Opportunity lost, but memories live on

DeMaio among those inducted into Elmwood Park Hall of Fame


Evan Mathai

PV Principal Tom DeMaio , along with the rest of the 1993 Elmwood Park football team, was recently inducted into the town Hall of Fame. Despite a 7-2 record, the team was unable to take part in the postseason after a scandal took place.

Jeremy Lesserson, Assistant Sports Editor

Back in 1993, the entirety of the Elmwood Park football team was told to attend a meeting in the school’s health room following their penultimate game of the season. The coach at the time, current Pascack Valley Principal Tom DeMaio, had to break news to his players: they were not allowed to take part in the postseason. 

He knew he was about to break the hearts of his student athletes, and knew that this would be a moment that would resonate with them for the rest of their lives.

“We went in front of an administrative law judge who basically said that no erectable harm was done by us not making the playoffs,” DeMaio said. “Which was a really bold statement to say. [And] to which I said, you should say that to the forty some kids that I had to go tell.”

Even though that season abruptly ended after a scandal, Pascack Valley Principal Tom DeMaio has been able to recently find some solace.

On Friday, Oct. 17, DeMaio, along with his entire team, was inducted into the Elmwood Park Town Hall of Fame.  

He was a first-year head coach of the Elmwood Park Crusaders football team in 1993, and the team finished the regular season with a 7-2 record, earning the fourth seed in the postseason. However, a scandal involving the now-closed Paterson Catholic High School forced DeMaio’s team to miss the playoffs entirely.

In Paterson Catholic’s 1993 game against Waldwick, it played an ineligible player. The player attended John F. Kennedy in Paterson, and illegally joined Paterson Catholic for this game. Kennedy reported it to the governing body of New Jersey high school sports, the NJSIAA. Later on, it was discovered found that the ineligible player participated in another game for Paterson Catholic, but under a different jersey number. The NJSIAA responded by revoking power points from Paterson Catholic.

Paterson Catholic’s loss in power points affected any team that played them: teams that beat Paterson Catholic lost power points while teams that lost to them gained power points. DeMaio’s team, who beat Paterson Catholic earlier that season, lost enough power points to slide from the fourth seed to the fifth seed, therefore missing the playoffs. Elmwood Park fell behind Pascack Hills by half a point.

DeMaio and Elmwood Park appealed to the NJSIAA, asking them to allow a six team playoff bracket. DeMaio proposed that his team play a first-round play-in game during the Thanksgiving weekend as the fifth seed against Pascack Hills. The NJSIAA and the PH coach refused. 

“I’m not trying to deny Pascack Hills an opportunity to play, but we also shouldn’t be penalized for doing nothing wrong,” DeMaio said. “We didn’t play an ineligible player, and we beat [Paterson Catholic]. So teams that lost to them were benefiting but teams that beat them [were] being penalized.”

However, DeMaio and his Crusaders were out luck and their season ended without a playoff appearance for the ninth consecutive year. 

The scandal went public and was prevalent in the news, with a mention in the New York Timesand more recently, in the Bergen Record.

“It’s just a shame that adults involved in all of this didn’t make accommodations to do what was right for kids,” DeMaio said. “Everybody looked at the scenario and said, ‘why are these kids getting penalized?’ And nobody would do the right thing for those kids.”

DeMaio was not present for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony due to an illness, but he has not forgotten about the kids he coached and the work that they put in throughout that season; he remains in contact with a few of the players. 

Three of the players, Danny Monte, Marc Czerepak, and Peter Jaquez, all of whom were present at the induction, vividly remember the times they had that season.  All of them remember the fun they had with the team, but still fail to understand why they couldn’t play a play-in game against Pascack Hills. 

“If they would’ve just given us that opportunity to play Pascack Hills in a one game playoff to see who gets in, I’m not talking about this story 25 years later,” Monte said. “That’s the way I look at it.”

They also remember their time with DeMaio. They recall him as a great coach, who made it a priority to satisfy his players. Examples of that include a team movie night that DeMaio led to see “Rudy”, and a weekly dress up tradition on game days, which was uncommon at the time.

“He was a player’s coach,” Czerepak said, who was a senior at the time. “He understood you as a player and he also understood you as a student, as a 17 and 18 year old. He wanted a team effort out of all of us. That’s one thing he always preached. Team, respect, respect for yourself.”

Monte, who was the starting safety, played football from the time he was 7 years old until he was 21. He played football at Trenton State College, now known as The College of New Jersey. Out of all of the coaches that he’s ever played for, he remembers DeMaio as the best.

“We knew by just the way he spoke to us, what he wanted out of us, we just knew he was going to make us better,” Jaquez said. “[But] I remember [the scandal] like it was yesterday…We will always have that emptiness that we will never be able to say that we won a state title.”

It is hard to ignore the scandal that devastated so many Elmwood Park coaches and athletes, but DeMaio, the Bergen County Coach of the year in 1993, was happy that his team got the chance to be honored. 

The opportunity to fight for a state championship was lost, but the memory lives on.

“We had a very good football team,” DeMaio said. “We could have won that whole thing. Unfortunately we were innocent bystanders in a whole mess up.”