Washington Township Youth Football celebrates 50 years

Minutemen and Patriots, past and present, look back on the history of the youth football program

Washington Township Youth Football Commissioner Mark Colligan holds the 50th anniversary jersey, which will be auctioned at the youth football gala on Sept. 30.

Players, parents and coaches from past to present are reflecting on the past 50 years of the Washington Township Youth Football program, home of the Minutemen and former Patriots, as it celebrates its milestone anniversary this year.

With many of the coaches having played in the program themselves, and a number of them involved for at least 15 years, the program is described often as a family of lifelong friends.

Mike Van Horn, now a retired coach, played in the youth program as a kid when he was 5 years old. At the age of 17, in 1984, he became the program’s first head coach. Having coached mainly for the 85-pound team, made up of 7- and 8-year-old boys, he held the coaching position for 26 years, earning 23 championships.

“My life has been with the program,” Van Horn said. “I have kids that I coached now volunteering to be coaches; I’m going to make sure I support them.”

Van Horn plans to go to as many games this year as possible to support the program and his longtime friends.

Commissioner Mark Colligan was a player on the patriot team growing up. He said once his son Mark, Jr. turned 5, in 2007, it was nostalgic for him to come back and be a part of the program. With his son moving on to the high school level, Colligan remains committed to the program and what is to come.

Colligan said typically the program would hold a beef-and-beer fundraiser each year, however this year it is planning much more in honor of the anniversary. On Sept. 30, a gala will be held at The Palace in Blackwood, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., for parents, players, coaches and members of the program past and present, ages 21 and older, to celebrate.

The gala will not only raise money for the program operations that are not covered by the township, but will also introduce the first Washington Township Youth Football Hall of Fame, inducting between three to five members from the mid-90s to early 2000s. There will also be a Chinese auction with numerous prizes, including an exclusive framed №50 jersey in gold lettering.

“It’s going to be huge,” said Brian Scavetta, a coach in the program since the late 1980s. “It’s unbelievable we’ve been around this long and have been successful this long.”

During the season, which begins July 31 and ends in November, there are only four to five home games. Colligan welcomes former members of the program to attend and be recognized during halftime.

“I want all of these guys to come back, walk around and see what they’ve created,” Colligan said. “If they are in the stands, they are getting acknowledged.”

Charlie Doud, a coach of 25 years and former commissioner, said the growth of the program is all thanks to those who have donated their time and money throughout the years. During his time with Washington Township Youth Football, the charity wing was created, raising money for residents in need, the Veteran’s Bowl was introduced — scheduled for Aug. 26, honoring local veterans with a special season-opening kickoff game — and a breast cancer awareness pink game in October was generated to show support to those diagnosed and their families and more.

“We use football as the main vehicle that can drive all of these other offshoots,” Doud said. “Ironically, they superseded playing football.”

Doud said the program’s success has run on four core values: consistency, discipline, fairness and objectivity. Many of the coaches no longer have children in the program, but continue to devote their time and effort to each child who participates. Doud said this consistency lends to the comfort of parents and their families knowing the coaches have been around for many years, as well as the objectivity and fairness where they know the coaches will not favor any player due to bloodline relations.

“One of the greatest things about the program are the successful coaches that have been here and stayed here,” Scavetta said. “It’s about all of the kids and what’s best for all of the children.”

Anthony DiMaggio joined the youth football program in 1978 when he was in third grade, later following his father’s footsteps in becoming a coach.

“It’s something we’re passionate about,” DiMaggio said. “We love the sport, and we love teaching the sport, and we love watching players grow as young men.”

Boys ages 5 to 14, not including high school freshmen, interested in joining the program may sign up at the parks and recreation’s office in the municipal building. For more information, visit www.wtyouthfootball.com.