Kearny alum Bifulco named new baseball coach

Photo by Jim Hague/ Kearny High School graduate and former two-sport standout Frank Bifulco has been named as the new head baseball coach at the school, replacing the retired Jim Sickinger.


By Jim Hague

When Frank Bifulco was an athlete at Kearny High School, playing soccer and baseball for the Kardinals, he got a little taste of success and craved more.
“I think that was the key to everything for me,” said Bifulco, who never allowed a lack of height to deter him in either soccer or baseball. “I was fortunate to play for successful teams during my four years at Kearny. There was a process to it all and we were pushed to do our best.”
In Bifulco’s senior year, he was a part of a soccer team that shared the Group IV state championship and a baseball team that won the state sectional title and played for the overall Group IV crown.
“I don’t think there’s any question that it fueled the fire in me,” Bifulco said. “In baseball, we won 20 games every year and won the Watchung Conference all four
years. We were very good and I always talk to my buddies about that year.”
Bifulco graduated from Kearny High in 2004 and headed off to Montclair State to play baseball for a stint.
He returned to Kearny for a football game, when he was approached by long-time
Kearny head baseball coach Jim Sickinger.
“Coach Sick asked me if I wanted to get involved in coaching,” Bifulco said. “I told him that I did want to get involved, that I wanted to give back something to Kearny.”
So Bifulco became a volunteer assistant coach, soaking up everything he could from
the veteran coach.
“I was a volunteer for two years and when the opportunity opened up to become the
JV (junior varsity) coach, I jumped at it,” Bifulco said.
Sickinger saw the potential in Bifulco and eventually brought his former second
baseman up to coach the varsity with him.
“Coach Sick sat me down and asked me if I was ready to take another step and work
with the varsity,” Bifulco said. “I had to go to camps and clinics and learn as much as I could.” Sickinger continued to groom Bifulco every step of the way.
“I learned a lot about the behind the scenes stuff, like scheduling, equipment, you
name it,” Bifulco said. All along, Sickinger knew one thing. That when the time came for him to step away from coaching, he was hopefully going to be able to turn the keys of the Kardinal program over to his former player.
“I always believed Frank was the best person for the job,” Sickinger said. “I felt
very comfortable with him.
He put in that much time and effort into it that I really could see it getting passed on
to him.”
Last June, when the high school baseball season came to a close, Sickinger shocked
everyone by announcing his retirement from coaching after spending 30 years of his life as a Kearny Kardinal player, assistant coach and head coach.
“I don’t think any of us expected him to retire this quickly,” Bifulco said. “I didn’t know until he announced it before our final game.”
And Sickinger made a promise to Bifulco.
“He said, `If this is something you really want to do, then I’ll recommend you get
the job,’” Bifulco said. “We talked several times about it. He said, ‘Think back to all
the things I had you do. Well, there was a reason.’”
Last week, the Kearny Board of Education made it official and appointed the 25-year-old Bifulco as the new head baseball coach, replacing his mentor, tutor, coach
and friend.
“You can never be fully prepared for something like this, but I hope I’m ready,” Bifulco
said. “There are things that I still have to learn. There’s always room to grow. I think I’m ready.”

Sickinger is sure.
“He’s going to be able to keep the tradition alive,” Sickinger said. “I know he’ll call me from time to time and I’ll support him every step of the way. But it’s his job now. He showed the interest. He paid the dues and he gets rewarded by being the head coach. I’m excited for him that he’s going to be the head coach. It’s been a dream for him.”

Bifulco isn’t going to upset the cattle cart too much. He’s retained Kearny’s resident
baseball guru Doug Gogal as an assistant. No one in the town knows more about baseball than Gogal, who spent nearly 25 years of his life molding young talent
in the Kearny Little League before moving on to the high school level a few years ago.

“I can’t even begin to explain how valuable Mr. Gogal is,” Bifulco said. “He’s a great
baseball man and I’m glad I will be able to bounce every idea off him. He has the same
attention to details that I have.”
Bifulco will also retain Dave Smart as a pitching coach and Rob Kelly as the JV coach. Scott Millar, the son of athletic director John Millar, will become the freshman coach.
But it’s Bifulco’s show now.

“I’m very excited about it,” Bifulco said. “Kearny is always where I wanted to be. There’s nothing like coaching at the place where you played and grew up. There’s all this tradition I have to live up to. It’s going to be tough replacing someone like Coach Sick, but he’s always been there for me.”
Bifulco got one last piece of advice from his former coach.
“He told me that I have to be my own person,” Bifulco said. “That I have to implement
things on my own. I might have received a lot of my baseball knowledge from Coach Sick, but it’s a new beginning. We have a chance to become an elite program again. We lost nine seniors, but we have some young kids ready to step up. I think we’re going to be strong again.”
If the Kearny players take on the hard-working, gritty personality of their new
young head coach, then they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the future.

Learn more about the writer ...