It was early in the 2015 softball season, at the 10th annual IHA Softball Tournament, and Anthony LaRezza was telling me about a health scare he endured, which had occupied most of that previous winter. The experience had deeply affected him, but he seemed content, now that his health was back in good shape.
Anthony had the usual dry sense of humor going, and he took time to make fun of me, which he always did, when I walked in to one of his games, wearing a particular team jacket, or some kind of shirt. (What I wouldn’t do to hear him make fun of me, today).
But, anyway, I had asked him how he was feeling, because he was nice enough to share some of his health concerns with me. He said he was good, and that he had even been asked to throw out the first pitch at a Coaches vs. Cancer softball event, which he was really happy about doing.
I asked him if he’d be interested in telling his story, as a way of inspiring others, in the form of an article.
He smiled, and said, “I don’t know. I’m kind of low-keyed about it. I’m not sure I can do that. Let me think about it.”
And, obviously, it was his health, confidential for sure, and I said no problem.
He would continue to share things with me, and it always stayed between us. Anthony, of course, went on to a great season in 2015, as IHA won the state championship in thrilling fashion, and most have seen that indelible image of Anthony jumping with joy as Reagan Jones scored the winning run, on June 6, 2015.
When Anthony became ill late in 2015, he shared, regularly, via Twitter to his many followers, his battle, and how confident he was about a complete recovery. He couldn’t wait for the start of the 2016 softball season.
Shortly before Thanksgiving, I wrote a blog about some of his favorite things, and how he’d be his usual wacky self for the start of this season. In January, he had called me out of the blue, and said, “can you hear me okay?” And I said, sure, why? And he said he had gone through a major oral procedure a week earlier, and wasn’t sure how he sounded.
I said something along the lines of “you sound good, and I hope you know I’m thinking of you, but didn’t want to bother you too much over the holidays.”
He said of course he knew that, and that we’d get to Rutt’s Hut, soon, to catch up.
Well, we all know what happened on Feb. 4, 2016. And now, as a new season is underway, with scrimmages, the IHA players and coaches are carrying LaRezza’s love of the game quite well on the field. The team will open the regular season on April 1, at Paramus Catholic, with Diana Fasano, a former Eagle, as the team’s head coach, after a great run as LaRezza’s assistant.
One of Anthony’s favorite events was organizing the IHA Tournament. He would sometimes call during the winter to tell me which teams were coming and some of the matchups.
He loved putting the schedules together, handing out game balls at the end of each game, aggravating Ed Bates, visiting the snack stand, making sure everyone knew what great fare was available at the stand, and working the crowd with a handshake and the usual joke, like the Mayor of IHA, with that laughter permeating the ball park.
The 11th annual tournament will have a slightly different look, beginning with the name.
It’s now dubbed IHA Softball’s Anthony LaRezza Invitational.
What else could it possibly be called?
The usual top teams in New Jersey will be participating, like the host school, as well as Notre Dame of Lawrenceville, Saddle Brook, West Essex, St. John Vianney, Butler and Newark Academy. Out-of-state powers, including Caravel of Delaware, St. Joseph’s of Connecticut and Moore Catholic of Staten Island, will also be there.
The tourney will be held on Saturday, April 9, and Sunday April 10. The IHA community would like to let friends and fans of Anthony to know that in the beloved coach’s name, they can use your backing in helping the team support the Tackle Kids Cancer campaign. It’s a chance to raise awareness and support the fight against pediatric cancer, the number one cause of death, by disease, among children in the United States.
Together with the NFL’s New York Giants, IHA will support the Children’s Cancer Institute, at Hackensack University Medial Center, to help raise funds for research and programs through the Tackle Kids Cancer campaign.
There is much more information about donating by clicking on this link, for details, and the IHA softball program would be greatly appreciative for your support.
The goal is $2,000.00, and in the early stages, approximately $150.00 has already been raised.
The games will go on, the kids will play, the coaches will coach, fans will cheer, and someone else will hand out the MVP game balls after each contest.
But Anthony will be there, for sure, and he’ll want to see everyone having a great time.
And that mischievous smile will be wide, knowing that in his name, a chance to help ill children get better is a pretty good thing.
And why not just hastag it, #LaRezzaStrong