This is Jennifer Gioia, First Female President of Rutherford Little League
By Jennifer Ersalesi
In 1951, after watching Bergen County’s first Little League teams play in Lyndhurst, Rutherford High School Baseball Coach, Paul Devlin, asked his friend, Treasurer of the Borough YMCA, Ed Morse, to help him find sponsors for the first four-team league of Rutherford Little League. The League was then reconstituted in 1952 to include eight teams. During the summer of 1952, the ground was cleared for the Little League field down at Memorial Field. The RLL teams played on the brand new field in 1953. The field was later dedicated to Tom Mellody who passed away in 1974 while serving as the President of the Rutherford Little League Board. In 1954, RLL started a farm system to include more teams for various age groups that wanted to participate. This system is still used today.
Since 1951, there have been twenty-seven male Presidents of the Rutherford Little League Board. This year, 2020, the Little League Board voted in their first-ever female President, long-time Rutherford resident, Jennifer Gioia. This is Rutherford interviewed Jennifer to learn more about her work with Rutherford Little League, what her role as President means to her, and her goals for this upcoming season.
TIR: How many years have you been on the Little League Board of Directors?
Jennifer Gioia: I have been involved with the RLL Board of Directors for 4 years. I started on the board as the Fundraising Coordinator and then took over as the Player Agent for Baseball for the last 2 years.
TIR: Why did you decide to join the Board?
JG: I was always interested in helping out with different organizations. I was part of the PTA Board for 14 years and once my kids started playing youth sports I always wanted to help out and be a part of the planning aspect of the organization. I am so happy to be a part of such a great town and to be able to work with such great people for the last four years.
TIR: This year you were elected the President of the Little League Board, what does your new position entail?
JG: The President’s duties consist of arranging and holding Board meetings, attending District meetings with Presidents from the surrounding towns, working with Little League International to make sure any new rules that come out this year are followed by our LL. Keeping constant communication with all the members of the Board of Directors is the most important aspect of being a President.
RLL Board member, Vinny Urgola, told TIR, "Jen Gioia is a selfless leader who sets the tone by reminding us it's about the kids, as it's always been for her boys and girls. She is the perfect person to lead the renaissance of our Flagship Rutherford Little League program."
TIR: As the first female President of the Rutherford Little League Board, you are now a part of our town’s history, how does that make you feel?
JG: It feels great to know that the members of the RLL Board have the confidence in me to handle the RLL this year. The League would not be able to run successfully without all of the awesome members of the RLL Board of Directors. Everyone on the RLL Board of Directors works together and we are all looking forward to a great 2021 Rutherford Little League Baseball and Softball Season.
Photographed Above (photo credit: Chris Gioia): Joe Cappello, Ray Guzman, Mark O'Connor, Ryan Hadrava, Russ Snyder, Kurt Balchan, Anthony Finelli, Vinny Urgola, Maria Fagan, Brian Redington, Mike Bohn, Cormac Joyce, Craig Erickson, Jennifer Gioia, Jessica Byrne, Tom Weber, and Marty Mearizo. Not pictured: Tom Lewis, Jose Lastra, Dennis Gentile, and Jim Spanarkel.
This year’s Board includes Jennifer Gioia (President), Brian Redington (Vice President-Majors), Jim Spanarkel (Vice President-Minors), Russ Snyder (Secretary), Jessica Byrne (Treasurer), Mike Bohn (Information Officer), Kurt Balchan (Safety Officer/ Equipment Manager), Tom Weber (Sponsorship/ Fundraising Coordinator), Vinny Urgola (Coaching Coordinator/ Umpire in Chief), Cormac Joyce (Grounds Coordinator), Dennis Gentile (Kitchen Coordinator), Marty Mearizo (Player Agent), Mark O’Connor (Vice President of Softball), Ray Guzman (Vice President of Softball), Ryan Hadrava (Player Agent-Softball), Joe Cappello (Equipment Manager-Softball), Joe Lastra (Secretary-Softball), Anthony Finelli (Sponsorship Coordinator), Maria Fagan (Coaches Coordinator), Craig Erickson (Information Officer), and Tom Lewis (Treasurer-Softball).
TIR: The pandemic made it impossible to have a normal baseball/ softball season during the Spring of 2020. How did the Board decide to handle the 2020 season?
JG: This year was definitely hard for everyone. The RLL Board met for many zoom meetings to discuss how to handle the 2020 season. We were taking direction from Little League International and our own district and unfortunately ended up having to cancel the 2020 season. It was very hard for us to do since so many kids had already registered and were looking forward to playing, but we had to follow the direction of Little League International and our surrounding towns.
“I’d like to say that I am proud to be a part of the Board who elected its first woman as President. For me, the historic component of Jen’s appointment is secondary to her commitment and dedication. Jen was such a natural choice to fill the role that I didn’t even realize the magnitude of the event until she was already there,” RLL Board member, Kurt Balchan, told TIR.
TIR: What are your goals for this upcoming 2021 season?
JG: The main goal for this year is to get all the baseball and softball players back on the fields. Last year was such a hard year with not having a season, so our main goal is to get all the kids registered and excited for the 2021 Season. We are also hoping to have some improvements done to the Little League field.
TIR: How often does the board meet? What are the board’s responsibilities?
JG: The board generally meets once a month to go over new and old business. The start of the new year is the busiest since there is a lot of planning that goes into getting the season ready. We are hoping to have the registration up and running for 2021 during the first week of January. The RLL Board members all have different roles, each one being a big part of the planning process. The RLL Board members are a great group of volunteers and I look forward to working with all of them this year,
RLL Board member, Russ Snyder, explained, “Jen is a very thorough and efficient person who (I am grateful) was willing to take on her new role. She goes the extra mile with everything she takes on. Whether it is planning a party, being team mom, or the league President, she takes nothing lightly and won’t let anything be overlooked. She is always prepared and makes sure those around her will be too. I am very confident in her abilities to lead one of the best known Little League organizations around, and work to make it even better.”
TIR: As a mom and the RLL Board President, why do you think that it is important to provide children with the opportunity to participate in baseball and softball?
JG: I think it’s so important for kids to have the opportunity to play baseball and softball. The physical and social aspect of it is such an important thing for kids to have. The Little League baseball and softball years go so fast and watching kids get out there and get excited to play is what it is all about. These are the memories that will last them all a lifetime.
“Jen Gioia is a true leader and the ‘mom’ of Little League. She’s organized, thoughtful, and in it for the kids. If there’s someone who can make things happen, it’s her! She does so much behind the scenes that keep things running smoothly. I am excited to be part of the board because of Jen and her commitment to this town and organization,” RLL Board member, Jessica Byrne, told TIR.