TASTY TIDBITS Secaucus honors memory of sports legend Rittberg

Strzala explodes for the Bees; Raines gains Hall; remembering three JC greats

When Secaucus High School built its extension to the new gymnasium, there was an area set aside to be a trophy display, where people would stop and reflect on Patriot athletes, coaches and teams of the past.

Current athletic director and football coach Charlie Voorhees thought it was a perfect spot to honor the father of all Secaucus athletics, the late Ed Rittberg.

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Legend has it that 1975, the late Art Couch, then the superintendent of schools, wanted to start athletics at the new high school and immediately thought of his long-time friend, who he coached with at St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York.

So Couch reached out to Rittberg, who was coaching at Lodi High School at the time. He offered Rittberg the job as head football coach and athletic director – with a salary of only $250.

That’s it. It was a new school with no athletic teams and obviously no budget for sports. Couch wanted Rittberg to take over, but could only offer a few hundred dollars as a salary.

For some reason, Rittberg, a strapping man of 6-foot-4 who was a football legend at Emerson High School in Union City and later Purdue University, took the job and changed the lives of hundreds of Secaucus kids for the decades to follow.

Rittberg battled blood clots in his legs, losing his first leg to amputation during that first year, cutting short his coaching career, then lost the second leg in 1987.

But one would never have realized that Rittberg was a double amputee, the way he walked tall, proud and strong. He was a very imposing figure and commanded respect from everyone who knew him.

Rittberg died June 30, 2013 at the age of 71, but he will never be forgotten in Secaucus folklore as being the father of all Secaucus sports.

Recently, the Board of Education and athletic department honored the memory of Ed Rittberg by naming the new entrance walkway and trophy case area as Rittberg Hall. There his name is big white letters on the bright red wall, prominent for everyone to see, a lot like Ed Rittberg was in real life.

There was only one problem with the whole scenario.

“He never liked the fuss,” said Louise Rittberg, Ed’s wife of 50 years and former writer for the Secaucus Home News. “As far as he was concerned, he was just doing his job, helping the kids of Secaucus. He always put the kids first. It was always about the kids.”

So when there was a snowstorm the day of the unveiling, Louise Rittberg knew who was behind the snow.

“It was him, no doubt,” Rittberg said. “It was his way of saying ‘Stop this.’ He really didn’t want the attention. But it’s a wonderful tribute to him and it’s a wonderful thing for my children and grandchildren.”

Rittberg said that she heard from so many people after it was announced that the area would be named Rittberg Hall.

“He was that kind of an inspiration,” said Louise Rittberg of her husband, who taught current Secaucus Mayor Michael Gonnelli when the mayor was in eighth grade. “He never let anything get him down. It was very important to him to keep going. He touched a lot of lives They came and told me Mr. Rittberg stories. Men who are now 55, 60 years old saying ‘Mr. Rittberg’. No one ever called him Ed. The kids all loved him.”

Especially Voorhees, who became very close to Rittberg in his last years.

“He just had the courage and desire to keep going,” Voorhees said. “Ed Rittberg set the tone for Secaucus kids to be tough because he had to be to get things going. His story is about toughness and that’s a story we all get to tell forever. Every year, I try to instill toughness in my football team. It comes from Rittberg. His is a story of courage that will never go away. It’s a very inspirational story, how Secaucus got started.

Added Voorhees, “There’s a whole generation of Secaucus people who thought he deserved this tribute and I’m happy they all agreed. I’m glad we were able to get this done.”

No question, it’s a fitting tribute to a man who tackled the challenge of building a new athletic program, making sure that girls’ sports got the equal opportunity as the boys did, and tackled that challenge after losing both of his legs…

Who’s the hottest player in Hudson County these days? It has to be Bayonne’s Patrick Strzala, who exploded for 37 points in a win over Columbia at the Martin Luther King Classic, then followed it up with 40 points and 10 rebounds in a victory over Ferris.

Strzala, who was once part of the rotation at Hudson Catholic, transferred to Bayonne last year and is now playing like a true Division I stud.

Strzala first committed to Holy Cross when he was at Hudson Catholic, but has now opened the recruiting process back up again. Strzala is averaging 24 points per game…

Among the girls? Well, there’s Amanda Ulrich of Secaucus, who scored 33 points in a win over rival Lyndhurst last Tuesday to keep the Patriots undefeated in the NJIC Liberty Division. Ulrich also had 26 in a recent win over Harrison. She’s playing a lot like her older sister, Kristina, who is currently playing at William Paterson University…

It was great to hear that Tim Raines was finally elected for induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It was the final year that Raines would have appeared on the ballot, so the sportswriters finally did the right thing after 10 years and got the former Montreal Expos’ leadoff hitter in his proper place in Cooperstown.

From a personal standpoint, Raines was the manager of the Newark Bears from 2009 through 2012 and I had the chance to work with him and got to know him very well during that time span when I was the official scorer and public address announcer for the team…

Jersey City lost three icons last week when Terry Monaghan, Ken Halpin and Barry Whitehead all passed away.

Mr. Monaghan was the family patriarch of the great Monaghan family that owned and operated Monaghan’s Tavern on West Side Ave. for ages. It was a popular stop, especially for the St. Peter’s College faithful before and certainly after games. He was the perfect Irish gentleman, a great story teller and a true family man.

Ken Halpin was a bartender at the Park Tavern down West Side Ave. just a few blocks from Monaghan’s. He also was a fine chiropractor who has his business just a few strides from the Park Tavern. Kenny was a great listener with a great sense of humor and he’s gone way too soon at 61 years old.

Barry Whitehead was a basketball standout at St. Peter’s Prep, earning All-County honors his senior year of 1978. He was a pinpoint outside shooter who appeared to have total control of the ball every game. He also had a great sense of humor with a great smile and impeccable laugh. He was also the cousin of coaching legend Charlie Brown of Lincoln and New Jersey City University fame. Barry was a year ahead of me at Prep, but we were good friends, especially following the exploits of the basketball team that featured my close friends Dave Viggiano and Greg Herenda, currently the head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson University. All three will be missed…

Hudson Reporter Boys’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. St. Anthony (11-1). 2. Hudson Catholic (11-2). 3. North Bergen (11-1). 4. St. Peter’s Prep (7-3). 5. Dickinson (10-2)…

Hudson Reporter Girls’ High School Basketball Top Five: 1. Marist (11-0). 2. Bayonne (10-2). 3. Lincoln (9-2). 4. Secaucus (10-2). 5. St. Anthony (7-2). – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com


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