Merry Christmas, Anthony….IHA softball is following in your legacy quite well; Rutt’s Hut not the same without you, but the memories endure

It’s been a long day without you, my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

Why’d you have to leave so soon?
Why’d you have to go?
Why’d you have to leave me when I needed you the most?

christmas

‘Cause I don’t really know how to tell ya
Without feeling much worse
I know you’re in a better place
But it’s always gonna hurt

It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again

christmas_tree

It’s been a long day without you my friend
And I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
We’ve come a long way from where we began
Oh, I’ll tell you all about it when I see you again
When I see you again Oh oh oh oh, oh oh oh oh
Oohh When I see you again
See you again
When I see you again

Christmas is right around the corner, and with that, the year will shortly conclude.

It’s a time of happiness and, for sure, a few melancholy thoughts cross most of our minds, thinking back on the past year and remembering loved ones who have departed this life.

alaAnthony had celebrated his 50th birthday with his older brothers (left to right), Billy, Joe and Allen in January, 2016. (Click on photo for larger image).

A year ago, fans of the Immaculate Heart Academy softball team were beginning to think ahead to the 2016 season, in the hopes that the Eagles could repeat its state championship. The team’s legendary head coach, Anthony LaRezza, had been battling a form of oral cancer, but he was as fired up as anyone, looking ahead to the first day of practice, even though Christmas, 2015, hadn’t come yet.

Anthony had called me right before Christmas to say hello and let me know he was doing pretty good. “We’ll get to Rutt’s Hut, soon,” I remember him telling me. “Sounds good,” I said. “Merry Christmas, talk soon.”

This stirring tribute to Anthony was put together by his friends at IHA.

On February 4, 2016, the news of Anthony’s sudden passing hit with the subtly of a sledge-hammer. The text message from Jimmy Stoeckel, III, came late that morning and the feeling was certainly surreal. There’s no really good way of breaking that kind of news.

larAnthony always knew what a special person he had with former IHA player Diana Fasano on the coaching staff.

Anyway, IHA’s softball team endured, especially in the early going of that 2016 season. But Diana Fasano proved to be the rock, as Anthony’s one-time assistant took over the reigns and guided the Eagles to a 31-1 season, which included a 30-game winning streak to end the year, as well as a  conference, county and, ultimately, a state championship, on June 11, at Kean University.

cakeIHA players coveted the Triple Crown in 2016, for Coach LaRezza. (Click on photos for larger images)

ihatc

And, oh yes, the Triple Crown. And how ironic was it that IHA would seal that crown on the same day as the Belmont Stakes. (Anthony loved to chime in on my racehorse theme for some of the state’s best softball players).

The Eagles had won a second straight championship on the same field that Anthony was exuberantly jumping on after a 1-0 win in the 2015 final, as Reagan Jones scored the game-winning run.

lareSean Reilly gets all the credit here, for capturing this moment after IHA won the 2015 Non-Public A championship.

Along the way, the Eagles got some new fans in Anthony’s brothers, Joe, Allen and Billy. Strangely enough, Anthony’s older brothers hadn’t attended many IHA games when their little brother was coaching, but the three, especially Joe and Allen, provided the perfect remedy for a team, and family, which needed each other’s support.

ihaJoe LaRezza was a regular at IHA games in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

iha1Anthony’s older brothers were a big part of IHA’s ride to a state title in 2016, as was Ed Bates.

(Here’s the article on the LaRezza brothers and what the 2016 season meant to them. https://mikelamberti.wordpress.com/2016/06/09/its-truly-been-a-team-effort-for-iha-in-2016-from-parents-coaches-friends-and-some-brotherly-love-larezza-style/)

iha3Taylor Kenerson (white hat) celebrates the 2016 state championship. (Click on photo for larger image)

And now, here we are, at Christmastime, and Anthony, the ultimate little kid in an adult costume, comes to mind once again. Anthony’s final resting place is just a half block from my residence, in Belleville, NJ, so stopping by to say hello once in a while isn’t difficult, yet remains surreal.

 

iha2Remembering Anthony in 2016 came in many forms at IHA.

iha1Below, IHA players gather at Paramus Catholic before season opener on April 1, 2016, to remember their coach. (Click on photos for larger images).

iha3

So, with Christmas coming, just wanted to say Merry Christmas, Anthony. I know you’re keeping an eye out on your family, friends and countless softball players at IHA, past and present.

And as Coach Fasano said in early April, during the many remembrances which accompanied the start of the season without you, physically being there, “Anthony would have hated all of this.”

al2IHA players never doubted coach LaRezza was on hand for the 2016 state final. (Click on photos for larger image)

We made a toast to you at Kevin Kenerson’s house the night of June 11, led by Coach Fasano, after the state championship win. Your senior players are already making their college plans, and all have high hopes and big goals, along with winning a third straight state championship in 2017.

iha2IHA players relished a second state championship at Kean U in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

Hey, there’s going to be a Reagan in Washington, DC next fall. How great is that?

reagan(Above) Reagan Jones and her dad, Bob, after a game last spring. Jones scored the game-winning run in the 2015 state final and was a key to last year’s Triple Crown, as she celebrated last June. Reagan will be attending Georgetown University in the fall of 2017. (Click on photos for larger image).

reagan1

I wish I could have seen your reaction to the past presidential election.

Any time I showed up with a specific team jacket, or a jersey, at an IHA game, I loved your comments about a former player from that team. (Jerry Reuss, Dick Ruthven, Nestor Chylak and Doug Buffone came to mind right away).

I miss the Memorial Day speech.

liv sproTaylor Kenersion (left) and Olivia Sprofera celebrate a state title with Allen LaRezza (second from left) and Joe LaRezza. (Click on photo for larger image)

I miss the scorecard being thrown in the air after a rare IHA error, although Diana did that pretty well at times last spring.

The softball tournament, in early April, which you worked so hard to make popular at IHA, now bears your name.

BANER

 

iha teamWinning the Bergen County championship was a huge accomplishment for the Eagles in 2016. (Click on photos for larger images)

iha2

I’ve made some great new friends in your older brothers. We even had a tremendous dinner at Allen’s restaurant last summer.

dousingTaylor Kenerson (16) and Reese Guevarra doused LaRezza with water after the 2015 title. A year later (below) Fasano got the bath. (Click on photos for larger images)

df1

Your good friends in the coaching ranks continue to honor your memory by their hard work.

Then again, you already know all of this.

Merry Christmas, Anthony.

‘Till we meet again, I’ll keep having that hot dog at Rutt’s, and will be forever thankful for all the great times.

ihaTrips to Rutt’s Hut with Anthony were special. (Click on photos for larger images)

lar

 

 

 

 

 

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By mike051893

2 comments on “Merry Christmas, Anthony….IHA softball is following in your legacy quite well; Rutt’s Hut not the same without you, but the memories endure

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