By: Darren Cooper – Record Sports Department
Wallington is holding steady.
The Panthers are coming off a 4-5 season that included a win over rival Becton, but face the same problems that other Group 1 schools do, primarily a lack of depth because of low participation numbers.
Now in his 11th season, coach Barry Blauvelt guided the Panthers to a sectional title in 2010 and the playoffs in 2017. He says ‘on paper’ this year, he’s looking at 32 kids on the roster, but knows that could fluctuate a few either way.
And instead of dwelling on that, Blauvelt looks for the positives. He said this group in particular has shown a tremendous work ethic over the summer, that they have enjoyed seeing the progress in the weight room and how that has translated into improvement.
On the field, Blauvelt has proven to be a master at getting the most out of what he has. If it means a quarterback who can sling it around, then the Panthers will go spread. If he’s presented with a bull for a running back and few big boys up front, then it’s ground and pound.
This is how small school coaches make their money. It’s a constant evaluation process. Blauvelt says it starts even back in grade school P.E. classes.
Wallington will always face certain challenges, but the Panthers also have always shown they aren’t afraid to compete.
Two words: Fire trucks.
Like a few other small Bergen County schools, Wallington has a tradition of fire trucks stationed in the end zone that play sirens after touchdowns.
Wallington’s football program has won three titles: 1959, 1990 and 2010. It last made the playoffs in 2017.
Well sure, numbers are an issue. A lot of kids play both ways, so an injury to one or two players can be fatal. But Blauvelt also said another challenge is trying to break the kids out of bad mental patterns and get them to accept coaching sometimes.
Participation in the youth programs in Wallington is pretty low, and there is a weight limit that disqualifies some kids from playing in seventh and eighth grade.
This hurts the high school program sometimes by not giving kids adequate experience before they get there.
The NJIC Patriot Division is competitive from top to bottom, so the Panthers have a fighting chance in every game.
Blauvelt likes some of the talent he has on offense – the Panthers usually can find a way to score points. Good health and good luck could get the Panthers back in the playoffs.