Sussex County Sports Blog

By Dan Cleary

10/21/2014 - Classy Smolyn Wins 300th

 

 
    I have told this story many times about Don Smolyn so bear with me if you have heard this one before.
   But on the occasion of the Lenape Valley legend and Hall-of-Famer reaching the magical milestone of 300 wins its worth repeating because in my view it sums up what Smolyn is all about as a coach, an educator and a man.
    So let’s go back to the early 1980s (cue the time travel music and not the Flock of Seagulls!), Ronald Reagan was president, the Love Boat was still cruising on ABC and the old Sussex County Interscholastic League was dominated by Lenape Valley, Sparta and Pope John.
    But that was starting to change as an upstart, young group in the northeast corner of the county was starting to feel its oats.  Vernon football, which wasn’t even a decade old yet, had knocked off Newton for the first the first time ever in 1981 and the Vikings had their sights set on knocking off one of the “Big Three” in 1982.
   The Vikings did just that in Week 2 when they knocked off Lenape Valley in a thrilling 22-15 victory at Viking Stadium.  Lenape Valley was coming off its second state title in 1981.
   It was a benchmark victory for the program and after the win the Vikings celebrated in the locker room like they won the Super Bowl, and rightfully so.
   As the Vikings enjoyed their win the outside door of the locker room opened and in stepped Smolyn and you could hear a pin drop.  What was he doing there?  What was he going to say?
    Smolyn answered those questions quickly.  Despite the tough loss, he had the class to come into our locker room and congratulate us on the win and wished us the best of luck the rest of the season.
   Wow.
   And how do I know this story is true?  I was there as a player on that Vernon squad and the story, obviously, sticks with me to this day.
  Smolyn’s gesture made a great impression on all of us that day and the guys I played with still remember that big win but also that Smolyn came in and congratulated us.
   Pretty powerful stuff and that is one of the small reasons why Don Smolyn is one of the best who ever put on a whistle or a headset.
   On a side note, the next season, my senior year, Vernon beat Sparta for the first time (only because Lou Seville and John Place had graduated!) and classy Hall-of Fame Sparta coach Ron Earl did the same thing.
    Back to Smolyn.  By topping North Warren 24-8 last Friday he recorded his 300th career coaching victory joining the ranks of the late great Vic Paternostro of Pope John, who has the most wins in state history, with 373, the great Warren Wolf of Brick fame, Frank Bottone of New Providence, Doug Wilkins of Mountain Lakes, Tony Karcich of Bergen Catholic and St. Josephs and Vin Asoclese of North Bergen in the exclusive club.
   Not too shabby.
   And the other thing that jumps out at you?  Smolyn is the only active coach of the bunch after 39 seasons at Lenape Valley and a couple at the now defunct Green Brook High School in Somerset County in the early 1970s.
   But if you know Smolyn you know he has never been caught up in his own numbers and last week proved that.  He thought he had 294 wins coming into the season and not until his son Chris went back and checked to make sure how many wins he had did he realize that he had 295 wins coming into the season.
   But that also meant he would be going for No. 300 against one of his prized pupils in former Lenape Valley star and former Smolyn assistant  Matt Parzero.
   The mentor and the student were not looking forward to the game to begin with and now throw in a  possible history-making event and it made the game even tougher for the very close friends.
   Parzero praised Smolyn after the tough defeat, but like he said, he wanted to be part of the 300-win celebration but not as the losing coach.
   Like his mentor, Parzero is as classy as they come and he is building North Warren up just like Smolyn did back in the 1970s.  He makes no secret that he wants to emulate Lenape Valley’s program in all facets and he is doing just that.
   If Parzero stays in coaching long enough, he has the chops to make a run at 300, but I know all he is worried about is playing Kittatinny this Friday.
   So what has been the secret to Smolyn’s success which includes a 300-118-13 record, seven state titles and nine conference crowns in the SCIL and the NJAC?
   Hard work, stability and a deep concern for his players not only as football players but as people. Sounds simple, right?
   Try doing that for almost 40 years at one place.  It won’t happen anymore in this day and age.  When he retires, Smolyn will be the last of the breed and that is a shame.
   The landscape of high school football has changed so much that it is almost impossible for a coach to last 10 years let alone over 40.  But Smolyn has done it with class and dignity that has been unmatched.
   My first interaction with him was a player and I had instant respect for him then and  now as a professional covering his terrific program.
   Smolyn instills a family atmosphere and with a heavy Italian population in the sending district that works just fine.
   The names of the families that have played for Smolyn goes on forever but here are a few:  The LaBells (too many to name), the Tognos, the Groomes, the Costanzas, the Haines, the Olivos, the Rutowskis, the Ciampaglios, the Olivers, the Hoovers, the Pregnos, the Hoslers, the Samlijans, the Espositos, the Vetters and the Pearsons..
   I’m sure I’m leaving out several more but you get the picture.  The older players set the tone and the younger family members grew up wanting to play for Smolyn.
   Smolyn guided Lenape Valley to its first state title in 1977 and the 11-0 Pats featured Mike Togno, Paul Finkler, Henry Bilas, Lou Sylvester, Mark Larsen, Mike Dayer and Smolyn’s first All-State player Tracy Hosler.
   In 1981, the Pats featured Mark Voitek, Kirk Kvapil  John Lyons and Joe McDonald, a beast in football and hoops before going to play both sports up at Maine.
   I remember those guys and played against guys like current Byram mayor Jim Oscovitch , a prototypical Lenape Valley lineman.
   The Pats were good in the 1980s with Kevin Pierson dominating before going off to Boston College, but didn’t win a title until 1989 with Adam Riggs, Mike Yanovak, Dave Bell and Doug Vetter helping lead the way.
   The Pats won four titles in the 1990s with memorable players like Parzero, Matt Moscatello, Todd DiNetta, Frank Misurelli, who also went to BC and is coaching at Roxbury under former Smolyn assistant Cosmo LoRusso and Dave Togno.
   But the Pats’ last crown came in 1999 and that was a special one for Smolyn as his son Chris played a huge role on the team as a tight end/defensive end and as one of the best kickers around before going to Johns Hopkins.
  That team featured Matt Meehan, Joe Egan, Andre Bogle, Chris Vaughn, Chris Holland, Rob Bruno, Marc Ligouri, Dave Rutowksi and Dave Moreshauser.
   Lenape Valley topped Westwood 14-7 to win the crown.  The Pats have made the final since, losing a memorable 17-14 double OT classic to Lakeland in 2004, but haven’t hoisted the trophy in 15 years.
   Ah, yes, the memorable games.  Too many to mention but all Lenape fans remember the battles with Pope John and Sparta over the years until the SCIL broke up five years ago.  And all the ties against Newton back in the day.
   And in the states the battles against Tenafly in the 1970s, River Dell and Harrison (led by former Rutgers star and Jets QB Ray Lucas) in the late 1980s and who can forget the clashes with Lodi and the “Snow Bowl” win over Ridgefield Park in 1993?  I don’t.
   And how about the crazy comeback win over Pascack Valley when Billy Gallagher caught a TD late in the game after the Pats watched the Indians score on a controversial fumble recovery?
   So many great games.  I could go on forever.
   Then there some of the great players I will always remember like Mark Fisher who was senseless killed when he was in college. Mike Groome who carried the team on his back and most recently Nick Rafferty the school’s all-time leading scorer now playing at Rutgers.
   And like Smolyn will tell you, he has outstanding assistants over the years like the recently retired Walt Scheese, his right-hand man for all those years, John Groome, who is still coaching, Pete Corea and Doug DeMarrias back in the day, and current coaches Wade Pickett and Billy Moore.
   Smolyn could not have done it without them and the support of his loving family who made the Pats their extended family.
   So congratulations Coach Smolyn it has been an honor and a privilege to have worked with you over the years.  
   Its been a long time since you surprised my teammates and I back in 1982 but the respect and admiration I have for you as a man and as a coach grows with each passing year.
   That’s it for now see you on the sidelines.
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Classy Smolyn Wins 300th


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5/23/2013
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5/16/2013
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5/9/2013
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5/4/2013
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12/21/2010
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3/22/2010
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2/1/2010
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1/31/2010
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11/23/2009
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10/29/2009
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10/7/2009
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6/28/2009
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5/19/2009
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5/12/2009
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5/1/2009
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4/19/2009
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4/2/2009
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3/21/2009
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3/12/2009
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3/3/2009
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2/25/2009
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2/17/2009
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2/4/2009
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1/27/2009
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1/20/2009
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1/13/2009
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10/9/2008
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10/3/2008
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9/25/2008
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9/17/2008
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9/11/2008
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8/14/2008
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6/15/2008
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5/9/2008
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4/25/2008
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3/21/2008
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2/29/2008
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2/22/2008
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2/15/2008
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2/8/2008
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1/31/2008
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1/25/2008
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1/18/2008
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1/11/2008
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1/3/2008
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12/27/2007
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12/20/2007
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12/13/2007
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12/6/2007
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11/28/2007
Handing Out the Golden Statues


11/21/2007
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11/14/2007
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11/7/2007
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10/31/2007
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10/23/2007
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10/1/2007
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3/17/204
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