Being a high school coach is a thankless job. It requires working long hours at ridiculously low wages, sometimes as low as 38 cents an hour. It takes patience and perseverance, guidance and grace, intellect, intensity and ingenuity, determination and drive.
Needless to say, it takes a special breed of person to be able to handle all the prerequisites without attaining much personal accomplishment other than satisfaction when an athlete does something well.
But last Sunday at the Westin Princeton at Forrestal Village in Princeton, two local legends received their just due as the newest members into the New Jersey State Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
John Galante, the former long-time softball and football coach at North Arlington High School, and Mike Rusek, the long-time boys’ soccer coach at Harrison, were among 18 New Jersey coaches who were inducted into the NJSCA Hall of Fame this year.
Galante became one of only five North Arlington coaches to ever receive the award.
“Obviously, I never would have been in the position to get into the Hall of Fame unless I had great players,” said Galante, who won more than 300 games and captured nine BCSL titles, three Bergen County Tournament finals appearances and two NJSIAA state sectional crowns during his stint as softball coach. “I had kids who wanted to be part of something successful. They knew the expectations and wanted to be better or equal to the previous year. Year after year, they all wanted to be part of a champion.”
Rusek had no idea he was even being considered for the honor.
“I’m not that old,” said Rusek, who is now 44 and just finished his 18th season as the head coach of the Blue Tide. “It really came as a complete surprise. I was raised to be modest and humble and once I got there (to the Westin Princeton), I was grateful to be there with my family and friends. I will remember it for a long time to come.”
Rusek said that he was happy to share the award with his two assistant coaches, namely brother John and father Mickey.
“Not many people are as fortunate as I am to work with their father and their brother,” Rusek said. “You love doing something and you share it with the people you love. And they love it as well. We make a good combination. John loves soccer. Dad loves Harrison and I love winning. It’s perfect.
Added Rusek, “My Dad can sit the whole day away and talk about soccer and Harrison. When I was a kid, I’d hear all of the stories about Harrison. Now, he’s back home and back with his sons. It’s always been about family and that’s the most important thing, having family.”
Galante can agree with that. Two years ago, Galante and his wife, Michele, adopted a young boy named Devin and brought Devin into their home. Devin is now 13 years old. Galante’s brother, Nick, was there as well to honor his brother.
“Other than my family, teaching and coaching were the blessings in my life,” Galante said. “I think I had a gift. I’m a motivator. I had kids gravitate towards me. We were all on the same page.”
Galante was asked about coaching boys in football and girls in softball.
“With the boys, it was more physically demanding,” Galante said. “With the girls, you try to develop more of a finesse aspect. But I treated everyone as an athlete. And I was lucky that all the great female athletes in North Arlington played softball. But I was the same coach to both. I was intense and the kids knew it. I always had the same intensity.”
Galante retired from teaching and coaching last year.
“It was great to be able to reminisce with some people,” Galante said. “This brought back so many great memories. It’s such a blessing to have the memories. As an achievement, this is a great feeling.”
While Galante’s coaching and teaching careers are over and he’s enjoying life with his wife and son, Rusek continues on as one of the premier soccer coaches in the state.
“I’m really fortunate to be at a school like Harrison,” Rusek said. “Days like this make you sit back and reflect a little. It was a great day for me and my family and it was a great day for Harrison. We are now connected to Harrison. We get a lot of support from the town and the school.”
Harrison principal Matthew Weber was in attendance to support Rusek, as well as athletic director Kim Huaranga.
“There were other teachers there as well,” Rusek said. “I’m still smiling from ear to ear about it all.”
As well he should. The same for Galante. It’s a great honor that isn’t bestowed on everyone.
Veteran North Arlington football/softball coach John Galante (left) celebrates his entrance to the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame with his brother Nick (right). Photo courtesy of Nick Galante
Harrison boys’ soccer coach Mike Rusek (center) accepts his entrance into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame with his assistant coaches, namely father Mickey (left) and brother John (right). Photo courtesy of Lisa Rusek
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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.”