ALJ Alumnus Returns to Coach; Chris Di Nucci Leads Crusader Softball Into Tournament Season

Di Nucci addressing his players following a practice in early March. He felt the time was right to be able to run his own program, why he pursued the softball head coaching job. Credits: Daniel Collins
Chris Di Nucci is a physical education/health teacher at Arthur L. Johnson High School. He was a three-sport athlete as a student, playing football, track and field and baseball. Credits: Daniel Collins
Di Nucci with assistant coaches Laura Bundy, Andrea Ascolese and Amanda Merten, talking about practice drills. He says they've all been great and always willing to do whatever he asks of them. Credits: Daniel Collins
Chris Di Nucci talking to his players following their home opener win over Pingry HS by a final score of 11-0 on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Credits: Daniel Collins
The Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders defeated the Summit High School Hilltoppers by a final score of 10-0 Monday afternoon in Clark. (File Photo) Credits: Sue Brogan
Chris Di Nucci leading infield drills before the team's road game at Governor Livingston HS on Monday, April 17, 2017. Credits: Daniel Collins
Chris Di Nucci talking to Gianna Randazza on the pitcher's mound to talk about how to handle the next batter up on Friday, April 21, 2017 against Hunterdon Central HS. Credits: Daniel Collins
Chris Di Nucci watches the game action from the Johnson dugout during the home opener against Pingry HS on Saturday, April 15, 2017. Credits: Daniel Collins

CLARK, NJ -  As the 2017 Union County tournament gets underway this weekend, the Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders varsity softball team will seek to defend their 2016 title, and will do so with a former student in charge.

Chris Di Nucci, a physical education and health teacher at the school, was officially named the new softball head coach in Jan. 2017. Although a former baseball player, this is Di Nucci’s first season coaching softball.

“I saw the opportunity to become a head coach with a great group of young women and I thought that would be a great opportunity for me,” Di Nucci said. “I thought it was time for me to take a step forward and run my own program.”

Sign Up for E-News

Di Nucci takes over a team that comes to him with a 24-9 record from last year, and county, conference and state championships titles.

“I’m very lucky to have four good assistants,” he said. “I have Coach [Andrea] Ascolese who’s helping me, Coach [Laura] Bundy and her dad [Gary], who helps us out and as well as a former player, coach Amanda Merten. They all do a great job, they give me great input and they’re willing to do anything I ask them to do.”

The team has done well under Di Nucci, holding a 7-5 record on the season, beating strong teams such as Elizabeth High School, Immaculate Heart Academy High School, Cranford High School and Roselle Park High School. The Crusaders enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed.

Di Nucci is a 2009 graduate of Arthur L. Johnson High School and was a three-sport athlete, playing football, track and field and baseball. It was in high school when he realized he wanted to become a physical education teacher.

“I thought it would be cool to have the job,” Di Nucci said. “I love sports and I thought working with kids would be great. I wanted to do some of the same things my teachers and coaches had the ability to do for me. I knew the best way into coaching would be teaching.”

He said his overall goal is to help teenagers grow into young men and women, and he believes he can do that through teaching.

His coaching career began in 2012, with spring track and field. The following year, he added football to his coaching resume, and both winter and spring track and field.

Di Nucci said his philosophy as a coach is to always be honest with kids; especially with what they’re doing right and what they may not be doing right. He always wants to help them correct mistakes and help them become better.

“Playing for Coach Di Nucci was something I really enjoyed as a player,” Andrew Zub, a 2013 ALJ graduate, said. “He showed that he was all-in on not only me as a player and thrower, but as a position group and a team. That is something I really admired about him. He helped me grow as a player and a person.”  

Di Nucci, who continues to coach winter track and field, said he always kept one value close to him as he transitioned from his playing days to coaching.

“All players are different,” he said. “Some players are role-players and some players are leaders. Sometimes your best athletes are your leaders and sometimes they’re not. I think the most important thing for me as a former player and continuing as a coach is that it’s about doing it together as one unit.”

He left the Clark public school district for a full-time teaching position at Bridgewater-Raritan High School in 2013.  While there, he coached football for two seasons and was an integral factor in the team’s back-to-back appearances in state title games against Westfield High School.

Gus Kalikas, Clark’s athletic director, coached Di Nucci when he was a student at ALJ.  Di Nucci said Kalikas inspired him to pursue a career in coaching.

“One of the most satisfying things for a coach, teacher or educator is to see one of their former students or athletes come back and be able to coach them and be able to give back to student-athletes at any school, but even more so, the school they graduated from,” Kalikas said.

“I can’t say I was surprised while he [Di Nucci] was in high school,” he added. “He was always sort of a coach on the field. I’m pleasantly happy Chris is home. He’s going to do great things for our student-athletes.”

His hard work has earned the praise of colleagues at ALJ.

“Coach Di Nucci is what you exactly want in a coach. He’s just a genuine guy,” Johnson football head coach Anthony DelConte said. “He cares about the kids. He’s always out looking to go the extra mile to make these kids the best they can be. I’m lucky to have him on my staff and lucky to call him one of my best friends. He is passionate about everything he does, being a great role model for kids and he tries to be a perfectionist all the time.”

Di Nucci is just happy to be home.

“There’s a little place in your heart and there’s something to be said about coming back home,” Di Nucci said. “There’s just a little more sense of pride, you can say, when you walk the halls that you once walked in as a student, now as a teacher and a coach.”

---------------  is Clark’s official electronic news source and the only free daily paper. 

“LIKE” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @TAPintoClark.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News


Union County's March For Our Lives - County Wide March Planned

March 18, 2018

On March 24 at 10 a.m. Students of Union County will march to make sure that our schools are safe. The march will start at Burnet Middle School (1000 Caldwell Avenue, Union). It will end at the Union Township City Council Offices (1976 Morris Avenue, Union). All looking to protect American children by strengthening our laws and standing with the victims of all shootings inside places of ...

Springfield Fire Department Delivers Baby on West I-78

March 21, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, NJ - On March 20, 2018 at 8:14 a.m. the Springfield Fire Department was dispatched to Route 78 Westbound near milepost 50.2 for a report of a woman in labor on the side of the road.  

Captain Mastroeni (Unit 2) & Chief Palumbo (Unit 1) were the first units to arrive on scene, and quickly recognized that the woman would be unable to make it to the hospital in time for ...

Do You Know How Colleges Calculate How Much You Should Pay?

In his last few videos Chris Curran has talked about college financial aid.    In today's Takeaway Tuesday Chris talks about Expected Family Contribution (EFC), Cost of Attendance(COA) and the amount of need an individual family may have based on those components.   

If you want to know how these things are calculated and what they mean to your child-bound child ...

Proud to support Tom Malinowski for Congress

March 8, 2018

Every single day, whether I want to be or not, I am reminded how important it is that Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in November and check Donald Trump. Fortunately, there is a terrific candidate in New Jersey's 7th Congressional District who can beat incumbent Leonard Lance. That candidate is Tom Malinowski.

I'm a lifelong New Jersey resident -- including ...


AtlantiCast: Episode 13

On this episode of AtlantiCast, new clinical studies in the fields of cardiology and immunotherapy, national and statewide recognitions for Atlantic Health System medical centers and the inaugural AtlantiCast Collab Challenge!


Clark's Cornerstone PT Offers Amazing New Therapy for Pain Relief Without Drugs or Surgery


CLARK, NJ – Are you living with chronic pain and inflammation caused by a musculoskeletal condition?   Do you think your only option is pain-killing drugs or surgery?  There is a highly effective treatment close to home.

Cornerstone Physical Therapy Health and Wellness Center is now officering the latest technology in therapeutic pain relief with the introduction ...