It was Nov, 8, 1980, and the Belleville High football team had just defeated Seton Hall Prep, 34-8, in a dominant effort, in South Orange.
As a happy Belleville crowd headed to their cars on the campus of Seton Hall University, Canio Constantino would run by, then stopped on a dime, when he saw me, and ran over. "Well?" he said, clearly ecstatic, but always my toughest critic.
The "well" meant I better write something good, this time, about Belleville High football.
I always told Canio that the fact he read my articles meant the world to me. He'd pretend to get mad at me, but deep down, there was that smile, behind the tough exterior.
When Ken's football season had ended in 1980, I remember Canio coming over to me, at the football banquet, and handed me a picture of Ken, in his blue and gold #16 uniform, which Ken signed, thanking me for the coverage of the team.
It meant a lot, especially coming from Canio. Mr. Constantino was the epitome of the Belleville High father, during that generation. A no-nonsense man, who wanted nothing but the best for his wife and children.
You know the kind of dad I'm referring to, right? My friend John Apicella once told me about when his dad, Tom Apicella, Sr., got called to the principal's office to discuss something Johnny had done wrong in school.
"I'm sitting there, trying to tell my father that it wasn't my fault," Johnny recalled recently. "And my dad, with his arms folded, just looked at me and said 'I wouldn't be here if you hadn't done anything wrong.'"
The message was loud and clear, and needless to say, Johnny probably never got in trouble again.
But the legacy is strong.
And that's where I'm going. Kenny Constantino, AKA 'Kenny Gotz' and his sister, Kathy, have worked long and hard to honor their dad. The annual 'Duke Golf Classic' will be held on Sept. 24. For many years, it was held at Canio's favorite venue, Hendricks Field, in Belleville. Canio, known to his friends as 'The Duke', was a regular golfer at Hendricks.
This year, the tourney is headed to West Orange, at the Francis A. Byrne golf course.
"The tournament has received tremendous support from the Belleville community, and our Belleville family over the past 19 years," said Ken, who today is a very successful businessman. "With special thanks to our mom, Grace Constantino (a Belleville High graduate, as well) and our aunts, Angela Cuozzo-Zarro and the late Mildred (Mimi) Miele, another life-long Belleville resident, for their devotion to helping make the Duke Classic a very special day every year."
The tournament's theme continues to support 'Embrace Kids', which helps children with serious illnesses. And anyone who knew Canio knew full well his love of children, starting with his own kids and later, grandchildren.
"Thanks to the generosity of many of my Belleville classmates, teammates, coaches, teachers, friends and neighbors, we have donated nearly $400,000 to the Embrace Kids *Official* Foundation, which helps children and their families in their time of need. I’m proud to say that between 87-90% of each dollar donated goes directly to support services for the kids," said Ken.
This year has been difficult for the families of Embrace Kids, with over 70% of them losing either their primary or secondary source of income due to the impact of the pandemic.
Although the Duke Classic is a once a year event, the needs of the patients are ongoing, and the pressures are relentless on a family when their child has cancer, a blood disorder or other serious illness," said Ken. "Many of the illnesses are chronic/lifelong. There are increased expenses around the child’s healthcare. There is less time and resources for the other children and family members. Many of the families are single parent households that were already struggling before a devastating pediatric diagnosis."
There still slots available to play golf, or if can, a donation is always appreciated.
"If you can’t play in our event, please consider making a donation to help sustain the support we can offer," said Ken. At a minimum, please keep our families in your thoughts and prayers. Feel free to DM me with any questions, and thank you in advance"
You can learn more about Embrace Kids here. http://give.embracekids.org/sustain-our-families
Nearly 40 years after high school, Ken Constantino continues to give back to this community.
And somewhere, on a golf course that never ends, Canio is smiling.