By TOM WILLIAMS
John Pierantozzi had a calm way of controlling a basketball game.
If a player or coach was verbally challenging a call the much-honored referee had made, Pierantozzi would frequently stop and just stare at them. Most of the time, the player or coach would back off and the moment would pass without a big confrontation.
Of course, he was an intense coach – especially in football – and had his own moments that included challenging an official.
Pierantozzi, who died today after a long illness, made an impact on many sports in the Cape-Atlantic League.
He was the head football coach at Vineland for nine seasons, seven of them winning seasons, including two CAL champions. They were the only two championships won by Vineland football in the last 43 years.
He was a basketball coach at Sacred Heart, his alma mater, and at Vineland. And he was a successful golf coach at Vineland and St. Augustine Prep.
But, despite all his success as a coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, he was best known as a basketball official. He was the first official inducted into the Carino South Jersey Basketball Hall of Fame. And, in addition to his own work on the court, he was a mentor to many other officials.
Pierantozzi loved sports. Like the majority of area sports fans, he followed the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers. And he was passionate about the teams at his alma mater – Rutgers.
Over the last couple decades, primarily at Prime Events’ basketball showcases (Tipoff Weekend and The Girls Shootout) he would spend the weekend in the gym, whether he was working a game that day, or not. After each game he would escort the officials to the hospitality room for some nourishment and a chance to review the game. In fact, he was in that hospitality room so often, it was named the John Pierantozzi Hospitality Room.
He rooted for CAL teams (with a special feeling for those from Vineland). Guys like Paul Baruffi and Dan Russo took a lot of what they learned from Pierantozzi to become successful coaches themselves.
When he had retired as an official and had a challenge getting around, he still served as an analyst on video streams of Vineland football for as long as he could. He had recently become a fan of Ben Cartwright and his sons on The Ponderosa because he knew when the theme from Bonanza came on the TV during his dialysis treatment, it was time to go home.
He loved sports and loved talking about it. To him, the Vineland-Millville football rivalry was like the Super Bowl, though former Millville coach Tony Surace became one of his best friends.
As a player, coach and official he contributed greatly to many of the big moments in Cape-Atlantic League sports. His absence will leave a void in the area sports community that will be difficult to fill.
John Pierantozzi was 80.