Haverstraw High School
Boxer, Bowler, Little League Coordinator
Being a three-sport athlete at the old Haverstraw High School was just the start of Nick Picarello’s lifelong impact on sports in Rockland. Like so many high school athletes, the major sports were the immediate appeal and Nick excelled at football, basketball and baseball, filling each season of his school year with competition.
Beyond his high school days, team sports gave way to individual sports where his performance alone ruled the day. And like at Haverstraw High School, those efforts were marked with greatness.
Many consider the 1940s to be the Golden Age of boxing. Nick was a jewel of that Golden Age, carrying on a family tradition in amateur boxing.
In 1942, under the guidance of manager Phil Rotella – who would go on to become a Democratic Party political power- house as Haverstraw town supervisor – Nick fought his way from his hometown to Midtown Manhattan.
“The 19-year-old youth stole the show in the opening round of the tournament when he hammered Cyril Knight through two fast rounds and then polished off his foe with a looping right in one minute 10 seconds of the third round,” according to a report in The Journal-News.
Reporting on another match, The Journal News referred to Picarello as “The peppery little Haverstraw puncher,” and said he belted his opponent “to the canvas twice and then went on to trade blows at a fast clip to win the decision.”
After beating opponents from around the Metropolitan Area, the 118-pound puncher from Haverstraw won the novice level Bantamweight Golden Gloves title against a CYO boxer at the old Madison Square Garden, on Eighth Avenue at 50th Street.
Nick then went on to represent New York in the Intercity Golden Gloves. At the time, the Intercity Golden Gloves was considered, along with the events in New York and Chicago, to be the premier amateur boxing tournaments in the nation.
Nick went on to box in the U.S. Navy, serving in both the European and Asian Pacific theaters. Following his service, he returned to Haverstraw where he would eventually serve as Post Commander of the Leo Laders American Legion Post 130, then located in West Haverstraw, where it was an anchor to the community.
Living in Garnerville after the war, Nick was an avid golfer and also became a force on the lanes of local bowling alleys.
Not long after the King Pin Lanes opened in West Nyack in 1960, Nick rolled a 751 series that stood as the high series until after his death more than a decade later. Four years after the high series, Nick bowled the first sanctioned perfect 300 game at King Pin in 1964. He had been bowling for 15 years and had posted 289 scores twice before the historic perfect game.
The perfect game won him a $500 bond and earned him membership in the American Bowling Congress 300 Club to go along with his membership in the Rockland County Bowlers Association.
Close to home, he worked to promote bowling to a new generation, founding and overseeing the Junior Bowling League at Hi Tor Lanes in West Haverstraw.
Nick Picarello made his enduring mark on Rockland youth sports when he was among the dedicated individuals who worked to create and nurture Haverstraw Little League.
It was the second Little League formed in Rockland and Nick was among those who turned it into one of the premier Little League programs in New York State.
He coached and managed at both the Little League and Senior League levels and served as president of Haverstraw Little League, guiding its growth in numbers and quality.
He also served as District Administrator of New York District 18, which at the time encompassed all of Rockland County’s 13 leagues and four leagues in southern Orange County. According to the old News-Leader-Independent, District 18 in 1972 boasted 11,000 young players, making it the largest Little League district in the world. Spring Valley alone had 1,000 players.
For about 35 years, Haverstraw was the only league in Rockland with a lighted field, which positioned it perfectly to serve as the home of the championship games in the early years of The Journal-News Little League Tournament of Champions.
The tournament was founded in 1961 when a Haverstraw merchant approached the sports editor of The Journal-News asking that the newspaper hold a baseball tournament to benefit Jawonio, an agency in New City that provided services to the merchant’s son, who had cerebral palsy.
Nick presided over the tournament through the 1972 season. Under his watch, games at the Little League and Babe Ruth levels were played at various Little League fields around the county.
But when the time came for championship games to be played, Nick made sure the premier Haverstraw field was available for those title games in the 1960s and early 1970s. In its earliest years, fundraising consisted of a Journal-News sportswriter passing a hat to seek donations for Jawonio.
When that wasn’t bringing in enough money to suit Nick, he shifted all the games to Haverstraw and guaranteed the agency $1,000 yearly.
Eventually, having the entire Tournament of Champions played at Haverstraw Little League became the norm, first in August and more recently in June, raising $10,000 to $15,000 annually for Jawonio.
But the tournament might not have survived to become the prototype for so many other fundraising youth sports tourna- ments were it not for Nick Picarello’s leadership and the generosity of the Little League he helped create and nurture into a local power and role model for so many other programs across the state.
Nick, who made his living as a salesman at the former Schmidt Chevrolet dealership, was only 50 at the time of his death in February 1973.
When Haverstraw Little League opened its 1973 season the following May, the 550 players on 34 teams in six divisions dedicated the season to the memory of the man who did so much to make their Little League experience possible.