SPARTA, NJ – It was a big day for soccer at Sparta High School on Saturday morning as lower Veteran’s field was dedicated to former teacher and coach Manuel “Manny” Reis. In front of more than 40 family members, the girls and boys varsity soccer teams, community members and Sparta school district administrators, interim Athletic Director Steve Stoner hosted the dedication ceremony.
Reis had been hired as a Spanish teacher when the high school first opened. One year later he became the high school coach.
Several speakers took turns at the podium speaking about their experiences with Reis. Stoner introduced Sparta High School Principal Janet Ferraro. Ferraro began by expressing her feelings of being “impressed, happy and humbled to be addressing the large crowd.” She was a “JV coach and young teacher and he was winding down his career as a fantastic teacher and great coach,” when their paths crossed.
“He taught me to think about the game of soccer like a student,” Ferraro said.
All of the speakers agreed Reis remained a presence even after retirement and Reis “brought soccer to the map in Sparta and north west Jersey.”
Teacher and coach Michael Willie began speaking about Reis, his former coach and Spanish teacher. “I didn’t always see him as kind,” Willie quipped. “He was known as the Portuguese Pitbull.” Willie shared memories of time in Ries’s classroom where after they “learned their Spanish lesson” he would talk to about soccer, having moved in to the role as “consultant coach.”
“He was tough on you but he was a good man, a good Christian,” said Willie. “He pushed Christian values of kindness.”
English teacher and soccer coach Andrew Lowery addressed the crowd. “When the field was first built Manny was at the board of education meeting complaining about the way it was built so there is irony,” in the same field being dedicated to him. “I hope he is not mad at us.”
Lowery referred to the “three men on the hill, Mr Cunningham and Mr Olsen and Manny, the three amigos, who would come to every game. “
Finishing his tribute, Lowery took a cap from beneath the podium. “It is fitting to christen the field with one more hat throw, ‘He was not off-sides’,” Lowery said, slamming the hat to the ground, a move that got a big laugh from the crowd.
Reis’s eldest daughter Dr Maria Elena Kitchell spoke about her father. “Those who knew him, loved him,” she began. Kitchell talked about her father’s dream to come [back] to America. She explained that he joined the US Navy in World War II, worked in construction while he put himself through night school. He received his bachelor’s degree from Seton Hall and his master’s from Rutgers University.
“He dreamed of moving our family from Newark.” They moved to Sparta and he got a job teaching Spanish in the new Sparta High School. “He dreamed of having a soccer team.” Kitchell explained the first Sparta soccer field was in Ogdensburg.
Kitchell said “dinner time was important to our family. It was either joyful or quiet, depending on how the game went that day. Thankfully there were almost 200 joyful dinners and only 73 quiet ones.”
Kitchell closed saying “he served the lord, his family and his country with a life well lived.”
Reis was born in Massachusetts but received his education and learned to play soccer in Portugal.
Stoner outlined the highlights of Reis’s career as a soccer coach:
- Won Skyline Conference 1969 to 1971, 1973 and 1976
- Won Sussex County Championship in 1977, 1979 and 1980
- Won Group 2, Section 1 State Championship 1977
- Went 19-1 in 1977
- Voted Coach of the Year 1973 and 1977
- Compiled a career record of 194-72-29 at Sparta High School
Stoner and Ferraro handed out plaques that were replicas of the larger monument that will be installed at the field, enumerating his accomplishments. Stoner also announced that Reis would be the first person nominated to the newly formed Sparta Hall of Fame. The hall of fame committee anticipates inducting the first members in November 2017. The non-profit initiative is seeking both nominations and donations. Donations can be made online as well.
In addition to the Reis’s daughters, Michelle Kretshiner and Aurora Mattie, wife Aurora Reis, friends Cunningham and Olsen, many of Manny’s grandchildren and approximately 40 family and friends were on the field. The high school was also represented by Vice Principal Rory Fitzgerald, Guidance Counselor and coach Tim Librizzi, Athletic Trainer and physical education teacher Shanna Behrje, Softball Coach Rick Poots, Superintendent Dennis Tobin and board of education members Melva Cummings, Kelly McEvoy and President Karen Scott were also there.
As the girls and boys varsity soccer players looked on Kitchell said, “May Manny’s love for soccer be an example for dreaming, hard work and dedication for all who play on this field.”