The Starting Line: Bill Bruno's Journey In Track And Field

This feature ran in 2020, Bill Bruno announced his retirement the spring of 2021.

A new feature on the site, called The Starting Line, where we are catching up with big names in New Jersey cross country and track and field to learn more about their start in the sport. While many may know them for their most recent roles it is always interesting to see more about their journeys there.  

The Starting Line With Bill Bruno

We begin this series with someone everyone should know if they've recently been involved with New Jersey track and field in some capacity, NJSIAA Assistant Director Bill Bruno. Bruno has been involved in the sport at many levels for over 50 years, from an athlete to a coach, to a meet and or athletic director, and now even guiding the sport at the NJSIAA. 

He's been awarded multiple Hall of Fame honors including the halls at Christian Brothers Academy, New Jersey Scholastic Coaches, Directors of Athletics Association NJ, and most recently the Shore Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame. 

Read his accounts below from the start of his journey and insights into the great people and highlights he's seen along the way. 

NJ MileSplit: First off we all hope you are recovering well and we are glad you are back home, I'm sure it was hard missing most of the winter season after heart surgery. 

At this point many of the cross country and track and field athletes and coaches may know you at the very least from your Assistant Director role at the NJSIAA but you had a long history in the sport before that. 

What was your very first involvement in the sport and when? And when did you first realize you were hooked?

Bill Bruno: As an athlete of course at CBA. 1st week of September, 1967, my freshman year, the traditional CBA Frosh Run. I finished in the top 40 but decided to play intramural, full gear, tackle football. However, that run led me to run four years of winter and spring track at CBA.

I believe I still have the gold medal from my 1st race, the shuttle hurdle relay outdoors in the parking lot of Roselle Catholic HS (Roselle Catholic Frosh/Soph Relays). So yes that hooked me into our great sport.

How long did you compete and to what level? Any special moments or people stand out for you from that time?

I was blessed throughout my four years at CBA and Glassboro State (now Rowan University) with outstanding coaches who molded and mentored me throughout my career.

  • At CBA: Dave Hyland, Tom Broderick and in my senior year a young Tom Heath.
  • At Glassboro: Olympian Oscar Moore and the legend Bill Fritz. 

All of these men shaped my coaching philosophy to some extent.

In the above picture Bill Bruno is kneeling first from left, then Peter Barnarr, Peter Commette, Bill Huntley, Larry Donahue, and Bob Gibbs. Standing left to right is Tom Heath, Henry Engelbrecht, Steve Starace, Tim Manning, Phil Hinck, Steve Ham, George Rathlev, Dave Hyland, and Terry Broderick.

What led you to the coaching rankings? What was your first position and your favorite highlights along that journey? When did you move on from coaching? 

Wow, great question - In 1976, I was fortunate to be working on my Master Degree at night from Trenton State College and served as a long term sub when I received a call from Tom Heath asking if I wanted to coach at the Academy.

I jumped at the opportunity. Two years later I was fortunate enough to land a full time job teaching and coaching football at Manalapan HS. There were no track positions available at Manalapan until 1980 so I coached football at Manalapan and winter and spring track at CBA (1976 through 1979).

The Highlights are tough because their have been so many but I will give you my top three.

  • 1983 - My first year as head coach at CBA winning the first Shore Conference Spring Track Championship.
  • 1985 - Penn Relays DMR Champs of America---that was a crazy race and finish!! Tied for first.
  • My 11 years at Pinelands (1990-2000) where we turned a program that wasn't known for having a winning tradition in track & field into a program that had 9 straight winning seasons. Going undefeated and winning the schools 1st B-South Divisional Track Title (1995) and following up with two more undefeated seasons and B-South Championships (1999 and 2000).

We had something special going on at Wildcat Country.

I left teaching and coaching in August of 2000 to become the Athletic Director at Marlboro HS. That was the beginning of my 15 years at a high school athletic director at Marlboro, Howell and eventually the two Brick Schools for 13 years.

I know you have had a long history of involvement with the Shore Conference especially in the Meet Director role for the winter and spring Championship meets. How did you end up there and how long did you do that for?

The Shore Conference question is a funny one. I had been officiating the counties and conference meets since 1982. Ed Scullion was the meet director during that time period. He was switching over to full time electric timing for track.

In 1987 he mentored me for one year in the meet director role and from 1988 through 2015 I served as meet director for both the winter and spring track championships.

So yes, 28 great years of involvement in that outstanding meet's history. I was also the Shore Track Cadet instructor for 22 years and that was a plus, mentoring new officials into our beloved sport.

What's one of your most memorable experiences from your involvement with the Shore Conference?

That is a tough one. I'll sum it up this way, it was (and still is) a thrill to me to watch our student athletes in track and field compete at any level. They are well coached and they respect the sport. And as you can testify yourself, many have given back to the sport in some capacity.

I personally first met you in your Athletic Director role at Brick Schools, when did you start there and was that a long term goal?

I began in the Brick District on February 1st, 2003. With the rich athletic tradition of both Brick high schools it was a no brainer for me to want to be part of it. I was the district AD for nine of those years and then strictly the AD of Brick Memorial for my remaining 4 years.

And now to your current role in the sport, an Assistant Director at the NJSIAA. With administrative experience at multiple schools and a long history in track and field you were certainly prepared for the new challenge. 

But the full responsibility of the role was thrust upon you sooner than planned with the unexpected passing of the retiring Assistant Director Don Danser. 

Without the invaluable guidance you would have received from Don, who held the NJSIAA position for almost 15 years, what was the transition process like? 

I saw Don at the Spring MOC that June of 2015 and he informed me he was retiring that summer. I had served on Don's track committee and we got along although not always agreeing. He asked me to consider putting in (for the position) which I told him I would certainly consider doing so. 

I gave it some thought because I enjoyed where I was and what I was doing.  When he suddenly passed I made my decision to throw my hat in the ring.

The problem was, I had left to go hike Mt. Rainer in the state of Washington and I would not be back until early July.  My job interview was done on a conference call at the front gate of Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming.  I heard back from Mr. Timko a few days later that the job was mine.  So I cut my trip short and headed back east.

Thank goodness for Ed Colona and Carl Rickersauher who went in to Don's office and re-organized everything. That made the transition so much easier.  I decided to just let things operate as was for one year and advise and analyze and then the following year begin to make improvements. I still ask Don for assistance, especially on rainy days.

The Pinelands Wildcat Spring Medley team that was ranked US top ten in 1996. 

During your time at the NJSIAA (2015-present) we've seen a bunch of changes in the setup of cross country and track and field for New Jersey.

From earlier adjustments to entry procedures to the more recent advancement rules and even a move to Ocean Breeze. How do you feel about the state of the sport over the last few years, maybe give some insight into your process in the role, is there anything in particular you'd like to see in the future?

I put everything new in front of the XC, WT and ST committee members.  As you know I have expanded those three committees to include more representation from our large and small schools as well as the public and non-public.  I also added various members of our media who do a great job of covering our sport.

I think our three sports (XC,WT and ST) are healthy and growing.

We obviously have some outstanding veteran coaches but our younger coaches are stepping in throughout the state and doing a great job.

As for future endeavors:

    • Total online entry with no paperwork from coaches and athletic directors.
    • Hopefully the spring MOC back at Rutgers University. A brand new track & field facility is being put in and should be ready for 2021.
    • Continue to work with the Ocean Breeze folks on securing possible dates for the winter Group Championships. Even though I wasn't present, I heard nothing but good things about Lauren Primerano and her staff.
    • On a personal note, I need to do a better job of communicating.

    What has been the most interesting or biggest change in the sport that you have seen over the years? And any insight into what it was like before and after that change. 

    The timing systems and the online entry process. Instant results from all over our state keeps us abreast of what is going on at various meets. The kids today have no idea what a great time they live in.

    What is the most exciting moment or biggest performance that you have seen in person? 

    Another tough question Robert:

    • My first MOC Champion from Manalapan HS, Tom Fischer, Winning the 1981 Spring 3000 meter title at Princeton University.
    • My second MOC Champion from CBA, Mike Horrisberger in the 400 IH at South Plainfield in an upset of the field.
    • And of course watching any race that Sydney McLaughlin ran.
    • My wildcat track team of 1995 going undefeated and winning their 1st divisional title in school history. I know how hard those coaches and kids worked for that title.

    Throughout this interview we've covered a wide range of levels in this sport. That all aside and simply as a fan of it, what is your favorite part of cross country and or track and field?

    In cross country, nothing better than watching the start and finish of the races. Pure competition.

    As for T&F, for me just watching the interaction of the coaches and their athletes and the athletes with each other both before and after their events. What educational athletics is supposed to be. Great examples of sportsmanship.