When John Belluardo entered the North Bergen school district more than three decades ago, there wasn’t a varsity soccer team at North Bergen High School.
“I remember the kids putting out a petition to see if they could get a soccer team,” Belluardo said. “That’s how it all started.”
At the time, Belluardo was fresh out of college, where he played soccer, so he volunteered his services. He never left.
Over the last 28 years, the last 25 as head coach, Belluardo has been the heart and soul of the Bruins’ soccer program. He has seen North Bergen soccer rise from a laughingstock to a perennial contender.
“I never dreamed I would be doing this for so long,” Belluardo said. “When we first started, we would get hammered every game. It just took a little time to get it going. When we first started, soccer was unheard of in North Bergen. Everything was football.”
Now, Belluardo has nurtured the Bruins into a solid squad, year after year. The team has qualified for the NJSIAA Group IV state playoffs for 16 straight years, and the Bruins are among the top teams in the HCIAA standings, including this year, when they finished second in the league during the regular season.
On Oct. 19, Belluardo’s Bruins defeated Ferris, 1-0, to give the coach his 250th career victory. Coincidentally, five years ago, North Bergen knocked off Ferris by the same score to give Belluardo his 200th win.
On Wednesday, the North Bergen Board of Commissioners honored Belluardo with a proclamation at the regularly scheduled commissioners’ meeting.
“I’ve known John since we were children, back when he was a soccer player,” North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco said in making the presentation to Belluardo. “Over the years, through his hard work, we’ve seen the program grow. It’s a good, disciplined team and that’s the way it should be. He has a great program and this is a great way to honor him.”
Belluardo’s career record now stands at 252-130-21 over the quarter century as head coach. He is only the second coach in HCIAA history to ever achieve the 250-win plateau in boys’ soccer, joining Emerson’s Angelo Avella.
Over his career, Belluardo has captured two HCIAA championships and two HCIAA National Conference titles.
“I’ve always had three goals since I’ve been a coach,” Belluardo said. “Of course, you want to win and you want to win championships. But you have to remember you’re there for the kids. I always think of the effect you have as a coach on kids, both on and off the field. That’s what keeps me going. That’s what drives my desire to keep coaching. I get a kick when the alumni come back and want to help. They ask how the team is going. It means a lot to me.”
Getting by with a little help
Belluardo said that he has been blessed to be assisted by three of his former players who now serve as coaches, namely Frank Piazza, Sait Escobar and Jimmy Somick.
Belluardo has also served the township of North Bergen well in many other capacities helping children over the years. After a long career as an elementary school teacher, Belluardo took over the responsibilities as the supervisor of the Student Assistance Resource Program (START), serves as the chairman of the township’s Municipal Drug Alliance and is a commissioner on the local Alcohol Beverage Control board.
“I still have the desire,” Belluardo said. “Every year, I start circling the calendar for August 15, knowing that’s when the soccer season begins. It’s what I talk about in the summer, saying, ‘I have to get back because soccer season is here.’ I have to thank my wife and family for tolerating me every summer, because that’s when my summer ended.”