(Editor's Note: Katelyn Borsos is a senior at South Plainfield High School and an intern for TAPinto South Plainfield.) 

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ - Longtime resident and physical education teacher Donald Panzarella is eagerly awaiting the 2017 softball season and the start of his 36th year as head coach of South Plainfield High School’s (SPHS) Varsity Softball Team.

As a child growing up in South Plainfield, Panzarella loved participating in football, basketball, and baseball and, following graduation from St. Joseph’s High School, made the decision to stay involved in athletics. He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in health and physical education from Seton Hall University.

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In 1981, he landed his first job as a physical education teacher in South Plainfield and, the following year, took on his first varsity softball coaching position. Panzarella worked at both John F. Kennedy and Roosevelt Elementary Schools for two and a half years and in 1983 transferred to the middle school. In June, he will celebrate his 34th year as a physical education teacher at South Plainfield Middle School.

Panzarella credits former colleagues Shirley Loud and the late Tony Cotoia among those who influenced his physical education career; Cotoia, a former athletic director, hired him as a physical education teacher while Loud named him the school’s varsity softball coach shortly after she was named athletic director.

Panzarella said he loves South Plainfield’s family-oriented community and is proud to be able to influence kids in his hometown. “I will always love the competitiveness of coaching [but] I’d like to think I make a difference in kids lives,” Panzarella said, noting that although he enjoys all aspects of coaching, the best parts, for him, include teaching skills and being part of the excitement that comes with competition.

Coaching, he said, has personally taught him how to deal with the emotions of winning and losing along with the importance of building friendships among teammates. His advice to those looking to continue their softball career in college is to “always work as hard as you can” and “keep developing your skills with a strong and positive attitude.”

Panzarella’s accomplishments throughout his coaching and teaching career in the district didn’t go unnoticed. On April 2, 2013, the South Plainfield Board of Education officially renamed and dedicated the high school softball field in his honor.

“It was the greatest honor I have ever been given. I am so proud to leave a legacy of hard work, teamwork, and love for the game,” said Panzarella, who said he is also very grateful for the overwhelming support from those who showed up to support him.

The SPHS Varsity Softball Team had a successful 2016 season, finishing with a 25-5 record and Panzarella is looking forward to an even better season this year.

“It will be a very exciting year,” he said. “We are looking to win the White Division, County, and State Tournament.”

Tryouts for the South Plainfield High School’s Varsity Softball Team will be held on Friday, March 3 from 2:45 to 5 p.m. at South Plainfield’s Coach Don Panzarella Varsity Softball Field.

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