WOOD-RIDGE, NJ - "This football trip is bigger than just an out-of-state game," said Wood-Ridge Athletic Director Marc Sinclair. "This is a prime example of what can be accomplished with great teams of three great towns."
The borough's of Wood-Ridge, Carlstadt, and East Rutherford along with the school districts of Wood-Ridge and Becton Regional announced that opening day of the 2020 football season will be played at Tom Benson Stadium at the Johnson Controls NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
The official announcement was made at a press conference at Wood-Ridge High School on Friday afternoon, which was attended by administrators from both schools, elected officials and Board of Education members for the towns, and players and coaching staff from both teams.
Wood-Ridge Mayor Paul Sarlo explained the trip has a dual purpose.
"To create an amazing student-athlete experience for these young men and their teammates," he said. "And to talk about small public schools who produce some of our finest athletes. And this is a way to promote them on the big stage."
He also noted that parochial schools have taken out-of-state trips on a regular basis, and now the public schools are beginning to as well.
Sarlo said that Becton was a "natural fit for us," since many of the students know each other and have played against each other in Little League, junior football and rec basketball.
"The history of football at Wood-Ridge and Becton goes back so many years," said Carlstadt Mayor Bob Zimmerman. "It has always been such a strong rivalry. The great thing is these players will be visiting the shrine of football, and they'll be making history of their own."
"You're going to have a great time out there," East Rutherford Mayor Jeffrey Lahullier told both teams "You're going to have a great trip."
He also posed a friendly wager: if Becton wins, Sarlo would wear the Wildcat uniform. If Becton loses, (Carlstadt Mayor) Bob Zimmerman said he'd wear the uniform, which drew laughs and applause.
Becton Regional Superintendent Dr. Dario Sforza expressed his gratitude about the invitation.
"We're excited that we were one of two teams selected to go out to Canton to give our students this unique experience," he said. "The road to Canton, Ohio, for us, for Wood-Ridge, looks extremely bright. We're excited about this opportunity to put south Bergen County on the map, to put Bergen County on the map, and put New Jersey on the map for football."
"We're happy for them to have this experience," said Becton head coach John Maher. "It's almost like a college road trip. The team bonding will be really special for us."
He also noted that his four-year old son will come to realize that he won't need to attend St. Joe's or Don Bosco, "he can have special trips out of state there."
Wood-Ridge head coach Charlie Trentacosti echoed those sentiments.
"I thought it would a great opportunity for both of us," said Trentacosti. "This is an opportunity for our guys to see it, understand it, and be at the highest level. This is our way to put it out there and say 'Group 1 football is alive and well, and can do anything that Bergen, Bosco, or any of those other schools can do."
Sarlo acknowledged that the numbers in football are down across the board, and hoped that the trip would inspire youth athletes to play in the junior program, and then stay home for high school.
The teams are scheduled to leave the morning of Thursday, September 3, and arrive in Canton that afternoon. After a pregame walk through of the field and facilities, the teams will have a shared dinner. The game is scheduled for Friday, September 4 at 11:30 a.m. Both teams will visit the Museum later that afternoon. Both teams will leave for New Jersey Saturday morning and return for Labor Day weekend.
Both districts Boards of Education approved the trip at their December 2019 meetings. Sarlo noted that both boards were "adamant" that no public dollars pay for the trip. Both programs' fundraising groups, Wood-Ridge's Touchdown Club and Becton's Sideline Club, will raise the $15,000 needed by each team to cover the cost of travel, accommodations, and food. He also said they would be seeking corporate sponsors to help offset the host fee of $5,000 to cover the cost of the stadium, including officials, communication equipment, security, and medical.
Wood-Ridge Mayor Paul Sarlo explained that the road to Canton was 18 months in the planning, and attributed the trip to one previously taken by Northern Highland Regional and Clifton High Schools, which had also played there.
There will be a beefsteak dinner in the coming months to help kickoff Wood-Ridge fundraising efforts.
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