Rui Dionisio, Superintendent of Schools
(The following speech was written with the intent of the spoken word, and does not necessarily follow the rules for grammar and written essay.)
Good evening. I would like to welcome everyone tonight to the official re-dedication of the Thomas J. Sellitto Athletic Field at Verona High School.
Our facilities have undergone an incredible transformation, including new athletic turf, energy efficient lighting, and numerous upgrades to support the needs of our students, athletes, and the entire Verona community. We are fortunate to call such a space our home, where our students will compete in interscholastic athletic events and marching band performances, as well as participation in physical education classes, and district and community activities.
As always, nothing in life can be accomplished without teamwork and the support of individuals who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to provide the students of Verona a rewarding and positive experience in our school district.
These first rate facilities would not be possible without the dedication and incredible efforts of many people, including the support of our residents.
We are fortunate to have many key stakeholder groups with us this evening who played an active role in making our beautiful facilities a possibility. The fruits of our labor could not be enjoyed by our community if it were not for their contributions. This evening we recognize members of our Verona Board of Education, both past and present. We also recognize the tremendous efforts of our previous district administration, as well as the Verona Field Committee and numerous parents and residents who played an integral role in the design, collaboration, communication, and approval of the referendum project that included facility upgrades to our athletic complex, music room addition, technology and security upgrades, and much, much more.
I would also like to commend our building and athletic administration, as well as the numerous coaches and parents, who provided invaluable feedback throughout the entire process over the past 3 years, including the members of our Boards such as the Fifth Downers, All Sports Booster Club, Verona Music Parents Association, and individual sports boosters.
I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge our custodial and maintenance staff whose amazing efforts are recognized and immensely appreciated.
We would also like to express our gratitude to the Verona Township, including the Town Council and Township Manager, the Verona Planning Board, as well as the Verona Police Department, Public Works, Maintenance, and Recreation Departments for their support and flexibility in working closely with us to help meet our student’s needs.
And finally, I would also like to recognize the Hillbilly Muscle Fundraiser for Turf Field Initiative which helped raise nearly $48,000 a number of years ago with the support of our entire community. This generous financial donation has been accepted by our Board of Education and has allowed the district to allocate the funds for improvements to our athletic facility. For that, and the support of the many different people who made this project possible, we are eternally grateful.
Many of the people I have just acknowledged are with us on the field this evening. Please join me in giving them a warm round of applause for their incredible contributions and tireless efforts.
We are extremely fortunate to have some very important people with us this evening. With us tonight is Tom Sellitto’s beloved wife, Alice, and his daughter’s: Margo Perl, Sharon Daley, Mary Sellitto Curcio and Amy Sellitto. Also with us this evening are Tom’s adored grandchildren, great grandchildren, and extended family.
The name of this field, by which we stand on this evening, is rededicated to an incredible man who left his mark on our small, close-knit community. Thomas J. Sellitto earned his Bachelor and Master Degrees in Education at Montclair State University. In 1956, he began his professional career with the Verona Board of Education as a high school teacher and football coach. Coach Sellitto, as he would come to be known, went onto an amazingly successful career, most notably coaching the Verona High School football team to State Championships in 1960, ‘61, and ‘62.
In 1963, Coach became the deputy superintendent of schools in Verona where he initiated such programs as distributive education and developing a vocational program for students with specific needs. He remained in this position until his retirement in 1993. In addition, Tom was also an adjunct business professor at Seton Hall University Graduate School for over 25 years.
Tom was also selected by the Essex County Coaches as Administrator of the Year in 1976. Coach Sellitto was also named a “Distinguished Coach” by the Essex County Chapter of the National Football Hall of Fame in 1999 and was inducted into the Verona High School Alumni Hall of Fame in 2004.
Tom was an optimistic person, and a kind, reserved man with a passion for athletics and all of the joys that come along with sport and team. He was a man who understood the value of a good education, and worked tirelessly to insure all students in the Verona Public Schools were provided the best educational experience possible.
At this time, I would like to take a moment to read a passage to you that was shared by one of Coach Sellitto’s former players:
“Many of us have fond memories of a coach, teacher or mentor that left a positive impression on us. For me, that person is my 1961 & 1962 VHS football coach, Tom Sellitto. He is well known for leading the Verona Hillbillies to 3 State Championships in 1960, 1961 and 1962; however, my lasting impression of Coach Sellitto is how he taught me that winning in life is just as important as winning the game. Coach Sellitto was the perfect blend of fierce competitor and true gentleman. His integrity was second to none and he held his players to that same high standard on and off the field. He instilled in me the importance of respect, discipline, fairness, and sportsmanship. These skills transcended the game of football, helped me be a better player on the field, and gave me the ability to tackle any obstacle that life has sent my way. Coach was great at motivating his players, and he had the ability to know what his players were capable of, even if those same players lacked the confidence in themselves at the time. He always led by example and was ahead of his time in knowing what team sports are truly intended for: for building character and that the real value of playing on a team is learning the importance of being part of something bigger than yourself. I still keep in touch with some former teammates and we share the same great memories of playing for Verona under Coach Sellitto. May his legacy continue to inspire the future generations who use the “Thomas J. Sellitto Athletic Field.”
Those words encapsulate just what Coach Sellitto meant to so many people. Tom gave back to our community as an educator from 1956 to 1993. But above all else, he was a loving husband to his wife of 57 years, Alice Sellitto. And he was the doting father to his children Margo, Sharon, Amy, and Mary.
Tom Sellitto shared the following acceptance message after his induction into the the Verona High School Hall of Fame:
“My advice to young people is to surround yourself with people you admire. Learn from them. Stay determined and work hard. And remember, when challenges arise–and they will–you must keep moving forward. Take the high road, rise above things. Know that you are strong enough to do that, capable enough to meet every challenge life throws your way. And once you have lived enough to know that what I am telling you is the truth, take what you have learned and pass it on.”
Thomas J. Sellitto left an indelible mark on the people of Verona during his illustrious career. Please join me in giving the entire Sellitto Family a warm round of applause as we present them with a token of our appreciation.
To the Sellitto Family, thank you for joining us this evening in this very special occasion and for sharing your husband, father, grandfather, and friend with all of us. And to our community members who joined us this evening, thank you for showing your appreciation to a wonderful man for which this field has been named after for many years to come. Enjoy the game and thank you.