Hall of Fame 2016

Ridgewood High School
Athletic Hall of Fame
Class of 2016

Richard BennettRichard Bennett, Coach: 
BOY'S SOCCER 1969-97,

When Richard Bennett applied for the boys soccer coach position, he was asked by the Athletic Director Dick Flectner if he thought he could win. He replied simply, yes. With 1021 wins later at Ridgewood High School, that simple response has certainly proven to be prophetic. During his 47 year coaching tenure, Richard has coached 4 varsity teams including boys' soccer (28 years), boys' golf (5 years), girls' basketball (13 years), and boys and girls bowling (17 and counting). The Ridgewood boys' soccer team garnered 387 wins, 7 counts titles and 3 state sectional titles. The girls' basketball team had 212 wins and 1 county title during that tenure. The bowling team has 325 wins and two county titles. The boys golf team had 97 wins and two county titles. 

In 1997, he was voted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the Bergen County Soccer Century Club in 2000 as one of the five original inductees. Most recently in 2016, he was inducted into the New Jersey Soccer Hall of Fame as well as the State's Golf Hall of Fame. 

Richard wasn't known only for coaching. In 1992, he was recognized as the top teacher in the state with the Outstanding Physical Education Teaching Award. He attended the National Conference in Washington DC of that year. The following year, he was nominated for the Disney Teachers Award as one of the top 3 Physical Education teachers in the United States. In 1988, he spent 21 days in Colorado participating in the Outward Bound program in Colorado. Using the principles he learned there, including trust, inner strength, and endurance beyond one's comfort zone, he was on the ground floor for bringing the project adventure program to Ridgewood High School for both students and adults. Richard was an innovator with his coaching as well. He was one of the first coaches to video his games and then watch them to discover his teams weaknesses. Many a Friday night was spent at his house as his soccer team would sit all around his living room eating homemade chocolate chip cookies and watching the games being played. Using the videos of the game, he would change his formations to match the talents of his team. He would go watch other teams play to find their strengths and would make adjustments to match them. While this is commonplace now, back in the 70's it wasn't. 

Richard's coaching skills, combined with his persistence and solid work ethic, are legendary. He took over the girls basketball team in 1976 in the middle of the season; the team went on to lose every single game. In his first game he was losing 50-2 to Paramus at halftime. Never one to back down from a challenge, he drew from his philosophy from soccer- always be sound defensively. He practiced without a basketball and taught his team how to play defense. The next time he played Paramus that season, they lost by only 15. The following season, the team won their first game in 2 years and proceeded to make the states. They made the states every year that he coached. 

When the bowling position opened in 1997, he jumped at the opportunity to coach the sport. He went to camps to learn how to be a bowling coach. He studied the correct way to throw a ball. Yet, he still kept his core values about how to be successful. Practice, hard work, and mental focus. Within 3 years, both the boys program and girls program had bowled to their highest averages in the history of the program. In 2004, the girls won the county tournament. 

Success has followed him where ever he has gone. Although he has adapted to the changing times, discipline has always been there. While the athletes may have changed, the understanding of what brings about success has not. Richard Bennett has been fortunate to have coached many great athletes and people, and they have been equally fortunate to have had him coach them. 


Jacob BrownJacob Brown, Coach:
GIRL'S TRACK & FIELD 1972-2015

In 1971 Jacob Brown graduated from Penn State University with a Masters Degree in Exercise Physiology. The self-described "farm kid" from a little town 22 miles from Pittsburgh traveled to a job fair in Detroit looking for his first full-time job. And thanks to Dave Marsh, he found one in Ridgewood, New Jersey. He never left.

"I knew nothing about Ridgewood and didn't even know where it was,'' Brown remembered nearly 45 years later. "I was going to teach and coach in high school for a few years and then go coach in college, where the "real" adventure was. What did I know?"

Did anyone realize what a career was about to start? Hardly. How can you predict that when Brown retired in the spring of 2015 he would be generally considered one of the greatest coaches of any sport in Bergen County and New Jersey history with records unlikely to ever be approached, no less broken.

Let's get those numbers out of the way right here.
In cross-country, a dual meet record over 43 years of 243-15 including a 22-year (that's YEAR) unbeaten streak; 35 league titles, 29 Bergen County group titles, 28 Bergen Meet of Champions titles (in just 37 years), a state record 22 sectional titles, the 1992 and 1999 State Meet of Champions titles and 16 appearances in the State Meet of Champions.
In outdoor track, 76 Bergen Meet of Champions winner and 15 state group champions, 16 Bergen group team titles, 15 league titles and 10 sectional crowns. And his 1988 Group 4 state champions placed in an astounding 11 of 14 events at the state championship and is considered one of the three best teams in New Jersey history.

But Jacob Brown's story is much more than the numbers.

Marsh, who had hired him as a teacher, knew he wanted to coach and after Brown coached freshman boys cross-country the first fall, with fellow Hall of Fame inductee and lifelong friend Larry Coyle, Marsh asked him to help out with Ridgewood's brand new girls track team, coached by a long-forgotten female teacher who didn't want the assignment.
"I introduce myself to her and she hands me the clipboard (with the names of the 17 girls on the team) and walks away,'' said Brown with a laugh in a 1975 interview on the New Jersey Milesplit website. "It was now my team.''

So Brown was left to teach all the events to an inexperienced but eager group of girls and try and figure out a schedule. So he called around and found programs at the Wayne high schools, Englewood, Paramus Catholic and Saddle Brook and put together a schedule.

The early years of girls track weren't always greeted sympathetically by entrenched boys coaches as Brown discovered one day at Montclair.

"We were having a meet and the coach was running practice on the track while it was going on,'' Brown remembers. "We nearly came to blows but cooler heads prevailed. Of course later we became friends and he ended up coaching girls and telling me how much easier it was to coach them!"

Along with Coyle, Brown was a pioneer in establishing and running meets, such as the Ridgewood Invitational, the first cross-country invitational open to girls in New Jersey which lasted from 1973 to 2011 and the Ridgewood Relays (now called the Pawlowski Relays) still a staple of the spring schedule. 

His first decade at Ridgewood saw Brown coaching all three seasons. But sensing a loss of enthusiasm with the year-round grind, he gave up winter track in 1982, which helped fan his enthusiasm for the other two seasons for the rest of his career.

In 1983 his girls four mile team set a national high school record that lasted for 17 years. His 1975 4-x-880 team also held a national mark. He was named the Honorary High School Girls Referee at the Penn Relays in 2005 and was named the Mike Byrnes National Coach of the Year by the National Scholastic Sports Foundation in 2010.

But perhaps his most outstanding qualification was his almost uncanny ability to keep cross-country runners on the team even with no chance of running varsity races in a sport whose slogan often is "Our Sport is Your Sport's Punishment."

"Bonding is sometimes a hokey overused word but we worked on that,'' said Brown. "The kids became part of the gang and wanted to stay part of the gang."

For more than 40 years Jacob Brown was the leader of the gang and what a gang it was.

Larry CoyleLarry Coyle, Coach:

He might have achieved coaching and teaching greatness at Brandeis High School in New York City, or at the American school in Alexandria Egypt or in Taiwan. 

But a potential teachers strike and a coaching opening led Larry Coyle to Ridgewood in 1968 and when he left coaching 29 years later, both parties were very happy that their paths had crossed.

Coyle, who passed away in August, 2015, retired after the 1997 cross-country season, and even two decades later, his influence and success have been hard to approach.

In his 29 years as the Maroons' cross-country coach, Ridgewood won 15 league and divisional titles in the Northern New Jersey Interscholastic League, 12 Bergen Group 4 titles, 10 sectional Group 4 titles, and seven Bergen Meet of Champions titles. Ridgewood won the 1991 and 1992 State Group 4 championships, the only time a Bergen County team has gone back-to-back in the 70-year history of the group. Ridgewood also finished in the top five of the State Meet of Champions five times.

The soft-spoken (most of the time) Coyle ran track at Mount St. Michael's High School in the Bronx and at Iona before coming to Ridgewood to teach English. The next year, the Ridgewood principal remembered  that Coyle had talked about track in his initial interview and Larry quickly was hired as the school's cross-country, indoor and outdoor track coach. He coached all three seasons for 11 years, starting the indoor program. While the Maroons didn't win any major team titles in indoor and outdoor track, Coyle coached 1972 Group 4 indoor two mile champ Bruce Mason and 1975 Group 4 outdoor 330 yard intermediate hurdles champ Parke Muth. Dropping from the head coaching ranks in indoor and outdoor track and field, Larry stayed on as the boy's cross-country coach with extraordinary success.

"In some ways, cross-country is the most enjoyable season, which is why I kept doing it after I gave up track. In some ways it's the simplest and the easiest because everyone's running the same event but it's also the purest high school sport,'' Coyle said in a 1997 interview upon his retirement from coaching.

Consistency was the hallmark of Coyle teams. They qualified for 24 of the 25 Bergen Meet of Champions races and finished in the top four the last 19 times they qualified, winning in 1978, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1991, 1995 and 1996. The Maroons also qualified for 24 out of the last 25 state group 4 championships during Coyle's reign, with 10 runners-up finishes and three third place finishes in addition to the 10 titles.

And his contributions went beyond simply coaching track and cross-country. Along with fellow Ridgewood Hall of Fame inductee Jacob Brown and Mike Glynn, he started and co-directed the Ridgewood Winter Games, a pioneering indoor track meet at Rockland Community College, which began in the 1970s and the season opening Ridgewood Relays, now known as the Pawlowski Relays, in the spring. These two events, still going strong today, are important stops on the area's Indoor and Outdoor Track schedule.

Coyle is one of the great championship coaches in Ridgewood and Bergen County history, and even better than that, he was one of the finest gentlemen and teachers you'd ever hope to meet.

Toshiko D'EliaToshiko d'Elia
SPECIAL CONTRIBUTOR (Runner, Survivor, and Inspiration to All)

Toshiko Kishimoto d’Elia grew up amid the chaos and ravages of post-war Japan and went on to become a pioneer in women’s running; setting numerous American and World records at every age division and distance. In that journey she touched everyone she met.

Toshi was born in 1930 in Kyoto, into one of Japan’s most powerful families, who started the steel industry in Japan. Coming from wealth in no way deterred her fierce desire to succeed on her own. “After the war, we all starved” she said. “Toshiko would stand on food lines all day and bring home a cucumber to feed a family of six. She said" I dreamed of being a bird so I could fly away.” 

Away she flew! Against her father’s wishes, who claimed he would rather spend money on a new horse than educating a woman, she came to the United Sates in 1951 accepting a Fulbright Scholarship to study audiology. She went on to teach deaf children at New York School for the Deaf in White Plains, NY for 37 years. In 1960 She married Manfred d’Elia, and with her daughter, Erica, started a long and fulfilling life in the village of Ridgewood, NJ.

The d’Elia family were avid outdoors people and accomplished climbers and hikers. On one climb up Mt Rainier, Toshiko was told by the guide that she wasn’t allowed to summit because of her lack of conditioning, and was ordered to descend. The news, while devastating at the time, was yet another door Toshi flew through to discover a new passion…running. When she returned home from Mt Ranier so dejected, her daughter, Erica, suggested she try jogging to give her a base of fitness. Before long, 1 mile turned into 3, which then turned into 5 and more a day. Erica tricked her mom into her 1st race pleading with her to enter so that her good friend wouldn’t finish last. “Just follow us…you’ll be fine!” Erica won the race, her friend finished 2nd and everyone was shocked to see that Toshi did indeed follow them and finished 3rd, beating hundreds of high school and college female runners. Now she was hooked.

Toshi went on to train seriously and exploded onto the running scene. She qualified for the prestigious Boston Marathon “by accident” accompanying a friend as a training run and deciding halfway to go ahead and finish. She ran her first Boston marathon in 3:15 and followed up that Fall being the 3rd overall woman finisher in New York City Marathon in 3:08. When race director Fred Lebow announced her age of 47 years old, the crowd roared and a masters star was born. In 1980 d’Elia went on to become the first woman over 50 years to break 3 hours in the marathon in Glasgow Scotland with a time of 2:57:25. She was named Runner of the Year by Runner;s World Magazine and honored with the Paavo Nurmi Award. The NY Road Runners Club honored Toshi as the coveted Runner of the Year 27 out of 30 years from the 1970-90’s. She was also the first woman over 65 to run a sub-7:00 mile indoors, following this achievement into her 70’s running 6:47 for 1500 meters, and world records from the 800 meters to the marathon. She was a fixture at The 5th Avenue Mile, was featured in Sports Illustrated, had a book and movie “Running On”, and is the first thing you see when entering the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.As Mary Wittenburg, President of NYRRC, said “Toshi is our Queen of the Roads..she represents the best of running.”

During this time Toshi and Fred wanted to share their newfound love of running to their Ridgewood friends, and founded the North Jersey Master’s Running Club. Their infectious spirit to be fit and have fun at the same time drew many people to the club and resulted in the start of the Ridgewood Memorial Day Run. RHS’s Dave Marsh was one of those people  who caught Toshi’s fever, and introduced the Fitness Center to the high school. Also during that time, Toshi discovered she had cervical cancer, but was fierce in her determination to not allow a disease to define or limit her. Four  months after cancer surgery, she finished the Boston Marathon in 3:09.

After every race, the first thing Toshi did was to thank her feet. Then she’d have a beer. She viewed running as a cherished friendship. “I view running as a tool to help me get through life, so I do everything I can to nurture it, take care of it, appreciate it. I want to hold onto my friend for as long as I live.” Toshi continued to do that until one month before she passed away in 2014. She will forever be remembered as an inspiration to those of us who were lucky enough to know her.

Maureen GriecoMaureen Grieco

In his article for "The Record"  on January 6, 2015 announcing Maureen Grieco's retirement from her position in the athletic department at Ridgewood High School, sports writer Darren Cooper  wrote   "Maureen Grieco never won a championship for Ridgewood. She didn't coach. She didn't play sports.      And the school probably won't put her name in the gym now that she is retired.

But after twenty five and a half years as the schools administrative assistant to the athletic director, her contributions were undeniable." All true statements ,but  we now honor Maureen's outstanding accomplishments for  RHS athletics by putting her name up along the main gymnasium wall with all the other inductees to the Ridgewood High School Athletic Hall of Fame making her one of the all time Maroon and White greats.

Working for six athletic directors for close to twenty six years (Dave Vanderbush, Garland Allen, Walt Hampson, Tom Zaccone, Greg McDonald and Nick Scerbo) Maureen was adaptable to the many differences each brought to the job. Each of these men knew they had an indispensable resource with Maureen that allowed for them to function in as sane a manner that a person in that position could possibly expect.  She was able to handle each change professionally and skillfully mentored each new AD into a comfort zone after the initial shock of a huge learning curve.

Maureen's responsibilities included scheduling games, officials and transportation. She also confirmed previously made schedules and notified  all parties of changes in a timely manner. This included rescheduling of transportation, officials and facilities. She was responsible for disseminating  information to and communicating with 25 head coaches, 35 assistant coaches for 27 sports and 75 teams. All the while she kept a smile and treated everyone with dignity and often times  grace under fire! Further in her job description it is noted she provided administrative support for each sport including ordering equipment, athletic physicals, parental permission slips, eligibility records, athletic letters,  preparation for awards dinners and typing recommendations for student athletes presented to her by her coaches. Her position also required regular communication with other districts AD's and Athletic Administrators, parent booster groups, the press and general  public. She needed knowledge of the NJSIAA regulations especially in the area of eligibility and transfers and the completion and filing of regular NJSIAA reports.  Most importantly her job required that she make immediate decisions in regard to the daily functioning of the athletic department in the absence of the athletic director. Maureen was professional and knew the impact her decisions would have on everyone concerned with athletics on a daily basis. She would never make unilateral decisions and always trusted her coaches to lend a helping hand.

Each year the job grew. There were new computer programs, with several software systems, night games, freshman and JV tournaments, new field scheduling practices,  extended work schedules and working gates at games. Each time the job changed , like a great athlete or coach Maureen was able to adapt her game to the circumstance. Eventually along with Nick Scerbo she also absorbed the duties of the secretary to the Wellness dept. and like every great athlete, Maureen knew when it was time to step away from the game. An all time great we salute Maureen's invaluable contributions to RHS athletics  for 25 1/2 years with her induction into the Ridgewood High School Athletic Hall of Fame.