WAYNE, NJ — Wayne Valley High School honored two of its best and brightest from the class of 2020 when it nominated Anthony DePalma and Milica Rodic for the Passaic County Scholar-Athlete of the Year award.
Both students made their mark in three sports while also excelling in the classroom. DePalma starred in football, indoor track and volleyball, while Rodic found success playing volleyball and as an indoor and outdoor track athlete.
WV Athletic Director Dave Drozjock praised both nominees. "Milica is a character who loves to have fun and shares her positive, contagious energy with her teammates and coaches. She has a hunger to be the best in everything she pursues yet is still humble in her approach," said Drozjock. "Anthony is a dedicated, selfless leader who left Wayne Valley athletics a better place than when he started here as a freshman."
DePalma helped his football team capture its first state championship since 1991 when the Indians knocked off Old Tappan 21-17 in the North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 title game last November. However, his impact may have never been felt more than when the tight end hauled in 10 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in their win over Northern Highlands in the North 4 Regional Championship at MetLife Stadium the following week. It was his touchdown that sparked a huge comeback for the Indians, who were trailing by 17 at the time.
DePalma described the feeling after the championship win: “I was at a loss for words. You’re looking to hug people. You’re looking to jump around. You don’t even know what to do.”
It appeared as if DePalma was going to help Wayne Valley contend for another state championship this spring on the volleyball court but lost that opportunity when the NJSIAA canceled the spring sports season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It was disappointing because we had a lot to look forward to,” DePalma said. “We were a young team last year, now we're all seniors, we had built chemistry, and we all knew that this year was going to be our year.”
With impactful contributions in multiple sports, DePalma was a clear candidate for this award. It was not just about athletics, though. He takes pride in his academic accomplishments and was happy when that also garnered some attention with the nomination.
“I was excited that I was able to be recognized for being a dedicated, three-sport athlete that was able to get it done in the classroom as well.” DePalma said.
While DePalma never got his shot to bring home a volleyball state championship his senior year, the same cannot be said for Wayne Valley’s female nominee. Not only did Rodic get her opportunity — she delivered.
Rodic was a key player on the WV girls volleyball team that won its third consecutive county championship along with conference and state titles this past fall. Her ability quite literally jumped off the court to those watching her play.
“She was the most athletic kid in any room I walk into,” Jason Carcich, Wayne Valley’s volleyball coach, said. “I had full confidence to put her up against anybody. She was amazing to watch because you have this normal-sized girl, she’s [about] 5’7” or so, and when she jumps, she’s outjumping these six-foot tall girls and doing whatever she wants.“
That unique ability to get off the ground served her well when the seasons changed and track began. Rodic qualified for the League of Champions in triple jump last year and broke long-standing school records in that event and long jump. Doug Flower, her track coach, said she even could have qualified for the League of Champions in the long jump and high jump had it not been for the SATs, which prevented her from competing.
Her standout performances athletically and dedication academically made her the right choice for WV’s female scholar athlete of the year. Yet, when she heard the news it was a shock. “I never even dreamed of this happening...I was really surprised,” the stellar athlete said.
Rodic credited both Carcich and Flower for her athletic success. “They pushed me to be the best athlete I can be, even in practices and workouts,” she said.
Like Rodic, DePalama also praised his coaches: Carcich in volleyball, Flower in track, as well as his football coach, Roger Kotlarz. “They all loved coaching, and they’re really all dedicated to what they do,” he said.
Both of these student-athletes left their marks on Wayne Valley in a number of ways and will be tough acts to follow.
DePalma will be attending Misericordia University in the fall to study physical therapy and continue his volleyball career. Rodic will be majoring in nursing at Ramapo College of New Jersey.