Nutley’s DiPiano headed to Rose Parade float for organ donor awareness

Twenty-one years ago, veteran St. Benedict’s Prep wrestling coach Mike DiPiano reached a crisis point in his life. His kidneys and pancreas were failing and he was in dire need of a transplant in order to survive.

“I was on dialysis for two years,” DiPiano said. “You hope and pray for the best.”

So the long-time Nutley resident reached out to the Sharing Network in order to get on the list to receive that much needed transplant.

A 21-year-old man from south Jersey tragically died, but because he checked the box on his driver’s license, Sean became an organ donor – and Mike DiPiano was the benefactor.

Now, two decades later, DiPiano is living a fulfilled life. He is retired from teaching and coaching, but DiPiano and his wife Karen enjoy traveling and going to special events.

DiPiano is very active, competing in the Transplant Games in the shot put and discus every year with a group called Team Liberty with transplant recipients from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut.

“We have over 100 members on the team,” DiPiano said.

Ever since he joined Team Liberty, DiPiano has been very active with the Sharing Network, giving back to the organization that gave him life.

Along with his coaching sons, two chips off the old block, Frank, who has his father’s old role as the head coach at their alma mater St. Benedict’s Prep, and Mike, who is the head wrestling coach and head girls’ soccer coach at Nutley, as well as the assistant softball coach, the DiPiano family run the Gift of Life Duals, a one-day wrestling smorgasbord with some of the best teams in northern New Jersey all getting together to grapple for a great cause.

The tournament, which will be held this year on Saturday, January 11, 2020 at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, features eight of the best teams around. The tournament helps to bring awareness to the cause, to help register people to become organ donors and to raise some money for the Sharing Network.

Incredibly, 4,000 New Jersey residents are in need of some sort of transplant. That number stands at 125,000 nationwide.

But before the tournament, DiPiano will serve in a much larger capacity.

DiPiano has been selected to represent the Sharing Network and Team Liberty at the upcoming Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena, California on New Year’s Day. Actresses Rita Moreno and Gina Torres and Olympic Gold medal-winning gymnast Laurie Hernandez will all serve as Grand Marshals for this year’s Tournament of Roses Parade.

DiPiano will ride on the Donate Life Float, a float that will consist of all donor recipients. There will be approximately 30 people on the float from all over the country.

Team Liberty sponsored DiPiano to go and ride on the float, which will feature thousands of roses. Each rose will be in honor of either a donor or a recipient.

DiPiano will spend five days in southern California and will also attend the Rose Bowl game on New Year’s Day, pitting Oregon against Wisconsin.

“I’m very honored that Team Liberty has selected me to represent them,” said DiPiano, who was honored recently by St. Barnabas Medical Center, Team Liberty and the Sharing Network before he heads off to Pasadena in a few weeks. “I am really excited and very appreciative that they selected me.”

DiPiano was blessed to have so many family members and friends at the event at St. Barnabas, also attended by St. Benedict’s Prep headmaster Rev. Edwin Leahy.

“It was a very emotional day,” DiPiano said. “There were a lot of tears shed. I really didn’t expect anything. When I was contacted by St. Barnabas for the event, I instantly agreed to it. I’d do anything for them. That’s where I received my transplant. I guess I’m sort of a success story.”

DiPiano talks to potential transplant patients and tells them about his incredible story of receiving the gift of life. He just recently celebrated the 21st anniversary of his surgery.

“Whatever they ask of me, I hardly refuse,” DiPiano said.

Team Liberty promotes the success of organ transplants, raises awareness for the need of organ and tissue donation and honors all donors and their families who basically have given others, mostly people the donors don’t even know, the gift of life – thus the name of the wrestling tournament next month.

DiPiano is living proof that organ transplantation works.

“I wouldn’t be here without it,” DiPiano said.

Within the past two years, DiPiano learned the identity of his donor. He has spoken to Sean’s mother and family and when DiPiano has earned medals in the Transplant Games, he dedicates the award to Sean.

“I try to include Sean and members of his family in everything I do,” DiPiano said.

DiPiano plans to compete in the 2020 Transplant Games of America, which will be held in New Jersey in July of 2020. More than 12,000 transplant recipients will come to the Garden State to compete in this year’s Transplant Games. The Transplant Games are held every two years.

DiPiano will be able to dedicate 12 roses that will be placed on the Donate Life Float for people that he personally knows. One of those is Nutley resident Steve Searle, the brother-in-law of Nutley High School athletic director Joe Piro.

Searle had a kidney transplant about eight years ago and he also is proof that the Sharing Network does incredible work.

“It’s going to be a great day,” DiPiano said. “But we have to keep spreading the word. The Sharing Network needs a hand to keep going.”

For more information, to get involved or to register as a possible organ and tissue donor, log on to




Nutley’s Mike DiPiano (center) will be on the Donate Life Float at the upcoming Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. Here DiPiano is holding a rose and posing with Elisse Glennon of the New Jersey Sharing Network (left) and Dr. Stewart R. Geffner, Chairman and Surgeon-in-Chief for transplant surgery at St. Barnabas Medical Center, which honored DiPiano recently. DiPiano, the former wrestling coach and athletic director at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, had kidney and pancreas transplant surgery at St. Barnabas 21 years ago. Photo courtesy of Rosica Communications


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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.”