Recognizing few events unite a community like a scholastic football game, Old Bridge continues to host highly successful “Theme Knights” for home contests, setting a standard other high schools might want to emulate.
Head coach Anthony Lanzafama, who took over the program four years ago from NJFCA Hall of Fame mentor Bob DeMarco, didn’t have to change much about football at Old Bridge, but his “Theme Knight” wrinkle has generated interest in the sport and simultaneously bolstered school spirit.
“He’s really been positive with the involvement of the student body,” Old Bridge athletics director Bob Eriksen said of Lanzafama. “It’s bringing everyone together at the football field.”
This year’s “Theme Knights” kicked off with a season-opening tailgate party prior to last Friday’s heartbreaking 17-16 loss to perennial state power Piscataway.
Students who purchased a ticket to the game were treated to a barbeque and music from a disc jockey in the parking lot behind Sandburg Middle School. Following the steps of the marching band, about 500 Old Bridge students, all clad in purple T-shirts, then marched up “Wisdom Way” into Lombardi Stadium.
Of the party atmosphere the home crowd generated, Piscataway football coach Dan Higgins told NJ.com, “I never saw anything like that at a high school football game.”
Other “Theme Knights” for the remainder of the season include a “Pink Out” for breast cancer awareness, Senior Knight and Youth Football & Cheerleading Knight.
The latter provides free admission to cheerleaders and players from the township’s three youth programs who wear their game jerseys or cheer shells to the stadium. All are invited at halftime onto the field, where they create a human chute for Old Bridge players to run through as they return to the gridiron.
“He’s done an unbelievable job with that,” DeMarco said of Lanzafama. “Each week the theme really brings a different part of the community out.”
Gridiron success — Old Bridge ended a six-year NJSIAA playoff drought last season and opened this year with a stunning upset of three-time defending sectional champion Sayreville — can set the mood at a high school for the entire academic year.
DeMarco said he believes Old Bridge principal Vinnie Sasso, a former gridiron star at Monmouth University who still holds the school’s career interceptions record, understands the value of a quality football game experience.
“He knows that as football goes, the school year goes,” DeMarco said. “It’s hand in hand. You start off the year with a good football program, it carries right through the entire year. Having a principal with a football background is a major point.”
Tom Hennessy, hailed as a hero last spring for his quick response to stop a school bus after the operator of the vehicle lost consciousness at the wheel while driving the team home from a road game, has stepped down as Colonia’s baseball coach.
He remains at the high school as a winter track and girls volleyball coach, having tremendous success in the latter, compiling a 120-23 record, grooming two full scholarship players and winning two of the last three Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament titles.
A former All-State baseball player at J.F. Kennedy High School, Hennessy pitched at Seton Hall University. An arm injury took him off the mound and led him to transfer to Kean College, where Hennessy transformed himself into an All-Region outfielder.
“I had a great time with baseball,” Hennessy said. “(Stepping down as coach) was a tough decision because I’ve been doing it my whole life. I’ve grown attached to those kids and they are ready to win.”
Colonia has yet to name Hennessy’s successor.
5K for a cure
St. Joseph High School will host the inaugural Katch A Kure 5K run (or walk) at 9 a.m. Oct. 6. All proceeds will be donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, which advances cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.
Those interested in volunteering, running or walking can find more information at http://katchakure.com.