Rec Dept. honors 4 committed town volunteers

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Recreation Department honored four volunteers who have dedicated their time to supporting township programs at its annual Recreation Achievement Luncheon at the Katz Community Center on March 4.

The department awarded plaques to Bob Franco, Vincent Stanziale Jr., Angie Della Pia and Mark Cacciacarne, who were respectively selected for recognition by the Mountain Top League, the Police Athletic League, the Mayor’s Program for Individuals with Disabilities and the Recreation Department itself. The four honorees each received a proclamation from state Sen. Richard Codey, Assemblyman John McKeon and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey as well.

And while the department did not select all four awards recipients, special events coordinator Candy Myrick said it is proud to pay tribute to everything they have done for the community. Their willingness to volunteer says a lot about their love for West Orange, Myrick said, adding that the township is grateful for the support because volunteers are the lifeblood of community programs.

“Pretty much all of our programs are run by volunteers,” Myrick told the West Orange Chronicle in a March 3 phone interview. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to have many of the programs that we have.”

Franco certainly understands the significance of volunteering. The former MTL coach and league commissioner also found time to help with the Recreation Department and Cub Scout Pack 4 through the years. So when he hears that people simply do not have the hours to spare for a program, he knows that is only an “unimaginative” excuse since everyone is busy. As he told the Chronicle, volunteering should be a choice of giving back to the community instead of putting in time.

Though Franco benefited the township though his effort, he also got a lot out of his experience. While accepting his award he recalled that the years he spent as a coach were some of the best in his life. He echoed that sentiment speaking with the Chronicle afterward, saying that he loved seeing his teams improve during the course of a season. He pointed out that his son and daughter even became coaches themselves after he had worked with them as children, which he believes demonstrates the effect youth sports can have.

“It’s about sports, but it’s not about sports,” Franco, who wrote a book titled “Sidelines” about his coaching experience, said. “It’s really about building life skills and working with people and working hard to improve. Trying to be your best — not the best necessarily, but your best — is what matters.”

Stanziale told the Chronicle that the PAL’s programs also teach children a lot about respect, maturity, leadership and the achievement of goals. He said that this is definitely what he tried to teach his own children as well as the numerous others he worked with as a football coach and assistant cheerleading commissioner for the league. But working as a leader was not the only way he contributed to the PAL.

In addition to sponsoring baseball teams for more than a decade, Stanziale also lent his construction expertise to various PAL complex upgrades, including the reconstruction of the baseball dugouts and the ongoing building of a retaining wall for batting cages. Such selflessness has earned him the praise of PAL officials such as longtime friend Tony Casalino, who called him a “good-hearted, terrific guy” while presenting him the award. And Stanziale appreciates being honored, telling the Chronicle that it feels nice to be recognized. Yet his actions did not come out of a desire for attention.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Stanziale, who joins his father Vincent Stanziale Sr. as a Recreation Achievement Award recipient, said. “I just do it for the kids. The kids need something today to look forward to going to.”

Della Pia was recognized for her altruism in working with the Mayor’s Program during the last 25 years. In that time she helped organize countless special events, holiday parties and road trips, serving as an asset to the program. When it came time to accept her award though, she preferred to acknowledge the township for its willingness to support those with special needs, including her own son.

“It’s been a pleasure working with the people in West Orange,” Della Pia told those in attendance. “We have a lot of people who are giving of themselves. And I just want everyone to know that the 50 years I spent in West Orange were years that I will not forget.”

Cacciacarne also will never forget the years he has spent working with the Recreation Department. He recalled in his speech that his relationship with the department started when he first became West Orange High School’s varsity boys’ basketball coach 13 years ago, with recreation Director Bill Kehoe always willing to do anything he could to assist the team. So Cacciacarne decided to give back to the department in return, helping to run camps, coordinate travel basketball tryouts and organize the summer basketball leagues. That way the department received valuable volunteer aid while the coach had the chance to form bonds with future high school players.

Today Cacciacarne is no longer a coach at WOHS, having given up the position four years ago so he could have more time to coach his own children with the Randolph Recreation Department. But he still helps West Orange’s department by continuing to coordinate the travel team tryouts in addition to being a phone call away for anything else. That is partly because, as he told the Chronicle, he misses working with all of the great people at the department. In addition, he said he agrees with the department’s mission of getting children away from computers to connect with their peers in person.

“It provides an outlet for kids to get some exercise, run around, have some fun and be part of a team,” Cacciacarne said in a March 2 phone interview. “It provides opportunities for kids. And the West Orange Rec really goes above and beyond in what they are able to offer.”

Photos by Sean Quinn