Saying Goodbye to a Legend

At Scout’s Notebook we don’t normally cover high school sports, but a dear friend will pass on the gauntlet after 50 years of coaching soon and I wanted to take this opportunity to recognize his accomplishments.

Now officially gone are the days of my childhood. The days of coaches like Eddie Robinson, John Gagliardi (not quite yet), Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno who stood their posts like stalwart soldiers holding down the fort. Even the elusive “semi-lifers” like Don James, Vince Dooley, Terry Donahue, Tom Osborne and Bo have been cast to the wind in this modern age of dollars and cents.

Shirts, ties and overcoats have turned into officially licensed and sanctioned apparel. Visors are the new fad. Sometimes you turn on a channel and can’t even tell who is playing with the hundreds of jersey variations.

I’m sure I’ll see some come again; but never will they make the impact that these pioneers left on football and it starts in the high school ranks, just as another famous “Vin” did at St. Cecelia High School in Englewood, N.J., over 70 years ago. This weekend will be the last game for North Bergen Head Coach Vin Ascolese; a man who has rolled through the decades like a locomotive and remained at the top of his game. Another Roman Emperor about to step down from power; he heads into Giants Stadium with his beloved Bruins at his side for one more contest in the dirt before his final farewell.

Ascolese has coached for 50 years in the State of New Jersey, amassing a 357-128-7 record during his time at both Hoboken and North Bergen High Schools. Since taking over at North Bergen in 1973 he has won six State Championships and will go for his seventh with the school against Montclair in two weeks.

The pursuit of his last championship would be matchless enough on its own; however the plot becomes even more beautiful in football lure with the ties of family. Like any childhood story, there is a knight to go along with the king; and that is his grandson and senior fullback/linebacker Vin Ascolese III who will help him lead his Bruins onto that field in his final game. The head of his Legion is a 6-foot-2, 220-pound athlete who is of his own blood and made a promise to him at a young age that he would one day lead his grandfather to a State Championship. That promise has been made true.

The more I sit and think about it the more I understand that win or lose; Coach Vin Ascolese will spend his last game on the sidelines for the Scarlet and Gold living out a storybook ending; the way a great man should go out. He will watch his grandson; perhaps a younger version of himself and a hint of the decades past in his ultimate battle as well. The conclusion of a dynasty and the spawning of a new legacy at the same time; an awesome spectacle.

Of course, putting all of these underlying stories aside; I don’t believe for a minute that either of these men will be happy with anything other than a win over Montclair. I know them both and pride, toughness and competition are what have driven them to be successful. The younger learned that from his Grandfather.

The elder Ascolese has seen his share of success throughout his coaching days. He’s built a tremendous record; gained the adoration of colleagues and those around him and won State Championships in 1966, 1977, 1978, 1984, 1988, 1990 and 1997.

Without speaking for him; I’m sure none would hold quite the meaning of winning one with his grandson Vincent and in front of his daughter Susan who has never missed a Bruins game; although she may have missed a wedding or two instead.

Also, I can’t see Coach Ascolese taking anything the easy way. His team certainly hasn’t done that this year.

Their final season has been anything but trouble free. Hudson County Football is at its peak this year and the Bruins have fought through every bit of adversity this year; something that should serve them well in their final hurrah.

They were 6-2 heading into a road game with a tough Union City team where they ended up losing the game, 14-12, without giving up an offensive touchdown. The following week they were downed again, losing 24-21 at the hands of Peddie. Coach Ascolese’s squad entered the playoffs with a 6-4 record; however they were tried and tested. A record doesn’t always tell the tale of how tough a team is to break.

In the first round the Bruins drew Passaic County Tech and again; it was a hard-hitting and rough game … the type where you see shadows of years gone by. The game was a 7-7 standstill into overtime until his grandson Vin plowed 20 yards into pay dirt for the winning score, giving him 114 yards in the contest. On the defensive side of the ball, the younger Ascolese was responsible for 10 stops, two tackles for loss and a sack.

This past weekend’s second round go against Union City was no different. The game again went into overtime and Ascolese wasted no time putting three points on the board to take a 10-7 lead. It was on the ensuing possession where he needed his Legionnaire to take control of the game for him. Union City was well within field goal range on 3rd down and Vin Ascolese III chased down the quarterback for a 20-yard sack. Desperation set in and the Soaring Eagles went for it on 4th down to try and stay in the game. Ascolese would have none of it; registering another sack along with a teammate to seal the victory. He finished the affair with nine tackles, four tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.

Call them the Cardiac Kids, call them lucky … it’s clear when a pattern emerges and that comes from the top. This team has one last hurdle to leap and the team couldn’t be more different than them.

The Group IV State Championship will now feature the old school style of North Bergen against the greatest show on turf in the Montclair Mounties. We’ll see the pounding, physical style of Vin Ascolese III and Anthony Calabrese try to dull down the speed and athleticism of Khalif Herbin and Aubrey Lewis. Two different teams, two different styles of play … one goal. That goal is a state championship. Each squad wants it, but at least one player that comes out of that tunnel at Giants Stadium will have a little more on his mind than just the game.

Vin Ascolese III will be fighting for his grandfather’s legacy as well. All of the pain, strains and contusions of the season will be lifted for a final showdown to fulfill a promise made. A promise to the man he not only calls “Pop”, but who has been a father to him throughout his life.

It couldn’t be set up any better. The ties that bind us stretch far beyond 120 yards of grass on a weekend.

For all of the things you can say about Coach Ascolese leaving the sidelines, one thing is for sure. Football will be worse without him, as will the lives of all of the players he could have touched over years of further coaching. In a day and age where media, adults and colleges have contact with young athletes earlier than ever; men like Vin Ascolese are more important than they ever have been. You call them coaches and leaders. I call them mentors and molders of men. We hand our children off to them and in the case of Coach Vin; they come back better for it. It takes a special person to put the love and attention into their craft to spend 50 years perfecting it.

As my Father has always told me, “They don’t make them like they used to.”

Godspeed Coach. You were and always will be one of the great ones.

Written by Matt Alkire

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5 Responses to Saying Goodbye to a Legend

  1. Chris Johnson says:

    From all Bruins past and present Thank You for writing this and expressing the feelings many of us share with you. As a member and senior on the ’90 team I have many amazing memories of speeches, practices, games and even specific plays.

    You are right, football will be worse without him and I know the Bruins will play with the heart and valor of warriors and champions against Montclair.

  2. Greg Wiessner says:

    My compliments on the article and applause for Mr. A’s career. What’s not mentioned in the article, nor by the very modest (but exceptionally talented) first poster, are the number of kids Coach Ascolese managed to either send off to highly selective schools or helped learn the skills to earn a degree. The success on the field was exceptional. The success off the field earned by many of his former players is truly outstanding.

  3. Pat Keating says:

    As a single Mom in late 80’s I felt my Son could not have had a better roll model then Vinnie.
    Thank you coach for helping to make my son the amazing man, father, son and husband that he is today!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Anthony Sabatino---- SABS says:

    Ive been living in Manalapan for the past 15 years. As the high school enters its first state championship, the phijloshopy has changed. since we do not have the greatest athletes in the shore conference, the program has decided to instill a heart of a lion (or a Bruin) to negate the difference in talent. Having the heart of a Bruin is to outwill your opponent, never take off a play etc, etc. But I believe it goes further than the game. Its always being there for your friends. Its loyalty. I.ts making a phone call and having twenty of your friends right next to you twenty minutes later. It is the way we live our life because we grtew up in North Bergen NJ. The backbone of that philosophy comes from one man, Mr.A.
    Everybody knows how well Mr. A’s sppeeches are. I love them! You feel you can run through a wall when He speaks. There is one speech that will be in my heart to the day that I die, and it wasn’t before a football game. It was John Prongay’s burial 10/28/92. He spoke about how you measure a man. is he measured by wealth, or by his personal accomplishments. NO. He is measured by the amount of friends that were there to celabrate his life even though Johnny died way too young. The people at that funeral and the people that were in those lockerooms understand all to well. strenght in numbers. Respect all, Fear none. ITS THE BRUIN WAY!!!!! ITS MR A’s WAY. ITS THE RIGHT WAY. Thank you Coach. Not all people had the opportunity to grow up in NORTH BERGEN… WE DID AND I AM PROUD OF THAT……..SABS

  5. Christian Ruiz says:

    Words cannot describe the gratitude I have for Mr. Ascolese, in a time when I most needed a role model and father figure he filled that void.
    Mr. Ascolese believed in me and inspired me to do things I would have thought impossible, not only in football but in the classroom and life. I will always have great pride for having grown up in Jersey, attended NBHS, and played for Mr. Ascolese.

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