WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Tributes mounted as word spread that beloved Immaculate Heart Academy softball coach Anthony LaRezza died Thursday morning of cancer at 50.
"Whether you liked him or hated him, this man loved softball. It was his life's blood," Nancy Spoto of Garfield wrote. "I am sure there are many young girls who are and will be devastated by this."
"To say this man was an amazing coach, mentor, and friend is an understatement," Elmwood Park native Patty Kern of Clifton added. "Some of the best years of my life were spent playing for him and it was BECAUSE of him they were so memorable."
"My daughter played under him for his summer softball camps for a few years before making the freshman softball team last year at IHA," Diana Lopez added. "The whole softball community is devastated."
A Newark firefighter, LaRezza came to Immaculate Heart in 1998 and became head coach in 2005. He led the Blue Eagles to two Non-Public A titles and four Bergen County Tournament championships.
One of the non-public titles became LaRezza's 338th victory last June.
"There was that moment, when the winning run scored in the state final, at Kean University, where Anthony jumped up and down in pure joy, as IHA won, 1-0, in extra innings," close friend Mike Lamberti recalled on his blog .
"Anthony had coached state champions before, but this team was special," Lamberti added. "And has he celebrated with the kids, on the field, drenched in Gatorade, he was quick to remind those kids that 2016 would be just as good.
"Anthony and I had just spoken recently. He called to let me know that he would be going through some treatments, but that he and I would be meeting up soon, at Rutts Hut, for some rippers," Lamberti wrote . "Anthony loved that place."
He also loved his players.
"We're deeply saddened at his passing, it came completely unexpectedly. He was such a tremendous person for the community, he's probably one of the most technical coaches I've ever met and seen," Immaculate Heart Athletic Director John Downey said. "The kids loved him. He was so great for the community."
"Even though he was our enemy on the field, he was a solid coach and treated my daughter and her softball friends with much respect and class," wrote Rene Miranda of Paramus. "It's a sad day in Bergen County High School softball -- he was a good guy."
"He was an amazing coach who not only knew the game but also knew how to reach and inspire each and every player he coached," added IHA teacher Danielle Just of Woodcliff Lake. "But it’s not so much the lessons he taught us on the field that I still carry with me but the ones he taught us (intentionally and unintentionally) off the field that I have made me who I am today, and I am forever grateful for those.
"For the stories and the way he’d make us laugh. The interesting perspectives and skills he taught me, and of course the memories I have and will treasure for the rest of my life.
"I put him on a pedestal when I was 14 years old and I have yet to take him off of it. I’ve told him many times before that he was my hero, and as many of you would expect, he laughed when I said it. But his reaction never made it any less true."
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