By Andy Loigu
The show must go on.
Mother Nature doused Hackettstown with a gully washer of a rainstorm on Saturday. However, like good postal carriers, Hackettstown High School Athletic Director Bobby Grauso and retired boys soccer coach Gary Thomas delivered the goods, anyway. The dedication of the soccer field at HHS, renamed Gary Thomas Field to honor Thomas’ coaching legacy, went on as scheduled.
And, the Tigers won the soccer game that followed, to boot.
The inclement weather did not stop a large group of boosters and die-hards from attending.
It may have been meant to be, since Thomas spent most of his adult life coaching up a storm at Hackettstown High. In his last game as head coach, last season, the Tigers won their second state championship under Thomas, completing a sensational 24-1 season. In 30 years his teams garnered 354 wins, a Warren County record.
Thomas earned Coach of the Year awards nine times. His teams won 10 conference championships, five county tournament championships, reached the sectional final seven times and were state champions twice, in 2001 in Group Three and last year in Group Two.
“I was overcome when I got up to the podium to speak,” Thomas said. “Seeing all those people who I’ve been associated with, through the years. That got me emotional. It was so nice to see such a turnout of former players, assistant coaches, and old friends.”
Grauso read from his rain-soaked notes as he paid tribute to Thomas.
“His accomplishments reflect the way he’s conducted himself through 41 years of coaching and 38 years of teaching,” Grauso told the audience alongside the soccer field.
Grauso spoke about the days in 1974 when Gary Hart started the boys program with Thomas as his assistant. “Then, after 10 years, they switched roles. Gary Thomas became the only person on the planet to win the championships of the Delaware River Conference, the Skyland Conference, and the Northwest Jersey Athletic Conference,” Grauso said.
A sign reading “Welcome to Gary Thomas Field,” was unveiled at the field entrance.
“It’s not the will to win, but the will to prepare to win that makes the difference,” a favorite Thomas quotation, is posted on the sign, along with his notable coaching accomplishments.
Although he has retired from teaching and coaching, Thomas is still involved with the Hackettstown boys soccer program, helping new head coach Matt DiMartini by scouting. “It’s something to do,” Thomas said with his usual understated modesty.
“I’m still involved with the program, but scouting is much less stressful than being the head coach,” Thomas added.
“The head coach spends so much time planning the practices. There are many methodologies by which different teams play and there are many things that need to be done to counter them,” Thomas said. “Since you can’t ask players to do something in a game that they have not practiced, you have a great many details to organize so you will maximize the time you spend practicing.”
Thomas said the program is in good hands with DiMartini. “He was a fine assistant for several years and he’s ready,” Thomas said.
DiMartini got career win number one in the varsity game that followed the ceremonies. In the season opener for both teams, the Tigers defeated Hopatcong 4-1.
Aaron Maciak scored a three-goal “hat trick” for the Tigers. Dennison Blanco also scored. Tiger assists were contributed by Zach Lapooh, Justin Morris-Morano, and Lucas Andrusin.
A rain-soaked football game completed the day and evening’s sports activities at Hackettstown High School.
Coach C.J. Robinson’s third season of mentoring Tiger football may be a charm, as a strong senior group shows signs that this can be a winning season.
Mike Castellano and Matt O’Brien each scored a pair of touchdowns to lead Hackettstown to a 29-0 shutout win over visiting Whippany Park in wet and wild conditions at Morrison Stadium on Saturday evening.
It was the opening game of the season for both teams.
If not for the artificial surface field, the game would have been an all-time mudbath.