ALJ Football Alumni Dinner Continues Annual Thanksgiving Tradition


Posing for a group picture during the 17th Annual ALJ Alumni Dinner are from left to right: Athletic Director and former head coach Gus Kalikas, Current Head Coach Mike Mancino, former Athletic Director and assistant coach Carl Peterson, Assistant Superintendent Ed Grande, former head coach and Coach of the Year Bob Taylor, and event organizer and emcee, Ken Drake. (Photo courtesy of Clark Public Schools)

CLARK — In what can be described as a rite of passage on Thanksgiving Eve, the Arthur L. Johnson High School intergenerational Alumni Football Dinner was held in the school cafeteria this past week, as it has every year since 1997.

In keeping with his leadership role of 17 years, dinner organizer Ken Drake served as the master of ceremonies and facilitator for the evening. Drake started the evening by introducing the various guests, including current and former administrators, athletic directors, and coaches in attendance. After this, returning alumni dating back to the school’s first decade stood up and introduced themselves, stating their name, the position they played, and the head coach they played under.

Each of the three head football coaches in attendance were recognized as well: Bob Taylor, Gus Kalikas, and current coach Mike Mancino. Taylor was recognized for leading the 1995 Arthur L. Johnson High School Crusaders Team to a state championship.

After a break for a delicious Thanksgiving Eve buffet dinner, the program continued with a short address by organizer Drake, some words from former players and current college players, an overview of the season by Mancino, and an introduction of the current players. The seniors were called up to the front of the room and each received a personalized introduction by Mancino, highlighting that individual’s contributions towards the team’s effort, at which point the senior captains were recognized and thanked for their leadership.

In a couple of new innovations to the program this year, various coaches and alumni participated in trivia questions about the history of Crusader Football, to which the correct responders were presented with various gifts of team shirts and apparel. Also new this year was the playing of vintage tapes, highlighting Crusader exploits of years passed, donated by alumni. The evening concluded with the viewing of a highlight film of the 2013 Crusader season, one in which the team completed the season with a 5 – 5 record.

Current and former players, coaches, and administrators lingered on in the cafeteria long after the official end of the dinner, catching up with each other and sharing stories of days long passed from the gridiron.

Clark Superintendent of Schools Kenneth Knops remarked, “The annual Alumni Dinner is a valued and cherished part of our district culture. I look forward to attending the dinner each year and haven’t missed one during my tenure as superintendent. Ken Drake does a wonderful job organizing, facilitating, and running the evening. It’s always a delight to see the former coaches who are held in such high esteem by their players. Bob Taylor, Carl Peterson, and Coach Albano always lighten up the room when they enter it; former players are so happy to see them. It’s also good for our current players to see the legacy of the football program and meet the players and coaches who shaped such a vital tradition which we are all proud of.”

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