By: Darren Cooper / Record Sports
Park Ridge has proven year after year that you don’t need to be big to be a big success.
Tom Curry Jr. inherited a program under the most trying of circumstances after the death of beloved Owls coach Gary Mioli in 2014. Mioli’s memory lives on in the program and Curry Jr. has built on that foundation, reaching the playoffs four years in a row.
The school will always be one of the smallest in Group 1, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be successful. The program accepts its limitations and doesn’t dwell on them. If anything, Curry Jr. is a broken record when he talks about just playing one game at a time. It’s a tired coaching cliché, but it works if the kids buy in.
He sees the size of the school as an advantage, not a problem. He can sell playing time to sophomores and the ability to contribute right away.
Park Ridge is coming off a season where it reached the sectional final, falling to Butler 35-28 on a late touchdown. While graduation has taken its toll (Group 1 school, remember) the Owls have a difference maker returning at quarterback in senior Vincent Pinto.
A player like Pinto can often lift a team to new heights and energize the town. Park Ridge has only one sectional title in 1995. The borough has changed in that time, and adapted, but its passion for football has remained constant.
Park Ridge will never forget the Mioli tradition of chugging an orange soda after victories and playing “Carry on Wayward Son” over the speakers. It’s a unique Park Ridge tradition that should never die.
And don’t forget about team manager and local hero “Matty Ice,” Matt Gray, the Owls biggest fan and constant sideline presence.
On the field, the Owls have reached the playoffs 16 times since the format was introduced in 1974 and won 11 league titles. It’s only sectional title came in 1995.
Numbers, always numbers. While participation levels in the varsity program have remained steady, Curry Jr. knows that he’s always walking a fine line.
The junior football programs in Emerson and Park Ridge have merged, and there have long been whispers of the schools co-oping football programs (following the example of the wrestling program) especially since the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association has made it easier for schools to do so.
But, for now, both are strong and able to stand on their own.
With Pinto back, and the motivation of that close loss to Butler, the Owls enter 2019 as one of the teams to watch.
But Curry Jr. and the Owls will stay on script and not look too far in the future.