As last weekend’s high school football playoff game between Montgomery and host Old Bridge unfolded into a double-overtime thriller, none of the 3,000 spectators at Lombardi Stadium could tell the public address announcer bleeds the home team’s colors.
No one in attendance got a sense that the voice behind the microphone, which was devoid of favoritism while calling the contest, had a vested rooting interest.
Old Bridge squandered a 20-point fourth-quarter lead and fell behind for the first time all night in the first overtime before rallying for a dramatic 40-34 comeback victory.
As the teams trumped each other with one big play after another, the metal stands supporting the press box literally rocked with the raucous student section stomping its collective feet. Assistant coaches in booths flanking the public address announcer screamed for their respective teams and chastised referees over questionable calls, while sports writers sitting alongside them cursed at their computers as the game’s length encroached upon newspaper deadlines. The shrill of Montgomery’s enthusiastic play-by-play radio announcer could be heard through the protective glass separating him from the spectators.
Through it all, Ron Mazzola, the voice of Old Bridge football, maintained his composure, announcing each team’s clutch fourth-down conversions and dramatic scoring plays with measured vigor.
No one could tell the man they call “Mr. Old Bridge,” wearing his trademark white polo shirt with the interlocking OB in purple and black, was actually dying inside as the Knights rode an emotional roller coaster to their first playoff victory in nearly a decade.
“You’ve got to realize that there are two sides playing and you really don’t want to be a homer,” said Mazzola, whose life has revolved around Old Bridge athletics since moving to the township from Brooklyn 48 years ago.
“You want to be patient and you want to have a level of professionalism that people are going to walk away and say, ‘Wow! What a great game!’ and not say, ‘What a jerk that PA guy was!’ “
A card-carrying member of the National Association of Sports Public Address Announcers, Mazzola will never be mistaken for the legendary Bob Sheppard, but his voice is almost as recognizable throughout Middlesex County and across the state.
Mazzola serves as the public address announcer for Rutgers University wrestling, the Greater Middlesex Conference wrestling tournament and the GMC, Shore Conference and NJSIAA gymnastics tournaments.
He has provided public address at soccer, field hockey, volleyball, basketball, baseball, softball and track and field events for various high schools county-wide.
Mazzola, who spends his Friday night’s calling Old Bridge football games and his Saturday afternoon’s behind the microphone at Spotswood’s gridiron stadium, was voted the GMC’s best public address announcer in a Home News Tribune readers’ choice poll.
His involvement with high school athletics, however, extends well beyond the announcer’s booth.
Mazzola is a regular contributor to the Home News Tribune’s popular wrestling blog, handles scoring and seeding for the conference, district, region and state wrestling tournaments, while being responsible for the same tasks at various conference, sectional and state gymnastics meets.
He has become as recognizable a figure across the state as NJSIAA executive director Steve Timko, whose association recently honored Mazzola with a lifetime achievement award.
“I think Ron does an outstanding job in all aspects of all of our sports at the NJSIAA,” Timko said. “He is always willing to give his time and energy. He’s extremely supportive and a great person. He’s always been the type of person to look on the positive side of things. He’s just an outstanding individual.”
A 1978 graduate of Madison Central, which merged with Cedar Ridge in 1994 to form Old Bridge High School, Mazzola has spent the last two decades as a volunteer assistant with the Madison Central and Old Bridge football and wrestling programs.
National Hall of Fame wrestling coach Ken Scott and New Jersey Hall of Fame football coach Bob DeMarco, who both retired several years ago from their respective posts at Old Bridge, credit Mazzola with making a significant impact on their programs. Mazzola’s contributions included scouting, filming games, creating game programs, keeping statistics, emceeing banquets, producing calendars and schedules and helping to create the high school’s athletics Wall of Fame.
“I would not have had the success I had without Ron,” Scott said. “He’s worth a million bucks. Not only that, he’s a great friend. I can’t say enough about him. He’s just one of those incredible people you are just lucky enough to know, and if he’s working with you, you are so blessed.”
Mazzola said he has received much more than he has given through his involvement in high school athletics, including the many lifelong friendships he’s made, such as that with Frank and Judy Brady, the parents of former state championship wrestler Brian and current East Brunswick soccer and softball coach Kevin.
The Brady brothers, along with current Old Bridge head football coach Anthony Lanzafama, are among the hundreds of former Madison Central and Cedar Ridge student-athletes that Mazzola mentored during his years as a township youth baseball, basketball and soccer coach. Those experiences fueled Mazzola’s desire to get involved at the scholastic level.
“He’s great for the town of Old Bridge with his passion and his loyalty,” DeMarco said. “We always said he’s Mr. Old Bridge. That’s Ron. He’s so enthusiastic. You can hear it in his voice. He lives for this. He’s really special that way. When you see him he’s always so positive about everything. He’s just great for high school sports.”
Mazzola is widely regarded as the most important figure in the Greater Middlesex Conference wrestling community, from the work he does helping run the league’s tournament to his handling virtually every aspect of the conference’s season-ending banquet. The GMC Wrestling Coaches Association has honored Mazzola as its Man of the Year multiple times, bestowing the award upon him yet again last spring.
The relationships Mazzola has fostered over the years have been a boon to his business. He owns and operates Old Bridge-based Prestige Imaging, which manufactures awards, apparel and more. Many teams statewide purchase their awards and gear from Mazzola’s company.
A bear of a man whose size belies his gentle nature, Mazzola possesses an infectious laugh and, according to Scott, is willing to help anybody at any time.
“He’s a go-to guy,” Scott said. “He could find anything, do anything, make anything. If you know the man, he’s just multi-talented, and he can multi-task all over the place. He’s just a phenomenal individual, full of energy and great ideas. He’s a great promoter. If he’s on your side working with you, you can’t have a better asset.”
As omnipresent as Mazzola is, Timko said he would like the GMC’s best play-by-play announcer to get even more involved in NJSIAA events.
“Without a doubt, as part of our championship events, he’s a great person to be around and certainly an asset from everything that he does with us,” Timko said. “He’s very visible, and if he wants to be more visible, we certainly could use him.”
Mazzola, however, is not willing to sacrifice the time he spends clandestinely rooting for the Old Bridge Knights while serving as their public address announcer during football and wrestling seasons.
Montgomery athletics director Tony Maselli, whose son Dominic plays football for Spotswood, said fans enjoy Mazzola’s announcing but that they would appreciate his efforts even more if they got to know him.
“Having heard Ron for years, not only at my son’s games, but at the NJSIAA gymnastics championships (which Montgomery hosted earlier this week), he always plays it down the middle. He’s always been professional and has a great voice. You can’t tell he’s rooting for one side or another.”
After Mazzola called Aaron Ford’s game-winning touchdown run against Montgomery, he joined the Old Bridge coaching staff for a postgame celebration, at which time he was finally able to unveil his true “school” colors.
“It was definitely a big release,” Mazzola said. “Obviously blowing a big lead was disappointing, but watching the kids fight back was exhilarating. It’s always difficult (not to root), regardless of what the game is.”