For Nutley wrestling, one DiPiano brother replaces the other

Photoo by Jim Hague The Nutley wrestling team is ready to take on all comers with new head coach Mike DiPiano in charge. From l., are Darwin Pena, John Zarra, DiPiano, Robert Duxbury, Louis Long and Gerard D’Alessio.
Photoo by Jim Hague
The Nutley wrestling team is ready to take on all comers with new head coach Mike DiPiano in charge. From l., are Darwin Pena, John Zarra, DiPiano, Robert Duxbury, Louis Long and Gerard D’Alessio.

The circumstances behind the Nutley High School head wrestling coaching change happened in a flash.

Frank DiPiano, who rebuilt the Nutley program from mediocrity to one of the finest in Essex County and frankly in all of New Jersey, decided to leave after four years to take a job with his alma mater St. Benedict’s Prep.

So where does athletic director Joe Piro go for a replacement? How about DiPiano’s brother?

“It came totally out of the blue,” said Mike DiPiano, the head girls’ soccer coach at Nutley and assistant softball coach who teaches at the school. “We were sitting on the couch one day and he just said, ‘I’m taking a job at St. Benedict’s.’ It’s a place that means so much to our family (Mike DiPiano Sr. was the long-time wrestling coach at St. Benedict’s), but it took me by surprise.”

Mike DiPiano was all set to return to Northern Valley-Demarest, where he was the head coach for the last four years.

“After Frankie told me he was leaving, (Nutley athletic director) Joe Piro pulled me into his office and told me that he wanted me to take the job,” Mike DiPiano said. “I was still making my schedule for Demarest. I just booked a tournament (the Kearny Holiday Tournament) that week. When Joe told me he wanted me to take over, I had to think about it.”

At the same time, Piro reached out to Demarest athletic director Greg Butler, a Nutley resident and good friend of Piro’s.

“Piro called Butler to let him know,” DiPiano said. “I then went to Piro with my thoughts and decided I’d take the job.”

DiPiano also had his family in mind.

“My daughter Mia is getting older and she comes to games and matches and keeps score,” DiPiano said. “She loves it. So now she can be at every match. I always have been one to do things for others and made a lot of sacrifices for others. I always put others in front of me. But this decision was made with Mia in mind.”

But what about his former wrestlers at Demarest?

“It was extremely tough,” DiPiano said. “When I made the decision, I didn’t sleep for a few days. It was very emotional. To be honest, it sucked. “It was one of the toughest things I had to do. This totally came out of the blue. I didn’t expect it. It was a crazy couple of days. I spent four good years at Demarest and worked with a lot of great kids.”

However, how many people get to step into a new job that was formulated by his brother?

“It’s a great situation,” DiPiano said. “It’s already established. Frankie did a great job. We did a lot of things together. We had meets and went to tournaments. I knew a lot of the kids already. I’m in the building, so it was an easy takeover. I knew that coming in, we were going to compete right away.”

Leading the returnees for the Maroon Raiders is senior Darwin Pena, who should be competing in the 152-pound or 160-pound class. Pena won more than 30 matches last year, was the district champion and was one match away from qualifying for the NJSIAA state tournament in Atlantic City.

“We talked a while together before I got the job,” DiPiano said. “He put in a good summer and he should be in the mix to medal in Atlantic City. His goal is to get to the top of the medal stand in AC. He knows his goal and wants to grab it.”

Senior Robert Duxbury is a fixture in the Maroon Raiders’ lineup at 138 pounds.

“He’s a four-year varsity wrestler who has had a good career,” DiPiano said. “He’s a hard-working kid. This is his last chance. I’ve been telling him that he should not have to worry about cutting weight this year. He can just wrestle. I’m expecting a big year out of him. He should be able to attain his goals.”

Senior Louis Long is the team’s 170-pound captain.

“He’s a great kid who is going to be one of the leaders on this team,” DiPiano said. “I’m in awe of how hard this kid works.”

Sophomore Frank Gabriele will be at 126 pounds this year after wrestling at 106 last year as a freshman where he won 20 matches.

“It’s a big jump up, but he’ll handle it,” said DiPiano, who also has junior Brandon Burbank at the weight.

The Maroon Raiders have two freshmen in Dominick Cofone and Shane Manieri battling for time at 106 and 113 pounds.

“Cofone wrestles all the time and has wrestling in his blood,” DiPiano said. Confone is related to the Montes family that owns most of the wrestling records in the school.

The 120-pound class is being shared by a pair of juniors in Seamus Hargrave and Cameron Serra.

Frank DiMaio, a 132-pound sophomore, returns after winning 15 matches last year.

“We can move him all over the place, wherever we need him,” DiPiano said.

Junior C.J. Haddock, the soccer standout who didn’t wrestle last year, and junior Joey DiPasquale are in the mix at 145 and 152 pounds, with Darwin Pena.

Senior John Zarro is the 160-pounder.

“He’s worked very hard and provides good senior leadership,” DiPiano said of Zarro. “He’s going to have a big year.”

The 182-pound class is being shared by senior Gerard D’Alessio, sophomore Joey D’Alessio (brothers) and junior Justin Bivona.

Junior Sabino Coppola is at 220 pounds, along with senior Saul Abreu.

Sophomore Louis Abreu (no relation) and sophomore Anthong Alberti are the two heavyweights vying for mat time.

The Maroon Raiders open Dec. 19 at the TCNJ Pride tournament at Brick Memorial, honoring the memory of late College of New Jersey head coach Dave Icenhower, who died last year after a battle with cancer.

“Not a day goes by where I don’t think about him,” DiPiano said of his coach and mentor Icenhower. “I feel like we belong there.”

The Maroon Raiders have a tough and competitive schedule, one that Mike DiPiano believes his team can handle even with the absence of his brother.

“Even though Frank is not here, the DiPiano name is,” Mike DiPiano said. “I know I’m also just a phone call away from my father if need be. We’re ready to go here. We have a great team and a great staff. I’m happy for the kids, because they have fantastic work ethic and they’re raring to go.”

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”