After winning only six games in the last decade before the 1999 high school football season, there was very little chance of the Weehawken High School football team of being honored by the township council for their gridiron prowess.
This was a program that once had a 40-game losing streak stretching over five seasons, from 1993 to 1998. From 1990 through 1997, the school had a record of 3-69. The program was on the verge of collapse. There was talk that the school might abandon the sport entirely.
But the township hired new coach Mike Guasconi to start the 1998 season. Guasconi had his share of winning moments as an assistant coach at both St. Joseph of the Palisades and North Bergen. The township and the Board of Education were confident that he was the one who could turn things around.
Guasconi turned the once downtrodden program into a respected winner in a little more than a year. He constructed the best season in the school’s storied tradition.
Under his tutelage, the Indians were 7-3 in 1999, eclipsing the highest total of wins in a season that the township ever had. The past record was six victories in 1970.
Last week, at the regularly scheduled Town Council meeting, Mayor Richard Turner and the council chose to honor the historic team by formally presenting the coach and each player with an official certificate of achievement.
Such honors are usually reserved for teams that win championships, and this team fell a bit short of qualifying for the state playoffs. But the team brought the sport of football back to the township and made it proud once again.
"I thought it was extremely important to honor this team," Turner said. "They did a great job. They disciplined themselves and became a very good team and a very enjoyable team. They brought excitement to the entire town, to the entire community. This was an unusual circumstance, but they went from being nothing to winning the most games in the history of the school. It’s been a long time since Weehawken felt this way about football."
Turner added, "We had to recognize the accomplishments of these young men, even if they didn’t win a championship. They lost three games, one by two points and the other two in overtime. You can’t do any better than that. This was our way of recognizing the entire turnaround."
Guasconi didn’t know about the presentation until a few days before the council session. He was very appreciative of the honors. "I think it was a very rewarding experience for the kids," he said. "I couldn’t imagine why they did it, because we didn’t win a championship. In all my years, I never had a team honored that didn’t win. We got certificates in North Bergen for winning state championships. But it was nice to honor the kids and I know they enjoyed it."
Guasconi is aware of the impact his winning team had on the township. "I think there is a corps of diehard fans that have always been there," he said. "But the winning brought out the fringe fans, the ones that wouldn’t have bothered in the past. A lot of people got excited with our success and that was great. I thought it was great for the community. A lot of people waited a long time for this."
Guasconi was also proud of the way that his team handled themselves throughout the course of the season. "I received letters from officials who worked our games who commented just how classy our kids were," he said. "How our kids won and lost with class. I was very happy with that. Getting recognized for our sportsmanship is a really nice touch. The official took the time out to write the letter. I’m glad he noticed it, because that’s what we’re trying to do."
Guasconi reiterated that this year’s success was not an isolated experience, as 18 of 22 starters are returning next season. "I think we could be preparing for a conference championship," he said. "We’re taking that approach. It’s an underlying theme. Right now, it’s all on paper. But you can see that the positive attitude is there. The potential is there."
Turner is already thinking about a similar presentation in 2000, to honor a championship football team, not just the one with the school’s best-ever record. "We’re going to have a great football team next season," said Turner, who was one of the team’s staunchest supporters in the toughest times. "I think the kids were pleased and overwhelmed to be recognized, but they all vowed to come back with a championship. We have to do what makes them want to get involved, so that’s why we honored them. Every young person that we get involved in a positive activity is a plus for our community."