NUTLEY, NJ - Nutley, NJ - A few miles south, Villanova and Notre Dame battled in a classic at the Prudential Center. On this Saturday afternoon, officiating duty called with two games in Nutley.
Sixth grade girls: West Essex 25, Nutley 18
The clock said 1:36 remaining. Five points separated the two teams. If the final ninety-six seconds spelled overtime, yours truly might have followed the lead of Question Mark and the Mysterians, crying ‘ninety six tear.’ It was that type of game.
The score was knotted 1-1 after the first quarter. Again full court pressure, which the kids were allowed to do by Suburban League rules, reared its ugly head. West Essex held a 10-6 halftime lead. My assignor Rich gave me a 3:00 in the rec center here, followed by 4:30 a mile up the road at Walker School. The first half, featuring 23 fouls, took 45 minutes to play. At the half I texted Rich with the news and asked if he still wanted me to go to Walker. He replied, “better hurry up.” Wonderful advice.
The second game would be with Hall of Famer and excellent official Carol Blazejowski. The site manager at Rec, a former soccer officiating partner of mine, had Carol’s phone number and reached out to her. Following the third quarter Jim, the managers, told me Carol relayed a message for me not to worry. She can start the game alone if need be. A tremendous scorer back in the day, Carol just handed me one beautiful assist.
Nutley actually took some pressure off and zoned. West Essex, playing half court offensively, wound up running some nice zone offense. Still, those moments were fleeting as another bump-and-grind, foul-filled half prevailed. West Essex was able to maintain that five-point lead and close out the contest. Another one where the scoreboard proclaimed West Essex the winner, but neither team came out ahead in the area of learning fundamentals and half court execution.
Seventh grade girls: Nutley 46, Caldwell 14
I drive carefully to Walker because Carol knows the situation. I get in the gym, she waves hello and I notice only three minutes are gone. Nutley is up 10-0, Joyce is coaching the host team. Joyce is Joyce Bukowiec, who played for Theresa Grentz at Rutgers, late seventies- early eighties. She is an excellent coach who knows the game.
Even without a pregame, Carol and I (we have worked together a few times) are on the same page. We are holding the whistle seeing if the kids can play through things before making a foul call. Nutley gets out to a 19-0 lead and Joyce pulls off the press for the day.
Coaching is evident, not just by the Nutley players looking back door off high post plays or finding cutters in transition. The simple fundamental defensive stance the Nutley team displays is also testament to Joyce’s work. The Nutley players simply play with confidence and purpose as Caldwell struggles.
During timeouts Carol and I discuss the game briefly but other items as well. I tell her I am headed to cover Fordham-St. John’s women on Tuesday she says, “please give my best to Stephanie (Fordham coach Gaitley), you know she played for Harry (Perretta) at Villanova.” I mentioned Pat Coyle of Saint Peter’s got a nice win over Marist. “They got smoked by South Carolina,” Carol said, “but I give them credit, Patty will play anyone.” Finally, late game with the score 41-10, I joke Mel (Greenberg, the Guru) should be covering this. Again, Carol notes how she must reach out to Mel soon.
Game over. I talk a little with Joyce, who said jokingly she didn’t play for C. Vivian Stringer so why is she running ‘55 press.’ “Actually it is a ‘54’,” she replied. She mentioned how I am against pressure on lower levels. “Yes,” I said,” but in your game it wasn’t bad. Your kids know what they are doing and you knew when to pull it off.” Discussing my Fordham trip, Joyce also adds her regards for Stephanie. Joyce spoke of the ‘old school’ players and coaches and how much they did what they do for a very simple and pure love of the game. On the way out she also said she records every UConn game and studies the tapes with a fervent passion. “What Geno (Auriemma) does is amazing,” she said. “That is basketball at its best.”
Final note: Turns out Joyce caught some of our sixth grade game before heading to coach. “One to one after a quarter,” she said. “Awful.” Problem here is many coaches are well-meaning parents and/or volunteers who may know very little about the game. “I offered to do coaches clinics with few if any ones interested,” Joyce said.
The coaches are unpaid. Regardless, if you are coaching your son or daughter and are entrusted with the team, wouldn’t you want to learn what you can to do it right? Evidently, that is not always the case.
Carol Blazejowski before the start of the second half:
Joyce Bukowiec watching her team warm up before the second half: