rich nicoletti 060816 2Longtime Red Bank clay courts tennis pro Rich Nicoletti on the site of the dormant riverfront facility earlier this month. The Monmouth Boat Club is in the background. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


This time of year, scuffing footwork and the thwok of tennis balls would normally be heard most summer mornings down by the Navesink River in Red Bank’s Marine Park, widely considered nirvana among aficionados for its unusual red clay courts.

It was certainly that for Rich Nicoletti, who grew up in an apartment above what’s now the Downtown nightclub just up the hill, and spent decades as the tennis pro at the borough-owned facility.

“These tennis courts were a gem,” said the retired sports journalist, who at 73 estimates he’s spent fully one-quarter of his life at the site. “It was beautiful.”

But 86 years after they opened, the courts may have seen their last match.

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RBR 120875A photo from the Red Bank Register’s December 8, 1975 coverage of the championship game, and a team photo from the 1976 yearbook, below. (Click to enlarge)
rbr bucs 1975

Forty years.

It’s been that long since Red Bank Regional was a state football champion.

On Saturday night, the undefeated Buccaneers (11-0) have an opportunity to end the drought when they face the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional Bulldogs (9-2) for the NJSIAA Central Group 3 title in Piscataway.

While the Bulldogs have racked up trophies — a win Saturday would be their third consecutive state championship — the Bucs haven’t tasted football glory since 1975.

But what glory it was. As reported by the now-defunct Red Bank Register, that season’s Central Jersey Group II  title game was something of an epic battle. RBR and Hightstown “tore at each other like fighting roosters” for four quarters before the Bucs emerged with a 46-44 win — their 28th straight victory.

The game is still regarded as “one the best games ever played in the history of New Jersey playoff football,” according to a “10 Things You Need to Know” about this year’s game published earlier this week by

Wednesday’s Asbury Park Press ran an article in which an RBR player and two coaches reminisced about the game — with a detour to Vince Lombardi’s grave in Middletown.

Below is the Register’s coverage the day after RBR’s victory, including an article by Rich Nicoletti, perhaps better known to some redbankgreen readers as the longtime keeper of the red clay tennis courts in Red Bank’s Marine Park.

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Rich Nicoletti at Red Bank’s clay courts, which remain out of commission seven months after Hurricane Sandy. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)


Rich Nicoletti first hit Red Bank’s clay tennis courts in 1955. A few years later, he became assistant to the facility’s tennis pro. In 1990, he was named pro, a title he holds to this day.

“It’s safe to say I easily spent a quarter of my life down here,” Nicoletti said recently, standing on the red clay surface in Marine Park. Rarely, though, has he seen the courts as ravaged as they were by the churning waters of the Navesink River, just feet away, during Hurricane Sandy.

The courts, he said, “were just completely dug up” by the roiling river.

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