FEELING INVINCIBLE: Vince Boccanfuso poses with his wife, Rita and daughters, Lynn, far left, and Beth, far right, before officiating in his 300th college football game. Boccanfuso, a 1966 Princeton High graduate who starred in football and track, is being inducted this Saturday into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Starting his Princeton High sports career as a sixth-string, 120-pound receiver for the freshman football team in 1962, Vince Boccanfuso didn’t seem destined for stardom.
But using his speed and persistence, Boccanfuso worked himself up to the first team that season.
Taking off from there, Boccanfuso became a standout athlete for the PHS football and track teams.
On the gridiron, he was a two-year varsity starter who earned All-County and All-Suburban honors as a senior.
On the track, Boccanfuso emerged as a star sprinter and jumper, winning the county crown in the 100-yard dash and taking second in the 220 and the long jump in the county meet as a senior in 1966 and then winning Central Jersey Group IV titles in the 100, 220, and long jump.
This Saturday, Boccanfuso ascends to the pantheon of PHS sports as he will be inducted into the ninth class of the school’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
He will be joined in the class by Wilbur E. Hines ’66, Henry Wilkinson ’69, Alec Hoke ’83, Jim Laverty ’87, Liz Hewson Blankstein ’88, Larry Madden ’64, Roger Madden ’65, Charles Edward Madden ’68, John Philip Madden ’69, and the 1960 baseball team.
Reflecting on his Little Tiger career, Boccanfuso cites his participation in the summer Princeton Playground Program as the genesis of his athletic success.
“Way back when, Princeton High, Valley Road, Harrison Street, all those different schools had a program; it was a place for kids to go in the summer,” recalled Boccanfuso, age 66.
“It was like a day care. They had softball teams and at the end of the summer, they had a track meet at PHS and I did really well in eighth grade.”
That performance put him on the radar of PHS track coach Gerry Groninger.
“One day freshman year I was sitting in homeroom and Gerry Groninger tapped me on the shoulder and said I want you to run for me,” said Boccanfuso, noting that Groninger had heard about his track prowess from the director of the summer program.
Boccanfuso did the 100, 220, long jump, and high jump and was a star from the outset.
To maximize his speed, Boccanfuso adopted an unorthodox workout method.
“I used to train with Bart Bennett; he would run the hurdles and I would sprint right next to him because no one could keep up with us.”
As a 5’9, 137-pounder in his senior year, Boccanfuso had to race past defenders to make an impact on the football.
“I was called by one of the papers as the fastest schoolboy player in the state,” recalled Boccanfuso.
Boccanfuso’s connection with quarterback and close friend, Bill Cirullo, also helped him excel as a receiver.
“We grew up on Humbert Street together; we lived across the street from each other,” said Boccanfuso of Cirullo, the longtime principal at the Riverside School.
“We started playing football in the backyard when we were five or six. I could not have done what I did without him throwing to me.”
Boccanfuso did some special things in track, starring as the 1966 team won the state title.
“Winning three events in one day at the Central Jersey Group IV meet was a highlight,” said Boccanfuso, proudly noting his personal bests in the 100 (9.8), 220 (21.3), long jump (21’5) and high jump (6’0).
“I also had a big county meet. Everybody was happy with the state title. I had busted my knee up in football so it was rough to do some of the things I did that season.”
Over his PHS career, Boccanfuso was happy to have come under the influence of some special coaches.
“Tom Murray was the biggest factor in my life besides my father,” asserted Boccanfuso. “He lived around the corner. I think he got me moved up from the sixth to first team that freshman season. He was also a track coach. He was a great guy, he is a fantastic man.”
Off the field and track, Boccanfuso did some great things as well during his high school years, getting selected for New Jersey Boys State and receiving the PHS Gold Key for meritorious service.
After PHS, Boccanfuso went to Rutgers where he earned a BA and was too busy working himself through college to continue his sports career. He went on to earn an MBA from Rider and a PhD in finance from Columbia.
During college, he became involved in a different aspect of sports that helped change the course of his life.
“I got to the point where I knew I wouldn’t be playing football forever,” said Boccanfuso.
“I wanted to keep involved in the game. In my senior year in college I took a
cadet class in 1969. I passed and became a high school ref.”
While working his way up to Director of Contracts for Sarnoff Corporation, Boccanfuso rose through the ranks of officiating.
“In 1976, a college official told me I ought to be a college ref,” said Boccanfuso, who has also worked as a high school lacrosse ref and runs the clock at Princeton University basketball and lacrosse games.
“I started doing D-3 games. In 1985, I was promoted to 1-AA. I did an FCS championship game in January 2012. It was the highlight of my officiating career along with doing three Yale-Harvard games.”
Getting inducted into the PHS Hall of Fame this Saturday will create another lasting highlight for Boccanfuso.
“It is hard to describe,” said Boccanfuso, who will be introduced by his daughters, Lynn and Beth, with wife, Rita, a fellow 1966 PHS alum, in attendance. “I am elated that they would think of me. It is unbelievable.”