WEST ORANGE, NJ - The West Orange Recreation Department yearly Awards celebration recognized three individuals whose contributions to athletics in West Orange have impacted generations of children. Paul Petigrow, Chaim Ratki, and Billy Williams were feted at a luncheon at the Toby Katz Civic Center in Degnan Park on Feb. 22 by residents across sports, political and community spectrums.
The good-natured awards presentation followed a catered luncheon enjoyed by several township notables, including Mayor Robert Parisi and Councilpersons Patti Spango, Vic Cirilo, Sue McCartney and Jerry Guarino, West Orange Interim Superintendent Jim O'Neill and Board of Education members Michelle Casalino, Laura Lab, Ron Charles, Mark Robertson, and board attorney Steve Christiano, along with trustees and coaches of the Mountaintop and Police Athletic Leagues.
Master of Ceremonies, West Orange Rec Director Bill Kehoe, welcomed the enthuiastic crowd, many of whom have lived in town their whole lives and participated in Rec, MTL and PAL programs as kids and volunteered as their own children wrestled, played baseball, football, soccer and more.
Michelle Casalino, long-time West Orange Board of Education member, introduced Paul Petigrow, who was recognized for the impact he made to the wrestling program in West Orange from Rec through the high school. "From our years at Redwood, to the ASAP (Athletic Students for Academic Proficiency) at the high school, Paul has always been there for our kids," noted Casalino.
Petigrow, a WOBOE board member for 12 years, also had sons that participated in wrestling. "When I started on the board in 2000, the wrestling program was weak. There was no integration between the Rec programs, middle school, or high school programs," said Petigrow. He was instrumental in the creation of a wrestling room at the high school and provision of space at the middle school level.
In 2004, the West Orange High School wrestling coach resigned, and, as Petigrow recalls, they received a resume from an applicant who emphatically "said they wanted to integrate the Rec, middle school, and high school wrestling programs." That applicant was Stephan Zichella, who has been the WOHS Wrestling Coach since that time. "The high school wrestling program has 48 kids this year alone," said Petigrow. "We needed the right people and the right facilities, and we've got them."
Petigrow retired from the BOE last year, and is currently the President of the West Orange Chamber of Commerce.
Anne-Sophie Whitehead, Treasurer of the Mountain Top League, introduced Chaim Ratki, an MTL coach, trustee, commissioner, "enforcer" on the field, and MTL fund raiser since 1994. "Chaim has always been a doer," said Whitehead, "and he's still an advisor after 20 years."
Ratki, in a disarmingly charming way, noted, "Thanks... but this is not just my award. It's a team award."
Gerry Drappi, a former Rec Award recipient, introduced Jimmy Williams, who not only worked for the township's Department of Public Works for 29 years, but was involved with the PAL organization as well. "Jimmy was instrumental in the renovation of the Pal field, installation of the lights, the parking lot, and the Pal Golf yearly fundraiser, which has raised $250,000 for PAL," said Drappi.
"Jimmy coached football and baseball and also spearheads activities for special needs kids with the Orange Elks. He has always worked behind the scenes," he continued.
Williams said, "I was eight years old from the Valley when my parents put me in PAL baseball and football. Then I coached my own kids in baseball and football."
"Vince Albanese and Dan Parisi were my mentors," Williams continued. "They taught me values. The PAL gets criticized sometimes, but it's easy to criticize and harder to 'do'."
The recipients' family and friends were also present to celebrate the well-deserved awards of West Orange residents that represent the heart and soul of the West Orange sports community.