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Caldwell University Athletic Director Mark Corino (left in top photo) accepts Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Larkin Award of Distinction from Tim Reilly, the master of ceremonies, during 50th Mercier Club Sportman Award Dinner on Monday, March 20, at Highlawn Pavilion. In second photo, CBS and MLB play by play voice Rich Waltz (middle) holds the Peter A. Carlesimo Award he accepted for ESPN's Jon 'Boog' Sciambi who could not be present for dinner, while joined by Reilly and event committee member Rich McMahon. In bottom photo are two of the noteworthy dinner attendees, former college basketball stars Tracy Tripucka (Lafayette) and Tom Reilly (Manhattan). (Sideline Chatter photos)

Former Member's Spirit Felt
At 50th Mercier Club Dinner

By Steve Tober

WEST ORANGE- It was never difficult to engender a smile from Pete Wolf, Montclair born and bred, and a friend to so many during his career in public relations, photography and as a sportswriter, including a lengthy stint with Dorf’s Feature Services which for more than a half century handled The Star-Ledger’s coverage of high school sports.

Wolf passed away in 2016 after a valiant battle with pancreatic cancer, but his spirit was definitely felt in the Highlawn Pavilion in West Orange where the 50th Mericer Club’s Sportsman Award Dinner was held on Monday, March 20th.

His nephew, Jon ‘Boog’ Sciambi, the terrific play by play voice for ESPN and the Chicago Cubs, was recipient of the Mercier’s Peter A. Carlesimo Award, but due to commitments with ESPN, he could not make his way from Phoenix, Ariz., to New Jersey, for the dinner; however, fellow baseball broadcaster Rich Waltz of CBS sports and the MLB Network, successfully pinch hit for his broadcast buddy and was on hand to accept the Carlesimo Sportsman of the Year award named in honor of the late, great Upper Montclair resident who made the National Invitational Tournament special for many years, and was also the  father of former Seton Hall University basketball coach PJ Carlesimo.

Close connections in a very Jersey way simply continue to personify the Mercier Club while perhaps also conjuring up thoughts of the 1990 award winning play, ‘Six Degrees of Separation” where the basic premise was that everyone is indeed connected by a chain of no more than six acquaintances.

Pete Wolf was more a friend than just an acquaintance to so many and while he was not physically present at the Highlawn Pavilion for this year’s Mercier Club dinner, a big smile had to be emanating from the sky above from a man who lived and breathed connections with people and always with a smile to accompany a great story.

A former president of the Commonwealth Club in Montclair, Wolf was also a member of the Mercier Club committee and shared the same rich, baritone voice that his nephew shares today with viewers tuning into ESPN or Cubs telecasts.

And, while neither was present at the March 20th Mercier Club Dinner, the message of warmth and friendship of the Wolf extended family still emanated throughout the Highlawn Pavilion, and Rich Waltz did a masterful job stepping into his friend’s shoes to accept the Carlesimo Sportsman of the Year Award, while sports personalities and fans were gathered for a few hours for yet another evening of feting notable names to be added to a distinguished list of Mercier Club award recipients through the years, a list which includes such familiar names as Yogi Berra, Aubrey Lewis, Frank Tripucka, Bob Hurley, Clary Anderson, Phil Rizzuto, Larry Doby and the great New York Knickerbocker Willis Reed who just  passed away.

Mark Corino, the Caldwell University athletic director and retired men’s basketball coach, spoke about the importance of family and friends in his sports life as he accepted the Mercier Club’s Rev. Msgr. Edward J. Larkin Award of Distinction.

“It was men like Coach Corino who helped encourage, and to shape my own sports career,” said Waltz, who is a former shortstop at the University of California at Davis. “We never forget the great coaches that we’ve been fortunate to have passed through our lives!”

Pete Wolf’s son, Patrick was in the room, as were lifelong Wolf family friends such as Rich McMahon, who is a longtime member of the Mercier Event committee, and introduced Rich Waltz; and Tim Reilly, who is the colorful and very capable master of ceremonies for all Mercier Club dinners.

“Pete Wolf was family, pure and simple,” said Reilly. “Our three families, the McMahons, Wolfs and Reillys, would vacation and spend time together whenever we could.

“We miss Pete dearly, but it was great that his sister Suzanne’s son Jon could be one of our honorees this year.”

Family members of past Mercier Club award recipients were all about the room, including Yogi’s son, Larry Berra, Jr.; Frank Tripucka’s sons and past Sportsman of the Year award recipient Kelly Tripucka’s brothers, Tracy and TK; and the late, great, late Rutgers baseball coach Fred Hill’s sons Fred, Jr. and Jim.

Past Mercier Club award recipients such as retired Montclair High lacrosse coach Chris Johnson, Montclair Kimberley Academy lacrosse coach Dave Giarrusso; Mercier event committee chairman and longtime former college athletic director Joe Quinlan (St. Peter’s, Seton Hall, Columbia) and Immaculate Conception’s retired athletic moderator Father Francis Burla were all present at the March 20th dinner.

The ageless Father Burla gave the invocation following the playing of the national anthem to get the evening off and running.

Other sports personalities including veteran pro basketball TV commentator Frank Isola of Montclair and Montclair High softball coach Mike Goldstein, who had been the familiar WFAN caller ‘Mike From Montclair’ when Mike Francesa had his radio show, were also on hand for a festive night of friendship and good will.

Meanwhile, the smile and warmth from one Pete Wolf personified in spirit what the Mercier Club continues to do in addition to raising funds for those in need, which is to build on a now half century of what those like Peter Carlesimo also represented, which continues to be promoting the highest ideals of sportsmanship, integrity and character.

“There is just a special feeling in the room,” said Reilly. “And, we’re glad to be able to keep coming together each and every year!”                                 

Follow Steve Tober on Twitter @Chattermeister

Mercier Club’s Carlesimo Sportsman of Year & Msgr. Larkin Awards:
2022:  Lenny Coleman- MLB’s National League President
            Larkin Award: Steve Tober
2019: Matt Loughlin- NJ Devils play by play voice
            Larkin Award: Rich Hansen
2018: Tom Verducci- Sports Illustrated & FOX Baseball
            Larkin Award: Dave Giarrusso
2017: Zack DeOssie- NY Giants long snapper
            Larkin Award: Tom Fleming
2015: John Farrell- manager, Boston Red Sox
            Larkin Award: Ted Fiore
2014: Eric LeGrand- inspirational Rutgers lineman- founder LeGrand Foundation
            Larkin Award: Peter von Hoffmann
2013: Joe Quinlan- St. Peter’s University director of athletics
            Larkin Award: Niall Handley
2012: Harry Carson- NY Giants Hall of Fame linebacker
            Larkin Award: Rich SanFillipo
2011: Jerry Walker- Seton Hall Univ. Hall of Fame, St. Anthony great
           Larkin Award: Michael Sammon
2010: Graig Nettles- NY Yankees third baseman
           Larkin Award: Rick Giancola
2009: Bart Oates- NY Giants Pro Bowl center
           Larkin Award: Ed Lebida
2008: Jerry Izenberg- Star-Ledger columnist
           Larkin Award: Mike Sheppard, Jr.
2007: Anthony Fasano- Notre Dame and NFL tight end
          Larkin Award: Major Jennings
2006: Fred Dwyer- Manhattan College track coach
           Larkin Award: Pat Dyer
2005: Fred Hill- baseball coach Rutgers
           Larkin Award: Fr. Edwin Leahy, OSB
2004: Jack Powers- executive director of NIT
           Larkin Award: Chris Johnson
2003: Carl Banks- NY Giants linebacker
           Larkin Award: Lou Racioppe
2001: Michael Strahan- NY Giants defensive lineman
2000: Rick Cerone- NY Yankees catcher
            Larkin Award: Hugh Moriarty
1999: Terry Shea- Rutgers football coach
           Larkin Award: John Finnegan
1998: Larry Doby- Cleveland Indians baseball Hall of Famer
           Larkin Award: Bob Farrell
1997: Willis Reed- NY Knicks and VP NJ Nets
1996: John MacLean- NJ Devils Stanley Cup champion player
           Larkin Award- Ollie Gelston
1995: Phil Rizzuto- NY Yankees Hall of Famer
1994: Kelly Tripucka- NBA Detroit Pistons, Notre Dame Bloomfield HS
1993: Ottis Anderson- NY Giants running back, Super Bowl MVP
1992: Bob Hurley- St. Anthony Hall of Fame coach
1991: George Young- NY Giants general manager
1990: P.J. Carlesimo- Seton Hall University and NBA coach
1989: Bruce Parker- Montclair High School Hall of Fame coach
1988: Russ Helwig- Essex Fells CC golf pro & NJ state champ
1987: Frank ‘Finn’ Tracey- Seton Hall Prep basketball coach
1986: Frank Tripucka- Denver Broncos, Notre Dame & Bloomfield QB
1985: Bill Raftery- Seton Hall University basketball coach, CBS analyst
1984: John McMullen- owner NJ Devils
1983: Aubrey Lewis- Notre Dame & Montclair football & track great
1982: Msgr. Michael E. Kelly- Seton Hall Prep athletic director
1981: William Horey- Glen Ridge football coach
1980: Gil Gibbs- Montclair High lacrosse and basketball coach
1979: Joe Garvey- Essex Cath. & West Essex basketball coach, IC sports
1978: Butch Fortunato- Montclair High football coach and AD
1977: Howard Finney- Montclair Cobras youth football
1976: Bill Dioguardi- Montclair State athletic director
1975: George Cella- Bloomfield High basketball coach
1974: Peter Carlesimo- NIT chief executive, Fordham AD
1973: Rev. Francis Burla- Immaculate Conception athletic moderator
1972: Angelo Bertelli- Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner
1971: Yogi Berra- NY Yankees Hall of Fame catcher
1970: Clary Anderson- Montclair High football and baseball coach                

Among those enjoying the 50th Mercier Club's 50th Sportsman Award Dinner were 'Mike From Montclair,' Montclair High softball coach Mike Goldstein (left, top photo) and Larry Berra, Jr., while event committee chairman Joe Quinlan speaks to the audience inside Highawn Pavilion.

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