LIVINGSTON, NJ — Livingston High School (LHS) girls soccer alumni from as far back as the Class of 1983 to as recent as the Class of 2018 came together on one field for the first time this month to play in the high school’s first-ever girls soccer alumni game.
Former classmates, families and friends came out in spades to support nearly 50 alumni as well as former and current coaches as they reunited over a friendly soccer match on the Saint Barnabas Medical Center Community Field.
“To see 40-or-so alumni and their families come out on a Saturday just made the night that much more special,” said incoming LHS head coach Brian Carr. “We felt it was important for our girls to give back and to show appreciation for the players and coaches that made our program what it is today. The alumni game was our program’s way of saying thank you to those athletes.”
Arlene (Morgenroth) Leffler—who was part of the inaugural team in 1983 and had two daughters, Megan ’17 and Caitlyn ’20, in the program as well—said that this event was an “extra special” experience for as an alumna of the first-ever LHS girls soccer team and because it “brought back great memories” for her and former teammates Ali Fordyce, Trish Jamison and Maryann Mutone.
“I loved the idea of getting to play with my daughter on the soccer field,” she said. “We were a little nervous when that whistle blew, but it felt good to be a part of this great event. There were lots of fans and I heard so many comments about the turnout, the booster club and coaches…
“We will need to discuss if it will be an annual event but for sure there will be another one. The surprise and delight on the players’ faces when they saw some familiar faces was what touched me the most.”
Leffler also noted the appearance of coaches like Ed Grasso, who helped get the LHS program off the ground in the 80s, and incoming LHS girls soccer coach Brian Carr, who prepared a playlist incorporating songs representing many of the top hits over the years since 1983.
For most of the alumni, who all received an alumni soccer T-shirt for participating, it was also their first time playing on, and in some cases seeing, the new turf field located on Madonna Drive.
“The new turf is incredible and it was great coming back after all these years to play again with some of my old teammates,” said LHS Class of 2012 alumna Jessica Smith, who currently teaches English as a Second Language. "I coach soccer at my school now, but I didn't realize how much I missed playing until I got back on the field. These are people that I once spent a lot of time with, so I hope this will become a tradition that will grow over time."
Smith, who attended the event with former classmate and current LHS assistant coach Kate Schwindel, also said the game was the perfect opportunity to honor Paul Raiz, who recently announced his retirement as head coach of the LHS girls soccer team.
After 16 years as the varsity coach, Raiz explained that he is looking forward to spending quality time with his family and watching from the stands as his two sons, a rising freshman and a rising middle school student in Morristown, play soccer and baseball at their new schools.
“I am really looking forward to just being dad and watching as my sons enjoy playing the sports they love,” said Raiz. “I know I will miss the program (athletes, coaches, etc.), but in the long run, I am confident I will not regret my decision to not miss my boys sports careers…Coaching at LHS was an honor and a privilege, and it would never have been possible without the unwavering love and support of my family: my wife, Jessica, and sons, Jack and Gavin, the best ball boys in the state.”
The former coach also expressed pride in playing a part in “the resurgence of girls soccer at LHS” along with the many assistants, coaches, administration and the dedicated players he has worked with over the last 16 years.
In addition to the sectional and county titles earned during his stint as head coach, Raiz also referenced two losses among his most memorable games: the 2010 state final, where team ultimately lost but had “an amazing run and a great experience,” and this most recent season’s sectional final appearance.
“While we lost, we played our best game of the season, got everything out of every player on the field and outplayed West Orange—arguably one of the best teams in the state last season—for 80 minutes,” he said.
Raiz praised Carr, who has been the assistant coach under Raiz’s leadership for eight years, for partnering with the LHS Girls Soccer Boosters to organize the first alumni game—an event that Raiz said has been in discussion for several years but never came to fruition.
“It was amazing to see so many of our former players (and even players that pre-dated my tenure),” said Raiz. “These incredible women looked like they had just stepped off of the field just yesterday; and I was most proud to hear all about their current exploits (careers, families, etc.). We had a number of teachers and coaches—which made me super proud—lawyers, doctors, financial professionals, etc., a good number enjoying life in NYC and a large group finishing or continuing their education.
“They are a truly remarkable group of women. I am even more proud of them today than when they were my athletes and students if that’s even possible. I am still smiling…I had so much fun playing alongside them in the alumni game and catching up with how they are doing today.”