It’s hard to believe that what was once known as the IHA Softball Invitational is now in its fourth year honoring the late Anthony LaRezza, but it is.
When the IHA Invitational was re-named the Anthony LaRezza Invitational, in 2016, the photos in the banner said it all. (Click on all photos for larger images)
Anthony left us suddenly on Feb. 4, 2016, just a few weeks after celebrating his 50th birthday. And during that time, his beloved Immaculate Heart Academy has gone on to win two Non-Public A state championships, as well as a thrilling win in the first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions, in 2017.
The IHA players all knew their coach was still watching over them.
The Anthony LaRezza Invitational will welcome six teams on April 13, with a nice variety of teams coming from Union, Bergen and Essex Counties.
Olivia Sprofera, here at the 2017 invitational, is flanked by Anthony’s brothers Allen (left) and Joe.
At 11 a.m., Saddle Brook will take on Oak Knoll. That game will be followed by a 1 p.m. contest between West Essex and Mahwah. The third and final game will be at 3 p.m. when Livingston takes on IHA. All three games will be played at the IHA facility.
In 2017, the field at IHA was donned with Anthony’s initials, on the third base line.
Anthony loved hosting the IHA Invitational for many years. When he wasn’t coaching, he’d be running around the facility, thanking people for coming, handing out softballs for MVP accolades and, asking anyone if they wanted something to eat at the legendary snack stand and, like I always kidded him, it looked like he was running for office.
In 2014, Anthony (center) led the way as Steph Thomas (third from left) set the state record for most pitching wins, in an early June contest at IHA.
It was natural for the tournament to gain Anthony’s name when he passed away, and the hard work the coaching staff and players continue to do to raise money for cancer research speaks for itself.
In 2018, IHA’s Emily Gyongyosi, here with her mom, Sue, helped present a large check, on behalf of the IHA softball program (below) to Hackensack Hospital, benefiting Tackle Kids Cancer, a charity near and dear to Anthony’s heart.
And let’s not forget what Anthony did full time. He was among Newark’s bravest, as a firefighter. And it’s not surprising that his Engine number, 28, is being honored by IHA junior pitcher, Ryleigh White, who wears No. 28, on the back of her jersey.
I remember the first few games that IHA played, barely two months after Anthony passed away. There were numerous dedications by opposing teams, paying homage to LaRezza, and needless to say, the emotions took its toll on the team, early in the season.
The Eagles celebrated a third straight Non-Public A championship at Kean University, in 2017.
After one such dedication, head coach Diana Fasano smiled, then looked over and said, ‘Anthony would have hated all of this. But it’s amazing how everyone cared for him.”
Graduation Day, in 2017, at IHA.
Once the 2016 season picked up steam, so did IHA, which won 30 straight games after a 1-1 start and won the Non-Public A state title for a second straight year. A three-peat would occur in 2017, including a scintilating victory against Lodi Immaculate in the first-ever Tournament of Champions.
In the season opener, on April 1, 2016, at Paramus Catholic, the IHA players stood hand-in-hand on the first base line for a pre-game ceremony, honoring Anthony.
With a new season underway, IHA is off to a 4-0 start, as it looks to regain a county and state title this spring.
Olivia Sprofera (left) and Ally (Ally, Ally, Ally) Dudek never forgot their coach’s legacy.