Story by: Darren Cooper / Record Sports

WOOD-RIDGE — Group 1 football going big.

Wood-Ridge and Becton will open up their football season Sept. 4 against one another at Tom Benson Stadium adjacent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

The schools held a joint press conference Friday afternoon in the Wood-Ridge gymnasium to make the announcement. A large banner was hung on one side of the gym. Mayors from three towns (since Becton receives kids from East Rutherford and Carlstadt) were on hand. A friendly bet was even proposed (losing town’s mayor wears other school’s jersey). Superintendents from each district, the athletic directors and players from each team were there, along with parents and friends

Neither team made the playoffs last year and they are two of the smaller schools in North Jersey that play football, but so what? In 2018, Clifton and Northern Highlands became the first two North Jersey teams to play against one another in Canton. The year before that, Wayne Hills played McKinley of Ohio there, losing 38-0.

North Jersey football fans have gotten used to the idea of the Big Six non-public teams playing games coast-to-coast, but there was never anything saying that public schools couldn’t go on the road. All it takes is some planning, fundraising and the willingness to try something different.

“I’ve been in Group 1 football for 20 years,” Blue Devils coach Charlie Trentacosti said. “This doesn’t happen. For them to bring it up and make it happen for all of us is a no-brainer.”

“It’s a big deal,” agreed Becton coach Jack Maher. “We get to get out of the South Bergen bubble, it might be the only time some of these kids get to do this.”

State Senator Paul Sarlo (D-Wood-Ridge) knew that Northern Highlands and Clifton had a great experience when they went to Canton, so he started speaking with Clifton athletic director Tom Mullahey about how to make it happen.

The idea of playing Becton was a natural. The two schools are close geographically and natural rivals. The date works out. It’s a Week 1 game scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on a Friday. Since Labor Day is late in 2020, neither school is open yet, so no one is missing classroom time.

Cost? Both schools have already started raising money which is about $15,000 per team. The WRHS Parents Touchdown Club and the Becton Regional Sideline Club are responsible. Sarlo did say the schools are hoping for a corporate sponsor to help defray the $5,000 fee to cover the use of Benson Stadium.