West Orange has an outstanding sports tradition, producing athletes who have won Olympic gold, excelled in the pros, and been honored with state and regional awards.
Behind those home-grown stars are also generations of West Orange kids who enjoyed playing in town leagues and recreation programs while developing skills that have served them later in life.
Last month I attended the 36th Annual West Orange Old Timer’s Day & Hall of Fame Ceremony at Colgate Field.
On Friday, Oct. 19, the West Orange Police Athletic League (PAL) marks its 50th anniversary at a dinner-dance at Mayfair Farms. These two events not only celebrate past accomplishments but should also energize the community to maintain its commitment to instilling the values of sportsmanship, excellence and fair play in our children through youth sports.
On an early September afternoon, as the blazing sun fought to keep impending thunderclouds at bay, a group of graying men that included Mayor Robert Parisi turned back the clock and played two spirited innings of baseball on the Colgate diamond.
Just prior, nine individuals had been inducted into the West Orange Hall of Fame. Their reminisces about playing sports and activities at Colgate Park rekindled personal memories of spending lazy afternoons swinging on the park’s wide, metal swings; signing-up and waiting patiently for an opportunity to play tennis on a real court; and the many times I watched friends and relatives field grounders on the sandy infield.
West Orange Old Timer’s Day was first held in 1977 due to the vision and commitment of the event's founder, Joe Byrne.
The Hall of Fame roster is a Who’s Who of the standouts and supporters of West Orange athletics for the past 80 years. Close to 300 men and women have been recognized as “Colgate Kids,” including my father, Joe Silvestri, in 1996.
To qualify as an “old-timer,” one must be at least 50 years old, which meant that along with a contemporary of my dad, 2012 honorees included some classmates of my little brother!
Congratulations to this year’s inductees: Tom Barret, Kevin Byrne, Frank “Bo” Ench, Kathy Flynn, Bill Boland, Richie Collabelli, Brian Ennis, Danny Parisi and Larry Vittoria. And special thanks to John Healy and the Old Timer’s Day Committee, with the help of Bill Kehoe and the Recreation Department, who perpetuate this time-honored tradition.
West Orange PAL
Colgate is one of the home fields for my son Paul’s travel team. But where Paul feels most comfortable is on the mound of the PAL Field on Prospect Place. After playing Mountain Top League T-Ball and Coach-Pitch (not to mention several years of soccer and a year of basketball), Paul moved to PAL four years ago, becoming part of the latest crop of young athletes to hone their skills in the league. Since 1962, hundreds of PAL volunteers have served thousands of kids through its baseball, football and cheerleading programs. Many more have served similarly in MTL.
PAL, a non-profit organization, has come a long way since its inception, when baseball teams took their names from Major League clubs and games were played on the Edison Junior High School field. All four of my brothers played PAL, and they still wax nostalgically of those days.
My brother Bob not only recalls playing on the “rocky” field at Edison where fielding a grounder was an adventure, but also his excitement at the opening of the new PAL field (circa 1964) that was situated on donated land right behind the home of his best friend, Danny Tutalo.
"I remember proudly helping remove rocks from the field while it was under construction,” he said. “The field was state-of-the-art for the time, with actual fences, dugouts and an electric scoreboard. It was really great being able to play on that field as a young kid.”
Most memorable to my brother Ralph was the season he played second base as a 10-year-old but only got one hit. Some unusual team names from local business sponsors, such “Children’s Hour” and “Roberts TV,” was what stayed with my brother Joe.
The people are what John, my youngest brother, speaks most about when recalling his PAL days in the 1970s. He fondly remembers his coach Rodger Blind (presently Millburn High School’s Boys Basketball coach) and the late Vinnie Albanese, whom he referred to as “Mr. PAL.” Albanese joined the PAL administration in the early ‘60s, and until nearly the day of his recent passing, he was Mr. PAL, still attending many games and giving the boys – my son included – encouraging words.
John also played football for the Mustangs and was a member of the team that traveled to Florida where many got sick with food poisoning during the train ride back. While everyone seems to remember that notorious event, the teams of that era were actually some of the best ever fielded in West Orange. Led by Coaches Palidino, Maglione, Casalino, Parisi and Ench, the Mustangs hosted – and bested -- teams from Massachusetts, Ohio, Florida and Nebraska in their annual “Edison Bowl.” The 1976 varsity team was undefeated and unscored upon.
During the 1980s, when West Orange teams continued their dominance, many of the current coaches began their tenure, lending their knowledge and expertise to the youth even to this day.
The PAL's community-oriented program helps build respect and honor in youth and promotes the family unit. Volunteers tend to help out for years beyond their kids. Asked why, they usually respond because the PAL gave so much to their family, they want to give back and ensure the next generation has the same benefits.
PAL’s 50th Anniversary Dinner-Dance at Mayfair Farms promises to be a great affair.
If you’d like to join in the celebration, please visit the PAL website for more information. Also, feel free to share your own memories about the PAL and Colgate Field in the Comments section.