Nutley’s Piro heads new Super Football Conference

The start of the 2016-2017 scholastic sports season is now less than a month away, so that means Joe Piro is already busy at his desk at Nutley High School, making all the necessary preparations.

But besides being an athletic director at one of the busiest high schools in northern New Jersey, offering all types of sports from football to crew, Piro has now taken on the duties as the first president of the new Super Football Conference, an alliance of 113 schools in the northern and western parts of the state, strictly for football only.

“It’s a little busier than usual, but nothing I can’t handle,” said Piro, who was recently listed by as one of the most influential people in New Jersey sports _ including pro and college.

“Fortunately, I have some great coaches working with me and a great staff. I’m not the only guy putting it together. I’m just the guy in front.”

The Super Football Conference was devised last December in order to level the playing field in high school football in New Jersey, designed to give every single school a fighting chance to qualify for the NJSIAA playoffs, to give every school a relatively equal schedule and to separate the public schools from the private schools.

It was believed that the private schools had a much better chance to compete because they could draw students from all over the place, while the public schools had to stay within the borders established by the respective school districts.

Piro was determined to be the organization’s face and voice. He coordinates league meetings and press gatherings.

“Because of the nature of what we’re doing, I’m just leading the pack,” Piro said. “But I’m not doing it all.”

Piro was quick to mention Dan Vivino of Westwood, who headed the scheduling aspect.

“Once we got the divisions down, he was like a machine,” Piro said.

Rich Hansen of St. Peter’s Prep is the league’s vice-president, but Denis Nelson of River Dell was very instrumental.

“Denis was my right hand man,” Piro said of the River Dell AD. “We had others like Tony Karsich (St. Joseph Regional) and Jack McGovern (Bergen Catholic) who have their fingers on the pulse of what the Parochial schools are doing. We have to be real careful, because we’re not just putting together that will be groundbreaking for New Jersey football, but we are setting a national trend. We have the biggest football conference in New Jersey with 113 teams. No one has ever done anything like this before.”

Piro said that the new Super Football Conference offers “a little bit of everything,” according to Piro.

“We took geographic locations into account, school size, competition, local rivalries,” Piro said.

One of the biggest steps that Piro took when it came to doing the breakdown involving his own school was the disassociation with neighboring rival Belleville.

“To be honest, Belleville is not much of a rivalry anymore,” Piro said. “Who is to say what is going to happen down the road, but right now, anyone who knows anything about sports knows that Belleville is just not competitive with us. It doesn’t help Belleville’s program to play Nutley and get beat by 50 points. We want to make sure we’re helping all programs get better.”
Piro believes that Nutley’s football schedule “is the most competitive we’ve been in many years,” Piro said.

The Maroon Raiders will face Pascack Valley, Barringer, Paramus, Orange, West Essex, Irvington, Chatham, Parsippany Hills and neighboring Bloomfield this season.

“We have some old rivals, like Orange, going back to the old Big 10 and Paramus from the NNJIL,” Piro said. “When you look at all the other teams we have, there’s parity in the schedule.”

The 113 schools have committed to two years with the new Super Football Conference. Again, it’s strictly for football, but the model can be used for other sports if it proves to be highly successful.

“I don’t see us folding up the tents after two years,” Piro said. “I think most schools feel that this is the division and the direction we all want to go.”

Piro said that he was “disappointed” that the North Jersey Interscholastic League, the organization that oversees schools like North Arlington, Lyndhurst, Queen of Peace and St. Mary’s of Rutherford, declined the invitation to join the Super Football Conference.

“There’s always strength in numbers,” Piro said. “We would have loved to have them. Their smaller schools would have fit in nicely with ours. It would have been a great marriage.”

Piro believes that the new Super Football Conference will only grow in size.

“After everyone sees how successful it is, the landscape will change,” Piro said. “Some schools are going to have to feel their way a bit. At least our non-public schools understand the importance of good strong competition. Others will come around. They’re going to catch on.”

Piro also has plans to do things “outside the white lines,” namely raising academic standards.

“There are some philanthropic issues to be address,” Piro said. “But we wanted to create more competitive games across the board, create a little bit of parity and make football fun again. Over the last few years, football has been coming under fire and we have to try to figure out ways to make it better.”

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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.”