For both John Dubuque and John Spina, coming back to coach at Belleville High School represents a return to their roots.
Having served as the Buccaneers' defensive coordinator from 2006-08, Dubuque was appointed as the team's new head football coach at the July 18 Board of Education meeting, replacing Chris Strumolo after the latter was not retained.
Meanwhile Spina, a former football and wrestling standout who graduated from BHS in 1995, was named the new girls' volleyball head coach, replacing Grace Worley.
Before going 4-6 each of the previous two seasons at Boonton High School, Dubuque interviewed for the Bucs' head coaching post prior to the 2008 campaign, only to see the Board appoint Strumolo instead.
Following a 3-7 showing last fall, BHS Athletic Director Thomas D'Elia decided to re-open the head coaching position because, as he put it, there were areas of improvement he discussed with Strumolo that “weren't followed through to my level of expectation.”
This created an opening for Dubuque, who served as a defensive coordinator under Strumolo in 2008 and impressed D'Elia with his attention to detail.
“His organization set him apart,” D'Elia said. “He had very detailed practice instructions, very detailed expectations for the kids, player contracts. Everything that Mr. Dubuque said was put forth.”
Already, Dubuque has seemingly re-energized a program that has not reached the state playoffs since 2007. More than 40 student-athletes have shown up for summer weightlifting sessions, impressing a coach who is a stickler for self-discipline on and off the field.
“I believe that my experience has shown that we're go to be competitive,” said Dubuque, who served as an assistant coach at Glen Ridge. “We're going to be in every game. I'm optimistic because I hope the kids can follow my lead. I want to change the atmosphere at Belleville.”
Spina holds the same aspirations in his new post. Belleville's 0-16-1 mark last autumn leaves him unfazed considering he started the girls volleyball program at Roselle High School in 2004, going from 0-10-1 his first season to 15-13 in his fourth year despite dealing with consistent roster turnover due to moving-related transfers.
“Dealing with high school athletes for seven years (at Roselle), you learn everything you need to do to make your prog successful,” said Spina, who also coaches the North Jersey Volleyball Club 15-and-under team. “If you continue to learn from your mistakes and build on them positively, it greatly helps you as a head coach. I have a lot more insight that I didn't have seven years ago.”
Coming back to his alma mater, Spina is hopeful of introducing a new era of success, just as Dubuque hopes to do on the gridiron.
“I want to instill confidence in these kids and make them believe they can be successful,” Spina said.