Hammonton honors legendary football coach
HAMMONTON—There were plenty of smiles and laughs and even a few tears as Hammonton High School honored former head football coach and athletic director Joe Cacia at a halftime ceremony last week during the football game against Highland Regional.
Following remarks by several dignitaries and Cacia’s son, J.R., a monument was unveiled near the field house honoring Hammonton’s former coach.
Cacia took over a floundering Hammonton football program in 1968 and immediately turned the Blue Devils into winners. The 1968 team went 8-0-1 and won the program’s first-ever Cape Atlantic League (CAL) and South Jersey Group 1 championships. Cacia’s teams went on to win three more CAL titles. According to the Blue Devils 1968 team captain, Frank Fucetola, Cacia finished his seven-year career with a 47-14-2 record.
Fucetola was one of dozens of former Hammonton players and cheerleaders, family and friends who turned out to honor Cacia, who was also a teacher and guidance counselor at Hammonton High School and served on town council.
He impacted much more than the football team, as during his years as athletic director many Hammonton teams began to enjoy unprecedented success. Beginning with that 1968 football team, the school began a resurgence that continues today.
“However important these accomplishments [on the football field] might have been, they were just a small portion of what took place that season. A complete metamorphosis occurred in town. Everyone began walking tall. Throngs of people filled the bleachers and lined the fences each game. Other high school sports teams all became competitive, the marching band began its rise and run of championships. Teachers shared enthusiasm about this complete culture change. The change came from one man, coach Cacia,” Fucetola said.
The ceremony began with short comments from Hammonton Board of Education president Sam Mento III and Councilman Tom Gribbin.
“I was too young to have played for Coach Cacia, but I can tell you even though I didn’t have an opportunity to play for him in high school, when I was a young boy playing Hawks football we would regularly attend the high school games and watching those winning teams, we all felt so proud and knew in our hearts that if we practiced hard and stuck with it, when we got to high school, we would be winners, too,” Mento said.
“Joe Cacia started the winning tradition here in Hammonton and raised the bar on what it meant to be a Blue Devil football player,” he said.
Gribbin mentioned Cacia’s tenure as a councilman and also praised his impact on the community.
“Joe Cacia devoted his life to his family, to his players, to service and to our town. He exemplified the best of Hammonton, a place that he truly loved and it is my hope that the Cacia family knows that this town of Hammonton loved him back tenfold,” Gribbin said.
Speaking for all Cacia’s former players, Fucetola talked not only of Cacia’s coaching abilities but also about how he delivered lessons on and off the field.
“[F]ootball was the vehicle in which Coach Cacia taught the values of teamwork, commitment, work ethic, responsibility, leadership and pride. He instilled respect in our opponents, our teammates and ourselves. He provided all of us with the tools to win in life. Some coaches have a legacy that includes a coaching tree … Joe Cacia has a coaching tree of his own, former players who coach in a high school, youth league and college level provide further proof that Coach Cacia’s legacy lives on.
“Tonight we take this opportunity to proudly say, ‘We thank you coach. We miss you, we love you and are in debt to you.’ Thanks Coach Cacia,” Fucetola said.
Former Hammonton player Anthony Motolese presented Cacia’s widow, Marie, with flowers, and following some brief comments, State Assemblyman Michael Torrissi presented both the school and Cacia’s family with copies of a State Proclamation honoring Coach Cacia.
After the monument was unveiled, Cacia’s son, J.R. addressed the large crowd flanked by his mother, Marie, and members of the Cacia family.
“First of all I want to thank the school board president [Sam] Mento, mayor DiDonato and his office, AD [Chris] Sacco and the athletic department, coach Fucetola and Lee Chappine, who spearheaded this.
“I also want to thank Gabe Donio at The Hammonton Gazette, they really keep this town alive, the history and I get that delivered to myself in Los Angeles, so you’re covered nation-wide.
“You guys know who Michelangelo was? He did a statue of The David and they asked him, “How did you sculpt the David?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t, it was always there. It was in the marble, I just brought it out.’ Well Hammonton had a decade of losing teams and Dad came along and they went undefeated, four championships in-a-row. What changed? They called him ‘Joe God’ but he was not, of course. Although it didn’t rain today and it rained all week, so? You, Hammonton, you were always in there. You all are the marble. My dad was merely the chisel that brought out the greatness in this town and all the greatness you see behind me today of success and winning and also being honorable men and women.
“You know, sometimes we just need someone to come along and believe in us more than we believe in ourselves. He believed in you but you also believed in him. So, yeah, he was our dad but he was your guidance counselor, he was your teacher, he was your athletic director, he was your councilman, he was my dad but he was your coach, all of you.
“I want to thank you, all of you, this town. I want to thank all of you for sharing my dad with us. Thank you,” Cacia said.