Forty years ago, Edy Aulisi was wearing the Blue and Gold of Belleville High, playing quarterback for the football team, guard on the basketball squad and as a standout pitcher on the baseball team.
In addition to being a stalwart athlete, Aulisi also excelled in the classroom, so much so that he was the valedictorian for Belleville High's Class of 1980.
The son of Mildred and the late Joseph Aulisi, Edy grew up with four older sisters, Donna, Annie, Flora and Barbara and a younger sister, Lisa.
He would take that extraordinary talent as a student-athlete, to Princeton University, where he began his quest to become a neurosurgeon while playing four years of baseball, including being a team captain in 1984, and two seasons on the football team.
After graduating from Princeton, in 1984, Aulisi would go on to medical school at George Washington University, in Washington, DC.
Four decades removed from his days at Belleville High, Dr. Edward Aulisi is a renown neurologist, serving as Chairman of Neurosurgery at MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in downtown Washington, DC. A husband and father of three, Aulisi and his medical team made history on June 10, 2020, performing the first spinal surgery, in the nation, using Brainlab's Cirq Robotics.
"It's exciting technology, and I'm proud to be chosen as the first neurosurgeon to try it out," said Aulisi.
And in true Belleville High football lingo, he followed that up by saying, "“Keep moving the ball forward!"
The procedure was centered around a surgeon-controlled robotic arm, designed to increase precision and accuracy, while speeding the recovery process for patients who undergo spine surgery.
"It was really something," said Aulisi. "The patient knew she was going to be the first to undergo this surgery, and she was excited about it. We were able to perform a Cat Scan (or CT Scan) when the wound is still open. The recovery process is also faster, and the accuracy of the robot, when it comes to spinal surgery, which is so important, is incredible."
Aulisi went on to perform the same surgery on other patients, on June 11 and 12, as well as into the following week.
In the long-running Broadway show, 'Jersey Boys', one of the first lines is 'It all started in Belleville, NJ.' And for Aulisi, that was so true. He was a star quarterback for the Belleville Bellboys in 1977 and continued that as a Buccaneer in 1978 and 1979.
"(Assistant coach) Joe D'Ambola was handing out jerseys (in '77)," recalled Aulisi. "When he saw me, he tossed jersey number 12 at me and said I looked like Joe Willie (Namath)."
Aulisi would guide the '77 Bucs, as a sophomore, after earning the starting quarterback job five games into the season.
"(Belleville head coach) John Senesky had the foresight to run the Delaware Wing T," said Aulisi. "He was so far ahead, when it came to preparation. He was an amazing coach."
Auilsi also spoke with pride of all the assistants on the staff during his time at BHS, and what they meant to him.
"Bill Bakka was my freshman coach," he said., (More to come on that later). Carl Carino used to put the pads and helmet on and scrimmage with us, Coach Mike Welsh was a man of few words. (William) 'Doc' Ellis always said to me, 'Edy, just relax, you’ve got this'. Carl Papaianni was always relaxed and confident. He knew my dad when he was younger, but never gave me an inch of favoritism.
"Ralph Borgess Jr. was legendary. He had us so amped up for our first game, in my senior year. We were all crying when we came out on the field. Coach Vitiello always said to me “Edy point your toe where you want to throw, and I used that advice all through college. Great memories from all those guys."
He recalls his third start at quarterback, in 1977. The Bellboys were host to the Pony Pirates of Seton Hall Prep, a marvelous football team, which came into the game with a 5-0-1 record.
"My two cousins, Joe and Ed, were on that Seton Hall team," said Aulisi. "Anyway, it wasn't going very well. Seton Hall was up 42-0 at halftime and actually took their foot off the pedal in the second half, and we lost, 63-0. My cousin Joe sacked me on one play and he kind of lifted me up afterward."
Those '77 Bellboys were a young group. Many had found early success as a member of the Belleville Broncos youth team. But once in high school, with a new coach, it took time to develop. The '77 Bellboys finished 2-6-1 and the following year, the team, in its first season known as the Buccaneers, improved to 6-3.
"We worked hard in the off-season, got stronger and by our senior year, we were pretty good," said Edy.
Two years, nearly to the day, after the 63-0 loss, Seton Hall Prep would return to Municipal Stadium. This time, the Buccaneers would win, 14-13, when Aulisi threw a touchdown pass to Lenny Mendola in the game's closing minute, and Ralph DiPasquale kicked the point-after to secure a memorable game.
"Probably the biggest win of my high school career," said Aulisi. "I remember throwing a touchdown pass earlier in the game to Jerry DiGori, and then Lenny made a great move to the end zone and I was able to hit him with the winning touchdown pass.
"Two years earlier, Seton Hall had manhandled us, and they had a pretty good team in '79, too. It meant a lot to win that game."
The 1979 Buccaneers would finish 8-2 and earn the program's first-ever playoff berth. On Nov. 17, it played Union High, at Giants Stadium, and lost a heart breaker 15-12.
"Playing at Giants Stadium was really something special," said Aulisi.
Aulisi also spoke with fondness of his other high school coaches.
"Danny Grasso, my basketball coach, is a really good man. He started working with us at a young age, and really took the time to help us learn the game. I remember he always dressed real well for the games. And my baseball coach,, George Zanfini was someone really special. There's nothing any of us wouldn't have done for him."
Edy also praised his teachers at Belleville High, most notably Angie DiMaggio, the long-time history teacher at the school.
"I remember once when I wrote a paper, and I thought it was pretty good," said Aulisi. "And Mrs. DiMaggio said to me, 'you can do better, Edy. ,You're going to Princeton next year. Believe me, you can do better.' That really meant something. And she was right, too."
Aulisi's ascent to Princeton University was certainly challenging.
"I was a good student in high school, a valedictorian and then I get to Princeton and I'm taking some really tough classes, like organic chemistry and other neuroscience classes. I'm also playing on the football team (in the fall) and the baseball team (spring time) as well as competing in the classroom with other students, many of whom were also valedictorians of their class. It was a big step."
MedStar Washington Hospital Center, in Washington, where Aulisi works, is just a three mile drive from the Smithsonian Institute. There another Belleville High success story, Lonnie Bunch, is Secretary of the Smithsonian. In his position, Bunch oversees 19 museums, 21 libraries and the National Zoo, as well as numerous research centers and several education units and centers. Bunch was graduated from Belleville, in 1970, 10 years before Edy
"Lonnie's career has been incredible," said Edy. "Think about what he's done to get to where he is today. I'm so happy for him."
While Aulisi resides outside of Washington, his Belleville roots remain strong. He speaks fondly of his days at School #5, where Mike Nicosia and Lenny Mendola were among his classmates and future teammates on the football team.
And having grown up in a large family, it's easy to say that Aulisi takes tremendous pride in his own family. He and his wife, Gabriele have three children, son Joseph (25) and twins Ariana and Domenic, 21.
An interesting story, with a Belleville twist. In 2008, Aulisi was on call in a Washington DC emergency room when a young woman was rushed in, unresponsive. Aulisi would diagnose the patient and then had her transported to Georgetown University for further analysis.
Unbeknownst to him at the time, it turned out the woman was the daughter of Edy's freshman football coach, at Belleville, Bill Bakka who Edy hadn't seen in at least 30 years.
Aulisi's quick thinking on Bill's daughter's condition ultimately saved her life.
When it comes to his work, Aulisi's primary concern is that of his patient. He also, like a true quarterback, praised his teammates, in this case a very talented medical staff .
"My team works so hard," said Aulisi. "I guess you can call me the quarterback of the operating room, but I work with some great people. For my entire career, it's always been about the patient. What's best for the patient is what's best for Ed Aulisi."