RIDGEWOOD, N.J. -- Bill Pilla fights for his athletes every day as the Athletic Coordinator in the East Ramapo School District.
He also implores, encourages and cheers for them, because he knows the circumstances that challenge the students are difficult and currently unchangeable.
“My motto is we just look past everything,’’ said Pilla, a Ridgewood resident, and the athletic coordinator at East Ramapo since 2009.
“There are no excuses, I don’t want to hear them," he said. "We figure it out and do the best we can. I tell the the athletes and coaches if you make the effort, I’ll make the effort. There are only certain things we can control.”
East Ramapo’s teams might find themselves at a competitive disadvantage on the field because they lack the resources that other districts commit to athletics. But Pilla does all he can to lift the morale of athletes.
“He just wants to get the best out of the kids,’’ said Drew Delva, the Spring Valley football coach. “He’ll pull money out of his pocket if he has to. He goes way beyond the call of duty despite the hardships we go through in our district.”
Last year, for instance, the athletic department, led by middle school coordinator Austin Goldberg, developed a diversity project to illustrate how many backgrounds and nationalities are on district’s teams. He helped start an all-volunteer recreational basketball league that attracts more than 300 children. The athletic department handed out postcards to athletes last year as part of a district-wide anti-bullying program.
School districts everywhere are fighting for funding, but East Ramapo’s problems are dissimilar to most other districts.
The district serves portions of eastern Ramapo, Clarkstown and Haverstraw. There are more than 8,000 students in the district, but nearly 24,000 other students in the district attend private schools. Most of East Ramapo’s students are Hispanic and black, and nearly 70 percent are on free or reduced lunch programs. “What makes it great is what makes it tough,’’ Pilla said. “It’s a diverse community.”
Pilla said the athletic budget has been trimmed by nearly 50 percent in the past six years. He has combined teams among the two high schools, Ramapo and Spring Valley, to help trim expenses. That has created its own share of logistical headaches.
The wrestling team, for instance, finished third in the Section last year. “We don’t have a lot of Spring Valley kids that go there to wrestle,’’ he said. “It’s further from their house. They have to walk for miles to get to practice. We try to get them a late bus to go to practice. There are certain things we deal with that other schools would not understand.”
Despite its financial hardships, the district produces its share of exceptional athletes. Calvin Heurtelou, who played football at Spring Valley, played in college at the University of Miami and signed as a free agent with the Denver Broncos. Jeffry Parra, a catcher for the East Ramapo baseball team, signed a professional contract with the San Francisco Giants and plays in their minor league system. Kaylyn Gordon competes in track and field for Stony Brook University, where she set a school record in the triple jump in May.
The success stories of the athletes, either while in high school or succeeding levels, light Pilla’s motivational fire. “They’re the most appreciative group of kids I ever met. If people appreciate you, it makes it easier to go to work. When we have successes, they are a big deal. Calvin talks to us all the time. He appreciates where he came from. He realizes we helped him.”
Pilla had considered moving to a district with more funds, better equipment and steady support.
Now he’s at East Ramapo to stay. The students and the people he works with keep him coming back. “I’m lucky,’’ Pilla said. “This is where I belong. I love the people I work with.”
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