GLEN RIDGE, NJ — Glen Ridge High School coach, and health and physical education teacher Maria DiCondina will be retiring at the end of the school year. She had a stellar coaching career at Paramus Catholic High School and Glen Ridge High School where she was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach. She has taught for 37 years.
DiCondina, 59, was born in Jersey City and attended St. Aloysius elementary and high school. As an undergraduate at Seton Hall University, she received her teaching certification. She later attended Montclair State University for her master’s in health education and received her supervisory certification. She also has her principal certification, from New Jersey Excel. DiCondina also was employed as a Seton Hall adjunct professor in nutrition and physical fitness, and human sexuality for healthy living.
“My plan was to retire this year and move on to a permanent position at Seton Hall,” she said last week at GRHS. “I was offered to teach three classes. But my husband took a position in Florida and I’m moving to Fort Lauderdale.”
Once she has relocated, her first priority will be to find a home. She would like employment on a part-time basis to start. She does not know what she might be doing, but said she has been a high-energy person all her life.
DiCondina said she became a physical education teacher probably because of a high school teacher, Maureen Pope, who was a role model for her. Pope taught physical education and was a basketball coach, although not DiCondina’s coach.
“I was always so active playing sports, it seemed like the way to go,” she said. “My mom was also a teacher. She was a wonderful teacher as so many people have told me and I experienced.”
Her mother taught social studies at St. Aloysius High School.
DiCondina played basketball in high school but not in college.
“I was the second female class to enter the university and there was no team,” she said. “They started a girls basketball team my junior year. But I played all through elementary and high school. In high school, my sisters and I were three of the starting five during my sophomore year. My sisters are twins and were seniors. We won a state championship that year.”
Before coming to GRHS, DiCondina taught and coached at Paramus Catholic. Altogether, she coached for 27 years — eight years at Paramus Catholic and 19 here in the borough.
At Paramus Catholic, she had very good girls’ basketball teams. Her record was 165-54. She had five state, five conference and three county championships.
“At Paramus Catholic, my teams were exceptional,” she said. “It was nationally ranked by USA Today.”
Her soccer record at that school was 131-33 with a state championship. She coached soccer at Paramus Catholic for seven years. Part of the reason for her success, she said, was that Paramus Catholic was a regional school. Consequently, it had a bigger pool of potential players.
She came to GRHS because she wanted a public school position and saw a sports program here that she could develop. When she came to GRHS, in 1991, it was as the head of the athletic department. She began coaching the next year. At the high school here, her girls’ basketball teams were 272-125 with five conference championships.
“To take a program and build it up has been very rewarding for me,” she said.
She was also a field hockey and soccer coach at the high school.
DiCondina has also been an advisor and interim vice-principal at the Glen Ridge Middle School. For 20 years, she ran soccer, basketball, and multi-sports camps in the borough. She stopped six years ago.
She said sports are good for students because they learn the benefit of hard work and the lessons a person learns only from defeat.
“It’s life lessons,” she said. “It’s trying to be the best you can be.”
DiCondina does not think coaching has changed since she began. If there has been a change, she said, it is that there is more concern regarding head injuries now than there was 25 years ago. There are also more trainers, but when she began, she was the trainer, too.
“I did the bandaging and wiped the blood,” she said.
But she thought the expectations placed on coaches are greater now than before and student athletes are specializing.
“There’s that drive for scholarships,” she said. “It was always there but it’s more prevalent now. But I had kids that went to North Carolina, Old Dominion and Duke and they all played three sports. Today that isn’t so. The top athletes play one sport or they are so specialized they don’t even play with the high school team. They play on club teams.”
She said club teams provide top athletes with greater exposure than interscholastic sports.
As head of the athletic department, DiCondina has written nine successful grants including, “Baby, Think It Over.”
“It’s a computerized infant,” she said. “The purpose was for students to care for it and learn what life would be like with a baby.”
If anyone wanted to get into teaching and coaching, DiCondina said she would tell them that they have to love all the students at whatever level they perform.
“It’s not a job where you punch in and punch out,” she said. “It’s part of your life. I’m a mother of three. I’ve probably sometimes spent more time with the children here than my own. I still have relationships with players from 30 years ago. When I started coaching at 21, there was a small age gap. But whether the gap is small or large, I have relationships with my girls today.”