Thursday marked the beginning of a new era for Nutley Football and the famous Park Oval in downtown as for the first time the Maroon Raiders played a football game under the permanent lights at Tangora Field when they took on rival Bloomfield.
As part of the festivities, Nutley honored its 1992 state championship football team on the 30th anniversary of its title. More than 20 members of that squad, including head coach Rich SanFilippo were on hand to be recognized before the Raiders’ 20-7 victory over Bloomfield in the annual Mayor’s Trophy Game.
All four of Nutley’s home football games are set to be held at 6:30 p.m. under the lights this season.
“It is going to be one of those iconic moments in time where 25, 30 years from now you say where were you when they played the first night football game at the oval,” Nutley athletic director Joe Piro said earlier this week before Thursday’s game. “I’m happy that these kids have an opportunity to be a part of it. I’m happy to have an opportunity to be a part of it. I think it’s just going to be a phenomenal thing for our community.”
According to Frank DeMaio, who is the Superintendent of Recreation in Nutley and a former member of the Nutley Board of Education, the process of adding lights began when the town approved new turf at Tangora. When the old turf was removed and ground was broken on the new turf area, the required underground equipment needed to support permanent light stands was installed.
From there, the permanent light fixtures were installed then the lights themselves.
“It was nice to finally have the support to get the new field, the new lights,” said DeMaio, who was also the starting quarterback on the ‘92 team. “I think it’s a tremendous addition to our (recreation) system. (Having lights) basically gives you another field in town.”
Following the completion of the lights, Nutley’s boys lacrosse played some night games this past spring. In addition, both the boys and girls soccer teams will play select home night games at Tangora Field, the first coming on Sept. 8 when girls soccer hosts Newark Academy at 6:30 p.m.
Besides being the main field for various Nutley high school athletic teams, the Park Oval is used for various other community events throughout the year.
Both DeMaio and Piro believe the biggest benefit will come to the many local restaurants and shops on Franklin Ave. thanks to increased traffic in the downtown area on game nights.
“This was something that was needed for more than just football, more than just baseball,” said DeMaio. “There’s going to be events at the oval where the lights are going to come in handy for. This is more than just a sports thing, it’s a community wide thing.
“To have the lights on a field like the oval in the middle of town where people can come eat dinner and go to restaurants beforehand, go to restaurants after the game, I think it helps the small business part of our community. This is larger than sports having the lights now.”
Piro also cited Friday night games also leading to increased attendance among students as a benefit of the move to Friday nights.
With its downtown location and picturesque spots, Saturday afternoon games at Park Oval have long been considered one of the best venues for high school football in New Jersey.
As the longtime athletic director and a former player and coach at Nutley, Piro knows it will take some time to adjust to no longer having those Saturday afternoon games, but is confident that this change will prove beneficial, not just for athletics, but for the community as a whole.
“It is tough to let go of that. But I have a very funny feeling that this new vibe is going to be the vibe,” Piro said. “It will be the new norm and it’s going to be even better than those Saturday afternoons once we all get used to it.”
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Jason Bernstein | Observer Sports Writer
Jason Bernstein joined The Observer as its sports writer in March 2022, following the retirement of Jim Hague. He has a wealth of sports-writing experience, including for NJ Advance Media (nj.com, The Jersey Journal, The Star-Ledger.)