Historic Bill Denny Stadium in South River to face wrecking ball, but football team expected to play a home schedule in 2023

Bill Denny Stadium – seen here during a game against South Plainfield on August 28, 2021, will eventually be torn down after being deemed unsafe. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

So many great players have come through South River – Joe Theisman, Drew Pearson, Kenny Jackson, Alex Wojciechowicz, to name just a few – and one of the threads that holds them all together is that they all played in front of crowds at Bill Denny Stadium.

But sometime soon, though it’s not clear exactly when, Bill Denny Stadium will be no more, and its future even more murky.

Longtime Rams’ football coach Rich Marchesi confirmed to Central Jersey Sports Radio Monday afternoon that Denny Stadium was recently condemned by the Board of Education, and the bleachers cordoned off sometime last month, due to safety concerns.

Marchesi says though no date is set, it will eventually be demolished..

The South River School District sent Central Jersey Sports Radio a statement Tuesday saying, “This Spring, it was determined through two independent professional evaluations that the bleachers are no longer structurally sound or safe for use. Accordingly, the stadium bleachers have been fenced off, and they are not accessible to the public,”

However, the field and track at Denny stadium remain open and in “full use,” according to the statement, which added, “Spring track operated as usual, and we will hold high school graduation on the field. The district is in the process of investigating options to address the needs of the stadium.”

Rich Marchesi and his players on the sideline in an August 28, 2021 game against South Plainfield. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

However, when Deb Napolitano, Confidential Secretary to the Superintendent, who phoned to confirm receipt of the statement, was asked when Bill Denny Stadium would be demolished, she referred us to the statement issued by the district, which made no specific mention of any demolition plans.

“The home bleachers at Denny Stadium were built before 1945,” the statement says, “and despite ongoing maintenance over the past 80 years, they have unfortunately reached the end of their useful and safe life.”

Published reports over the last couple of years have documented problems with the bleachers, which are entirely made of wood, except for some metal benches that were put in as part of what Marchesi says was part of many “patch jobs” over the years.”

“It’s life is over. You can only patch it so much,” Marchesi told Central Jersey Sports Radio.

According to a New Jersey 101.5 news story last August, a July 2022 engineers’ report for the school district said the stadium “is at the end of its life cycle” and said it shouldn’t be used after the 2023-24 school year. The report said the stadium was structurally sound, but needed a number of repairs to ensure public safety.

Now it appears officials decided to close the stadium a year ahead of the recommendation by engineers.

“It’s time has passed. As much as I would like to keep the grass and the field and the stadium, because it is pretty cool and historic, it’s time. You know, it’s not 1977 anymore.”

A replacement for the stadium complete with stands, press box, concession stands, and ADA-compliant facilities was included in a referendum that also asked residents to approve a new pre-K school to accommodate growing enrollment in town, but that was defeated soundly in January, 882-334. A separate question seeking just the turf field also was defeated by a similar margin.

South River cheerleaders perform for the home fans at Bill Denny Stadium in South River on August 28, 2021. (Photo: Mike Pavlichko)

The tax impact would have been nearly $150 per year on the average homeowner in South River.

As for the future, Marchesi says school officials are working on it.

“The Board [of Education] is doing a good job, trying to figure something out, what’s good for us,” Marchesi said. The last I heard is we’ll be able to play home games on the field.”

Marchesi says the subject came up about playing all road games, but that’s not something he wants to do, saying he’d rather play home games without bleachers than travel all season, particularly with a more veteran group he hopes will improve on last season’s 2-7 record.

The stadium is named after William C. Denny, who coached the Rams for 25 years from 1927 through 1961, and died in 1984. He also founded the local Bill Denny/Rutgers Letterwinners Chapter of the National Football Foundation and Hall of Fame

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