top of page

Open Letter from 2022 Hall of Famer
George Naccara 

First, I want to say how honored and thankful I am to be elected to the West Milford Athletic Hall ofFame. I must also apologize for missing the induction ceremony last year but I know my brother Steve(with whom I had the good fortune of playing alongside for two years) and three nephews Brent, Doug and Matt represented me very well. I did, however, want to share a few thoughts about the positive and profound effect that athletics (and of course, academics!) at West Milford had on my life.
Our family moved from Brooklyn, New York, to Greenwood Lake in West Milford in 1953. My brothers and I went to school from that point through high school and graduation. We were so fortunate to grow up in a time when family and friends were so important and West Milford provided a safe, stable and comfortable environment in which to develop. I began playing competitive sports in 7 th grade on a basketball team at Hillcrest School. We played about 10 games with nearby schools. That team, as in subsequent years, was coached by Larry Vanderpile who certainly had an influential role in my personal growth. Coach Vanderpile also became our gym teacher for many years. As a freshman, we had ourfirst legitimate West Milford High School football team, practicing on the Newfoundland Field as the new school facilities were not complete yet. We were coached by Bob Gunderman, probably the person who had the most influence and positive effect on me through our high school years and continuing today. His philosophy on the football field transcended sports into our daily lives for everyone on ourteams, emphasizing character, diligence, integrity, dignity and most important, leadership. Coach Gunderman maintained that persona on and off the field and into the classroom as he was our science teacher as well. Not surprisingly, we were undefeated in our first year, winning all seven games comfortably after a close call with Lakeland (12-6). I can still recall running 64 yards over left guard behind blocking by Doug Freeland for our first touchdown.
Our basketball team that first year was also undefeated with a 15-0 record, again led by CoachVanderpile. We set extraordinary standards (and expectations) during the early years which wereunmatched in the following three years, but it also taught us humility and sportsmanship. We had a couple of losing seasons in all three sports – football, basketball and baseball – before winning the football Skyline Conference title in our senior season, and being competitive in our basketball and baseball seasons. I must say that being coached by gentlemen like Bob Gunderman, Larry Vanderpile,George Wood (another extraordinary leader and teacher, on and off the baseball diamond), Paul Ryan,Dave Swetnam and Chuck Slawinsky, we were exceptionally fortunate to have that level of positive influence on our lives during those formative years.
I was fortunate to play football, basketball and baseball in college at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. In fact, our football coach in my freshman year was Otto Graham, one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, who went on to become the coach of the Washington Redskins in the NFL the following year. I served our nation as an officer in the Coast Guard for 33 years after graduation, clearly a career demanding all the attributes and skills developed in my years at West Milford. After my military retirement, I served in leadership positions as one of the first Federal Security Directors in the newTransportation Security Administration, created after the horrible 9/11 terrorist attacks, and then as Chief Security Officer for the Massachusetts Port Authority for many years. I continued playing flagfootball into my 30’s, softball into my late 40’s and basketball into my 60’s.To this day, I recall quite fondly the lessons learned, the experiences, the wins and the losses sustained in my years at West Milford. I am forever grateful for those years, the friends, the teachers and especially the coaches who had such a profound effect on my life.​​
George Naccara
bottom of page