Bloomfield female athletics have rich history as Title IX celebrates 50th anniversary

Annabel Padilla celebrates a goal with her teammates for the Bloomfield girls soccer team in a game in 2002.
Bloomfield players Sarah Prezioso, left, and Savannah Aballo, middle, share a laugh as Bloomfield head coach Bob Mayer walks with them on the field during a softball game in the 2010 season.

BLOOMFIED — Over the past half-century, there have been great teams and athletes when it comes to female sports, whether it’s on the high school, college or professional level.

All that was made possible in part thanks to the congressional passage of Title IX on June 23, 1972. In the words of the U.S. Department of Education, “Title IX protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance.” 

Because of Title IX, opportunities for female athletics blossomed. 

In the last 50 years, Bloomfield has seen great female athletes and teams.

Bob Mayer, the Bloomfield High School softball head coach since 1989, reflected on the meaning of Title IX. Mayer was also the BHS girls soccer head coach for many years. He retired as a physical education teacher in the district last year.

Mayer recalled that, before Title IX, gym classes were separated by boys and girls.

“It was very interesting in the beginning,” said Mayer, referring to when Title IX was passed. “It helped the girls that were into sports, because they got to play at a higher level. It allowed the girls not to be embarrassed about being good athletically.”

Mayer has coached outstanding players in softball and soccer. Among them were Laura Leacy (Class of 1990) in both sports, Sarah Prezioso (Class of 2010) and Kristen Gengaro (Class of 1996) in softball, and Kim Luu (Class of 1991) in soccer. Leacy also lettered in basketball.

Prezioso went on to star at Temple University, where she holds several program records, including hits (224), home runs (36) and stolen bases (62). She later played professionally for the Pennsylvania Rebellion of the National Pro Fastpitch league for two seasons, in 2014 and 2015. After serving as an assistant coach at Rutgers–Newark and Kean University, Prezioso is currently the interim head coach at Division I La Salle University in Philadelphia, Pa. 

The Bloomfield softball team played in the first Essex County Tournament championship game in 1978, dropping a tough 2-1 decision to Caldwell.

George Middleton, the former longtime BHS athletic director, recalled how girls were excited to play sports at Bloomfield after Title IX was passed. At the time, he was the supervisor of physical education.

“The girls were all fired up,” said Middletown, who was the BHS athletic director for 18 years until his retirement in 2005. “The girls were very excited to have the opportunity to participate in a varsity sport and win letters like the boys and win all-county and all-league and all-area. We were fairly successful with the girls (programs). Basketball started off slowly, and then Jim White took over and it exploded. The first year he took over, they went to the county finals and had quite a long run of successes, and softball did very well also.

“Bloomfield worked very hard at making sure the girls got the same things as the boys did,” added Middleton. “If the boys played 18 games, the girls played 18 games. The schedule was very similar. They played the same amount of night games. If the boys played a couple of night soccer games at Foley, the girls played the same number of night games.”

Karen Marzulli arrived at BHS as a freshman in 1971. After Title IX was passed, she took it upon herself to help start the field hockey program at BHS. She got permission from then–athletic director Joe Bogusz to start the program, found a coach in Peg Dubois, and called all the surrounding schools that had a field hockey program. She even arranged for transportation for the team to practices and games. The team, with Marzulli and Peg Kunz leading the way as captains, played in their gym uniforms. Still, they managed to have a great season and lost just one game in their first year. The program unfortunately does not exist anymore.

The Bloomfield Girls Athletic League, formed in 1984, was a big supporter of girls sports at Bloomfield High School. Raymond McCarthy, who served as Bloomfield mayor from 2002 to 2014, was the president of the organization, and his wife, Janet, was one of the many mothers who worked behind the scenes and raised a lot of money for BHS female sports programs.

“We went door to door, me and the other mothers,” said Janet McCarthy. With the money raised, “we sent the girls to camps,” she added. “We gave them dinners, we bought the girls (varsity) jackets, various things. Whatever they needed, they got from us.

“At the time, the boys had several parent organizations, like the Fifth Quarter Club, and every sport had a representation from the parents,” Janet McCarthy continued. “None of the girls leagues had any representation. They were getting cut short. They had no dinners, nothing. They were getting no recognition. That’s when Sandy (Vecchione), who was a phys ed teacher at the time, brought it to our attention, and she came up with the idea of this girls athletic association, and it just absolutely took off. Parents were totally involved with it. They loved the idea, and it escalated. We had some super athletes and we were doing very well in some sports, like volleyball, basketball, but nobody knew about it, and that’s why we did it.”

The Girls Athletic League also ran the concession stands at the BHS home football games, raising more than $200,000.

Raymond McCarthy gave his wife and the other mothers much credit. “The mothers were the face of the organization,” he said. “I was the one who made special appointments with people and things like that to get money. But (the mothers) were front and center.”

To the McCarthys, female sports were important.

“We thought it was the most important thing in the world,” Raymond McCarthy added. “We had a son who was a year older than our oldest daughter at that time, who was playing football and baseball, and one of the problems was, they were getting everything, like dinners and jackets. We felt (girls) were not getting what they needed. I have two daughters. All of our friends had daughters who were playing sports, and we thought it was just not the same thing. I am a high school football official, and I was a baseball and softball umpire, so I can see on a firsthand basis that girls did not get recognition and they didn’t get the money.”