There’s a saying in sports that adversity reveals character. In 2020, all of the world, including the North Jersey athletics community faced adversity.

That adversity revealed was our true leaders, decision makers and doers. 2020 was a time of change, when we needed our powerful figures to guide us toward the best path.

This is the ninth-annual rankings of the most powerful people in North Jersey athletics. It’s a different list than ever before, because this is a different time.

There are new names, familiar names, and young leaders just coming into their own. The fact that power is constantly changing means this list is constantly evolving. This is a combination who has power, who had power and who I foresee leading North Jersey athletics in 2021.

And for the first time, there is a woman at the top of the list.

Darren Cooper is a high school sports columnist for For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. Email: Twitter: @varsityaces 

40. Dr. Gerald Glisson (posthumously)

Former Eastside athletic director 

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Eastside athletic director Gerald Glisson awards a trophy to Kennedy coach Ron Jackson after their rivalry football game in 2018.

This is the honorary “Mickey Corcoran” spot named for the legendary former coach and athletic director. Glisson, the principal at Eastside High School, left an indelible mark on the North Jersey athletics community before his tragic death at age 46 in May. Eastside brought a banner with them to every football game with Glisson’s name. Like Corcoran, he will never be forgotten by those who knew him and his desire to help today’s athletes.

39. Cory Robinson

Fair Lawn athletic director

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

The master of ice hockey in North Jersey and the state, Robinson has done a lot for the sport, including developing a great relationship with the New Jersey Devils. It’s time he got some recognition.

38. Nick Campanile

DePaul football coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

The 2021 football season will bring back the Campanile Bowl when DePaul plays Bergen Catholic and the two brothers meet. Nick has waited for his opportunity with the Spartans and will have them ready for whoever is on the other sidelines.

37. Erin Kirkby

BCWCA vice president/Pascack Hills softball coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranke

Curatola helped give North Jersey one of its best memories of 2020, putting together the One More Swing series of softball games at Wood-Ridge for seniors. She’s a huge part of every spring season.

Pascack Hills softball head coach Erin Curatola speaks emotionally about the work that had to be done to add a softball field to the Pascack Hills High School campus in Montvale, NJ on Monday, April 23, 2018.

Curatola helped give North Jersey one of its best memories of 2020, putting together the One More Swing series of softball games at Wood-Ridge for seniors. She’s a huge part of every spring season.

36. Rich Hansen III

St. Peter’s Prep football coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Hansen will take over for his father with the Marauders, one of three new coaches at a Big Six football program.

35. Billy Armstrong

Bergen Catholic basketball coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Bergen Catholic plays Hudson Catholic at the Dennis Gregory Memorial Classic basketball game at Ramapo College in Mahwah on Saturday January 4, 2020. Bergen Catholic Head Coach Billy Armstrong talks to the team during a break in the action.

There’s a basketball revolution going on in North Jersey and it won’t be long until the area takes over the state. Armstrong has the vision and talent to make Bergen Catholic No. 1.

34. Stan Lembryk

Clifton boys soccer coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Although they had a small stumble at the end of the fall, Lembryk has turned the Mustangs boys soccer program into one of the jewels in the area. He also retains a deep connection to the sports’ history in Clifton.

33. Vito Campanile

Bergen Catholic football coach

Last year’s ranking: 29

Filled with passion and determination, Campanile has kept the Crusaders program at a high level. A state championship is only a matter of time.

32. James Magazine

Eastside football coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Magazine has stepped in at Eastside and, in two years, turned the Ghosts into contenders. He’s done it by being honest and telling his team there are no short cuts to success.

31. Dennis Murri

Cross County, Wrestling and Track Coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Angela Valle a junior at Lodi and Brooke Tulloch a senior at Saddle Brook practice with Elmwood Park Assistant Coach Dennis Murri during wrestling practice at Lodi High School on Thursday February 27, 2020.

Summing up Murri’s jobs is impossible. He coaches track and cross country at Ridgefield Park, is an assistant wrestling coach at Elmwood Park and now runs the BCWCA girls wrestling invitational. His work has been noted at the state level and he’s now part of the NJSIAA girls wrestling committee. No one works harder in North Jersey than him.

30. Danny Brown

Saddle River Day athletic director/girls basketball coach

Last year’s ranking: 37

Saddle River Day administrators keep giving Brown more responsibility and he keeps on winning. The Rebels won their fifth straight Bergen County girls basketball title, but we will never know just how far the team would have gone in the state tournament, which was suspended in March. Brown has also updated the school’s facilities, making SRD an attractive spot for elite players.

29. Dave Bell

Bergen Catholic wrestling coach

Last year’s ranking: 20

Bell and Bergen Catholic conquered the New Jersey wrestling world in the 2010s, but saw Delbarton rise in 2020. The new challenge of taking down the Green Wave probably has Bell and the Crusaders supremely motivated.

28. Jimmy Salmon

AAU Playaz program founder/Paterson Rec Basketball supervisor

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

We just told you North Jersey is in the midst of a basketball revolution. Salmon has always been a huge player behind the scenes.

27. Melissa Landeck

NV/Old Tappan softball and volleyball coach/Past president of BCWCA

Last year’s ranking: 13

Landeck has never forgotten her Bergen County roots, and that background has made her one of the best coaches in the area.

26. Steve Rybak

Paramus Catholic football coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Steve Rybak was named new head football coach at Paramus Catholic last week.

Let’s be honest, the Big Six non-public football powers have really been a Big Five the last few years as Paramus Catholic has stumbled. Rybak, a PC alum, was recently hired and is expected to revitalize the Paladins program. Whether he’s successful or not is one of the biggest storylines of 2021.

25. Greg Bailey

NJSIAA executive committee member

Last year’s ranking: 19

Every NJSIAA executive committee member should be like Bailey. Always quick to volunteer and listen, he’s a fan, an official and a leader. He’s just as comfortable on the sidelines at a big football game as he is in the boardroom, and his insights are incredibly valuable (how many other executive committee members also ref county basketball games?). Bailey has done every job and has done each well.

24. Carmine Picardo

North Jersey football referees assigner

Last year’s ranking: 24

With every schedule change this fall, Picardo had to adapt. It wasn’t easy, but like a true professional, Picardo and his crews made it work. Now, with Jack Dubois leaving the NJSIAA, Picardo could be in line to oversee all of New Jersey high school football.

23. Maria Nolan

Immaculate Heart Academy volleyball coach

Last year’s ranking: 23

No one is exactly sure what the New Jersey volleyball season will look like, but Nolan will definitely figure it out. Her Blue Eagles are the model program in the state, and Nolan always seems to rise to the challenge.

22. Greg Butler

NV/Demarest athletic director

Last year’s ranking: 32

What other athletic director in New Jersey has the pull to get a big-time announcer to call one of his football games? Everyone in North Jersey knows that Butler gets things done and never loses sight that the goal is to have some fun too.

21. Dan Marangi

St. Joseph Regional football coach

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

St Josephs head coach Dan Marangi in the first half of a game that saw Bergen Catholic defeat St. Joseph's 24-21, spoiling the Green Knights fourth quarter comeback attempt.

Taking over for Augie Hoffmann was not going to be easy, and the Green Knights started 1-2, but by the end of the year, St. Joesph might have been playing the best football of anyone in New Jersey. Marangi is genuine and is able to get the most out of his players, whether they’re Division I stars, or just moving up from the JV.

20. Drew Gibbs

Ramapo head football coach

Last year’s ranking: 4

When Gibbs speaks, North Jersey football coaches listen. This season, the Green Raiders didn’t win a championship, but Gibbs showed he understood what was important, just giving his team a chance to play and be together.

19. Kim DeGraw-Cole

NJSIAA assistant director

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Colleen Maguire doesn’t do everything at the NJSIAA by herself. Her right-hand woman is DeGraw-Cole, who oversees multiple sports and handles the organization’s transfer protocols. She’s honest and direct and will likely become more important in 2021.

18. John McKenna

DePaul athletic director

Last year’s ranking: 16

It’s going to be strange not seeing McKenna out front of the Spartans football team, but 2020 was his last season as he shifts to a new role as athletic director. He now has a chance to mold one of North Jersey’s top athletic departments.

17. Nicole Pacciani

Bergen County Women Coaches Association president

Last year’s ranking: 17

Yes, there were a lot of things we lost in North Jersey in 2020. But before the pandemic, remember the BCWCA sponsored the first Bergen County girls wrestling invitational, a historical first. Pacciani has been a breath of fresh air for her organization.

16. Denis Nelson

River Dell athletic director/SFC executive committee member

Last year’s ranking: 26

It’s telling that when Colleen Maguire was named NJSIAA COO, one of her first phone calls went to Nelson. He’s one of the few people who has been on this list every year since it started.

15. Jeff Jasper

Pascack Valley girls basketball coach

Last year’s ranking: 15

Jasper is a North Jersey institution. Through the years, he’s never stopped caring or teaching his players. Winning is still important to him for sure, but his perspective is that some things are worth more. I still think Pascack Valley nicknaming themselves the Jaspers is a good idea.

14. Dr. Brian Mahoney

President of Bergen Catholic

Last year’s ranking: 8

There weren’t that many great days in 2020, but one of them was the dedication of the new Jack McGovern field at Bergen Catholic. That’s all part of Mahoney’s vision. Mahoney has an incredible work ethic, and a personality that the boys at Bergen Catholic have responded to.

13. Sharon Hughes

Big North Conference president

Last year’s ranking: 28

Hughes has never been one for the spotlight, but she’s kept the Big North viable and open to new ideas.

12. Rich Hansen

St. Peter’s Prep athletic director/SFC president

Last year’s ranking: 1

Rich Hansen the Super Football Conference President addresses the players from over 100 northern New Jersey high school football teams that came to the Super Conference Media Day at Wayne Valley on August 15, 2019.

Hansen can finally breathe a bit easier, as his legendary football coaching career ended last month. The number of kids he helped during his career is staggering. Now, he will be tasked with creating a new model for the non-public football season starting in 2022, while focusing on St. Peter’s Prep’s entire athletic program.

11. Bill Vacca

Passaic County Coaches Association executive secretary

Last year’s ranking: 7

Passaic County moved swiftly to call off spring county tournaments, and losing the basketball tournament in the winter is a big blow. Vacca will do everything in his power to restore events when the time is right.

10. Joe Spafford

Bergen County Coaches Association president/Palisades Park athletic director

Last year’s ranking: 6

The BCCA was forced to suspend county events for the spring and fall and now faces the question of how to potentially bring back championships for the winter. The crown jewel is the Jamboree and it will be interesting to see what the BCCA is able to come up with, even if it’s a two-day event.

9. Benjie Wimberly

State Assemblyman (D-Paterson)/Hackensack football coach

Last year’s ranking: 18

Benjie Wimberly, pictured during a Hackensack football game.

Along with Paul Sarlo, Wimberly gives the NJSIAA a voice at the highest levels of government in New Jersey. He also gives instant credibility. His idea for a minority coaches association in New Jersey was long overdue. The fact that Wimberly remains a prominent coach only adds to the perspective he brings.

8. Tom Mullahey

Clifton athletic director/NJSIAA executive committee member

Last year’s ranking: 34

Mullahey oversees one of North Jersey’s biggest athletic departments and was also a key member of the Sports Task Force. He’s remained solution-centric, rather than harping on old problems.

7. Stan Fryczynski

North Jersey Interscholastic Conference executive director

Last year’s ranking: 3

The NJIC just keeps trucking along. It may be a league of small schools, but no one does a better job putting on big events. Don’t be surprised if every other league in New Jersey adopts the NJIC’s football championship model.

6. John Jacob

New Jersey Football Coaches Association commissioner

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

NJFCA Commissioner John Jacob

Finally, it looks like New Jersey will have true state football champions in 2022. It wouldn’t be near it without the leadership of Jacob. Smart and always willing to listen, Jacob has galvanized the football coaches in this state into a powerful lobby.

5. Your Department of Health

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Let’s just say, I hope these people are never on the list again. Schools and athletic departments were often left bewildered by the different approaches by the various health department officials who forced schools to suspend athletics for various reasons. No one blames the health officials for erring on the side of caution, but the different approaches were hard to swallow.

Some schools suspended athletics because of a rise in cases in town. Some suspended athletics because there was a positive test of a non-sports playing student. Some had to suspend sports because a player on another team was exposed. Meanwhile, some schools were allowed to play under the exact same situations.

4. Paul Sarlo

State Senator/Assemblyman (D-Wood-Ridge)/NJSIAA executive committee member

Last year’s ranking: 14

Budget Chair Senator Paul Sarlo speaks about Bill S-2021 that he sponsored at the Senate Chamber in Trenton State House on September 24, 2020.

There have been politicians critical of the NJSIAA in the past, but Sarlo showed a willingness to get involved instead of staying on the sidelines. Sarlo joined up with the NJSIAA to help create policy and get the organization a seat at the table with Gov. Phil Murphy when it was time to craft a strategy for playing in the fall.

3. Dan Vivino

Westwood athletic director/SFC scheduler/NJSIAA calendar committee member

Last year’s ranking: 2

Where to start? Vivino had to navigate the daily changes to the SFC schedule and try to give as many teams as possible the best games possible on basically no notice. Look for him to have a huge say in the potential new football structure and be a big voice as the NJSIAA studies modifying its three-season calendar in the year to come.

2. David Frazier

NJSIAA Sports Advisory Task Force chairman/Rutherford athletic director

Last year’s ranking: Not ranked

Frazier has been high on this list in years past, so it was no surprise when he was given a huge leadership role in coming up with the state’s plan to play high school athletics during the pandemic. Modest to a fault, Frazier has never sought the spotlight, but his patience and perspective were important in the decision-making processes in 2020.

1. Colleen Maguire

NJSIAA chief operating officer/director of finance

Last year’s ranking: 10

NJSIAA Chief Operating Officer Colleen Maguire at NJSIAA Headquarters in Robbinsville. The NJSIAA is the governing body for high school athletics in New Jersey.

This time last year, you could see Maguire rising at the NJSIAA as she continued to add responsibility and respect around New Jersey. Then facing a crisis, the organization went all in on the former basketball star, giving her the title of chief operating officer and all of the duties for the leader of high school sports in the state.

She has handled the job well under a ridiculous amount of pressure and ever-changing rules. Her challenges in 2021 will be to keep the NJSIAA financially solvent, updating its rules to better reflect new technological advances, and do it all with a smaller staff and limited resources.

It won’t be easy, but the former point guard has already shown she can see the floor and all the moving pieces.