WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield’s first-ever Columbus Day Parade was canceled due to rain and festivities were moved indoors Sunday to the Westfield Italian American Club. Most of the morning’s speeches included a defense of Columbus Day and Christopher Columbus.

“We’re not honoring the man, we’re honoring the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus,”  Union County UNICO President Robert Tarte said. “Christopher Columbus was not an evil man. Unfortunately, people tend to judge his actions by 21st Century standards, and we cannot do that. We have to honor him for all the good things that he did.”

“Where would America be right now, you know,  how would history have changed if he hadn’t taken that voyage? It’s something to think about,” Mayor Andy Skibtsky said to the audience. “There are people who want, you know, to get rid of the holiday. I’m of the opinion that, you look at what’s happening across the country and in Manhattan — the Columbus Circle statue is now being guarded 24 hours a day. People are vandalizing it. And some activists say that by honoring Christopher Columbus we’re white-washing history. Well, you know, I disagree. I say there’s too much hate in the world, too much acrimony in this world. Let’s celebrate the good. Let’s celebrate the positive.

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“Let’s celebrate Columbus Day,” he continued, “the day the nation recognizes not only the voyage and how he changed the course of history, but also the heritage of Italian-Americans and all they have contributed to this country, both in the business sector and culturally.”

The days’ grand marshal was Jim DeSarno, assistant principal at Westfield High School and head coach of the WHS football team, which won its 30th straight game Friday against Union.

“But he’s not being honored simply because of his coaching skills,” the mayor said. “It’s also for what he does teaching our youth, the leadership skills that he shows, the character that he helps build in our children, our students, and also what he gives back to the community.”

Skibitsky thanked DeSarno for being a great advocate for the Westfield PAL program.

“One of the truly positive and great things about Westfield that I’ve had is the opportunity to work with so many great parents, so many great community members, and it’s what makes this town so great,” DeSarno said. “People do what I do, they coach all over the country, and all they do is tell horror stories about the parents they deal with, the kids they deal with, and I don’t have those stories. This is truly a wonderful town. I’ve had 12 great years and I look forward to many, many more.”

The event was organized by the Westfield Italian American Club and Westfield UNICO.

“Next year the new plan is to have a larger parade,” Tarte said. That parade will probably be planned for the weekend before Columbus Day, he said, so that the UNICO National float, which is wanted for other Columbus Day parades, will be available.