Lyndhurst youth grid squad wins Meadowlands youth football title

Phil Mazzarella has been involved in youth sports in Lyndhurst for almost 40 years, coaching an assortment of different teams during those four decades of dedication.

So when Mazzarella assembled his 8-and-9-year-old football team to play in the Meadowlands Youth Football League this fall, the veteran coach just knew he had something special.

“I knew we had a really good team,” Mazzarella said. “I watched these kids grow. I had most of them last year. I knew they were a tough group of kids and they really listen to what we have to say. That’s a really good thing.”

The Lyndhurst youngsters were firm believers in themselves this season, even battling the obstacles of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

“We worked really hard in practice,” said 10-year old standout running back/linebacker Avery Cano. “We kept working hard non-stop.”

The diligence carried through the regular season and into the playoffs.

Lyndhurst advanced to the Super Bowl of the Meadowlands Youth Football League recently against Wood-Ridge in Saddle Brook and lo and behold, Lyndhurst won the game by the final score of 20-7.

It marked the third time in the last four decades that Lyndhurst captured the 8-and-9-year-old Super Bowl championship under Mazzarella’s leadership.

Lyndhurst won the league title in 1989 and in 2000.

In the Super Bowl, Cano got Lyndhurst going with a 33-yard touchdown run and ended things with another touchdown jaunt.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Cano said. “But I couldn’t do it without my teammates. My team was just so ready to play.”

Cano said that he loves playing the two positions he plays.

“I like to run with the ball and I like to score touchdowns,” Cano said. “But I also like to hit people. I don’t know what I like to do more.”

Cano attends fifth grade at Lyndhurst’s Roosevelt School. He’s a big fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and his favorite player is Tyreek Hill.

Cano also plays baseball and lacrosse in town and it’s hard for him to pick one over the other.

“Winning the Super Bowl was such a big thing for us,” Cano said. “I’m really glad we won for Coach Phil (Mazzarella). He was so excited and I’m so happy to make him happy.”

If Mazzarella was excited, then what about Cano himself?

“Oh, I was excited, too,” Cano said. “It’s just really great. I loved it. I love being with my team. We were able to make everyone happy.”

Needless to say, Cano is a star on the rise.

“Avery Cano is one of the better backs in the league and one of the best ones we’ve ever had,” Mazzarella said. “You could see that the other kids follow his lead.”

Skyler Simmons is another key member of the team.

“It was amazing that we won the Super Bowl,” said Simmons, who is a versatile jack-of-all-trades who plays anywhere on the field. “We worked real hard. Going into the game, I was a little nervous, but when we scored first, I wasn’t nervous anymore. I just kept playing. Once we scored two touchdowns, we were doing well.”

Simmons saw time at running back and wingback on offense and cornerback on defense.

“It’s a big rush for everyone when you win a championship like this one,” said Simmons, a nine-year-old fourth grader at Jefferson School. “I can’t wait until next year, when we’re going to go all the way again.”

Simmons put a little pressure on himself and his teammates.

“We can handle it,” said Simmons, who keeps busy playing baseball, soccer, basketball, and golf during the offseason from football. “I can’t help it. I love hitting golf balls.”
Simmons is a big fan of the Chiefs as well and his favorite player is the electrifying Patrick Mahomes.

Jake Dolaghan is another versatile member of the team. He’s one of the younger members of the team, since he’s a third grader at Jefferson School. Dolaghan is a fan of the New York Jets, as he has to be elated (as much as this writer is deflated) by the Jets’ huge upset win over the Los Angeles Rams Sunday.

Dolaghan had a wide range of emotions in the Super Bowl.

“It was exciting and tense all wrapped into one,” Dolaghan said. “We were definitely nervous. They came out to play. When we got to the fourth quarter, I was definitely nervous. But football is a team game and our team is like a family. We believe in each other.”

Dolaghan said that he’s probably not going to stop talking about the Super Bowl win for quite some time.

“I don’t think we will ever stop talking about it,” said Dolaghan, whose favorite player is Mahomes, but remains loyal to his Jets. “We are going to talk about it for the rest of our lives. We were the more talented team. They were a lot bigger than us, but nothing was going to stop us.”

Young Dolaghan is another busy youngster with no time off, competing in basketball, baseball, soccer and wrestling.

“But I don’t play soccer and wrestling anymore,” Jake said. “I concentrate on the others.”

And Jake Dolaghan is already making plans for next season.

“We’re going to have a good team coming back,” Dolaghan said. “I think we can go back-to-back.”

That’s news to Mazzarella.

“We didn’t do it for 20 years and now we’re expected to do it again next year?” Mazzarella said. “We really have good kids who can run, can catch and throw. Avery is a great runner. Skyler has good hands. We have really good kids. We just teach them what they need to know to play football.

Added Mazzarella, “What’s really great now is that we have generations of kids who played for us and now bring their kids to us. I see generations of kids that I coached win Super Bowls.”

The town honored the Super Bowl champions by putting a banner across Ridge Road, proclaiming the Super Bowl champs. There already was a parade. And as you know, everyone loves a parade.

“It makes you feel good as a coach, when you see kids crying that they won,” Mazzarella said. “Some will move up the ladder and move on. I’m just glad we had them. The kids are crying because they’ll miss us, but I’ll miss them too.”

The kids were taught to act like champions, not just win like champs. And that’s the best news of all. Congrats to Lyndhurst, the 8-and-9-year-old Super Bowl champs. Has a nice ring to it. Did anyone mention rings? No, there aren’t rings, but each member of the team will receive a jacket to wear around town. That’s something to brag about, right?




The Lyndhurst Recreation 8-and-9-year-olds recently won the Meadowlands Youth Football League Super Bowl, the first one in 20 years. Front row, from left, are Jordan DiCapua, Mark Eckert, Evan Martinez, Braden Bower, Liam White, Bruce Bartlet, Vincent Muraglia, Jake Dolaghan, Anthony Turiello, Luke Barriteau and Dylan Zwier. Second row, from left, are Brandon DeRuvo, Anthony Smith, Noah Zavala, Jake Mercado, Skyler Simmons, Avery Cano, Jeremiah Ankrah, Liel White, Cameron Kurzynowski, Carmelo Lugo and Michael Bartolomeo. Back row, from left, are coaches John Ross, Brandon Ross, head coach Phil Mazzarella and Jonathan Wartel. Not pictured is Maximo Bujarski. Photo courtesy of Sean Dolaghan







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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.”