BEREKELEY HEIGHTS – Chris Roof has been filling out the lineup cards for the Gov. Livingston baseball team for quite a while – 18 seasons in fact.
Despite the prominent program he has been instrumental in building for the Highlanders, Roof is mostly reflective on something else besides the wins and losses, sectional crowns and county championships.
“Those are all really nice accomplishments for our program,” Roof said, “but it’s really the relationships with all of your players, especially when they’ve moved on from high school, and your coaches. Those relationships mean the most.”
Roof, who completed his 18th season as skipper at Gov. Livingston, has compiled 369 career victories; won five NJSIAA Sectional championships, two state titles, and a pair of Union County Tournament crowns in his tenure.
Roof has made the most of his time at his alma mater since he took over the Highlanders in the fall of 2003.
His move into commanding the Gov. Livingston dugout wasn’t a sure thing for Roof 18 years ago. He had been the head coach at Millburn for three seasons beginning in 2001 and was admittedly quite content running the program at the Essex County school.
“Bill Howard, my old mentor and baseball coach at Gov. Livingston, became the athletic director,” Roof recalled, “and all of a sudden that opened up a teaching position and the baseball position. People were telling me to take it, but I said no at first.
“But after thinking about it, it was really a no-brainer for me to be able to teach and coach at my hometown, where I grew up. It was the best decision I ever made.”
For that consistent success at Gov. Livingston, guiding the Berkeley Heights school to elite status among Group 2 clubs in New Jersey, on the diamonds around Union County and the state, Roof was rewarded this past fall and will be inducted into the Union County Baseball Hall of Fame on Feb. 10.
“It’s pretty cool,” Roof said of the honor. “People who know me and know my coaches -- I believe they know we put a lot of time and effort into our program. But it’s worth it. We’ve been able to have a pretty nice run and it’s always nice to be recognized and realize our program is well-respected. I’m pretty honored.”
Roof is also quick to point out others who have been a big influence along the way on his own career – like Howard, Jerry Britt (longtime baseball and softball coach at Gov. Livingston); Rick Iacono and Steve Petrozelli (longtime wrestling and basketball coaches, respectively, both longtime softball coaches); former Montclair State teammate Ralph Yezza; and former Linden baseball coach Dan Mondelli. Roof and Yezza played at Montclair from 1993-96 and were on the school’s National Championship squad.
During his tenure, Roof has sent over 20 players on to Division 1 baseball programs; and most likely over 100 when it comes to players who went to perform at some college level. He bestows much credit to his staff, like pitching coach Matt Rago, a 2008 Gov. Livingston graduate, who has been the pitching coach for the past five seasons; and former player Keith Skinner.
One elusive title that had escaped the Highlanders, who posted a 22-4-1 record and marched to the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 2 semifinal (8-3 loss to Metuchen) last spring, was a UCT title. Roof, who was also a 1,000-point scorer on the basketball court for Gov. Livingston, was able to guide his squad to its first county crown in 2016.
“Yeah, that was always a bugaboo for us,” said Roof. “We couldn’t win the county tournament championship. But now we’ve been able to win two of the last three years. That was nice.”
Roof also pointed to his younger brother, Mike, who guided the Lady Highlanders girls soccer team to the NJSIAA Group 2 state championship last fall – the program’s first since 1985.
“That was something,” said Chris Roof. “I’m very proud of what he and his players accomplished. That was special.”
As for reflecting on his time thus far guiding the Highlanders program, Roof is still motivated.
“It’s still fun, still exciting,” he said. “To put the uniform on is still great and we are excited for next season. In the end as a coach you have to do what is right and keep your players’ best interests at heart all the time. That’s the bottom line. Be honest with your players and they will always respect that.”