FAIRFIELD, NJ — Anthony Palmieri of Cedar Grove, son of former Fairfield recreation football coach Michael Palmieri, addressed the Fairfield Township Council on Monday to inquire why his father’s monument was removed from Hollywood Avenue Park and why his memorial plaque was moved to the backstop of the baseball field.
Many friends and family members, including Michael Palmieri’s wife and son, Michael, came to the meeting to support Anthony Palmieri at the council meeting. Fairfield residents Dan Scirica and Maria Lomuscio also came to the microphone in support of the family.
When the new recreation building at the Hollywood Avenue Park was built, the township named the building the Mary Scangarello Recreation Complex. Scangarello worked as a volunteer for six years and then as Fairfield’s superintendent of parks and recreation for 27 years before retiring in 1995 after 33 years of service to the township.
With construction of the new recreation building, the original monument and plaques that had Scangarello’s and Palmieri’s names were taken down.
A new monument was built for the recreation complex, which only has Scangarello’s name, and a plaque honoring Palmieri was placed on the backstop of the baseball field, which was previously the football field.
Many residents in township were upset that the original monument built specifically to honor Palmieri was taken down.
Mayor James Gasparini explained that there was no disrespect intended by the changes. He assured the family and friends in attendance that the township will work with them to put up another monument in Michael Palmieri’s honor near the field.
With many loved ones in attendance, a portion of the council meeting served as tribute to the man. According to those in attendance, Palmieri had coached recreational football for many years. He died in 1987 of leukemia at the age of 44.
His wife explained that Palmieri was so dedicated to the children of Fairfield that all he wanted to do near the end of his life was to go to the football field to be with the young football players. He made it there one last time despite being terribly sick.
Lomuscio said that her family is “very good friends with the Palmieri family, and they have been friends for over 20 years.” Robert and Arleen Lombardi, her parents, were one of the families who started the fundraising committee to have the plaque made.
She added that the plaque originally only had Michael Palmieri’s name on it. Years later, the township added the plaque that included Mary Scangarillo’s name.
Mario Benaquista, who was not at the council meeting, had helped to build the original monument in 1988.
“Coach Palmieri was a great father, husband, friend, teacher and an outstanding football coach,” he said after Monday’s meeting.
Benaquista’s son, Christopher, was also a close friend to the Palmieri family. Although Christopher was too young to be coached by Palmieri, he said Palmieri was important to him. Christopher is now the head football coach at West Essex High School.
"Mr. Palmieri represented everything that is right with youth football,” he said. “He taught so many Fairfield boys life lessons that made us better men. Honoring Mr. Palmieri and keeping his memory alive is so important to so many people.”
Fairfield resident Anthony Lombardi, who was coached by Palmieri said that Coach Palmieri put the kids first and taught the students self-respect and leadership.
“He treated everyone the same,” said Lombardi. “He was coaching long before the days when fathers coached because they wanted to have an advantage for their kids. He didn't care about that. He treated each and every player the same.”
Jack Bikoff, who also was coached by Palmieri, was at the meeting in support. Other supporters included Tom DiNardo, Robert Rosania and Gerry Cerrigone.
“Mike was a great father and a great man,” said Robert Lombardi. “He did a lot for kids in the Fairfield recreational program. You will never find a better man.”
The Palmieri family and friends have agreed to work with the mayor and council to create a monument that will befit the man.