GLEN RIDGE, NJ - Stephen Reitberger may have grown up in soccer-rich Harrison. He may have a home on the Jersey Shore and spends quality time in Scranton, Pa., but Glen Ridge, NJ will always be in his heart.
The long-time head boys soccer coach at Glen Ridge High retired as an educator and coach following the 2018-2019 school year. And while the always upbeat Reitberger relishes over three decades of service to the Glen Ridge community, he’s quite frankly too busy in the next phase of his life, to get too sentimental.
“I knew this was the right time, when I made the decision after the (2018) holidays,” said Reitberger, during a Sept. 6 interview. “I spent 38 years at Glen Ridge. Not many people get to say they spent their entire career at one place, but I did, and I’m so happy about it.”
Reitberger grew up in Harrison, NJ, a small community located near Kearny, NJ, in Hudson County. He played soccer at Harrison High School, where he was once a team captain.
After high school, he attended East Stroudsburg for a year, then transferred to Montclair State College (it wasn’t a University until 1994) and played soccer on the collegiate level, where he was also a team captain.
Reitberger would earn a teaching degree at Montclair State and did his student teaching at Glen Ridge.
“I honestly didn’t know where Glen Ridge was back then,” he said with a laugh. “I knew it was near Montclair, but didn’t know a lot about the community at the time,”
Reitberger had been a freshman baseball coach at Glen Ridge, in the spring of 1981, working with the legendary Lou Calderone, along with eventual good friend Angelo Corbo.
The following fall, he would be offered the head coaching job for the fledgling boys soccer program at Glen Ridge. The program had started a year earlier.
“Bill Horry was the athletic director back then,” recalled Reitberger. “I had gotten a teaching job in the physical education department at Glen Ridge, but it was temporary, since the teacher I took over for was on maternity leave.
“I was basically told that soccer would probably go 0-14, and I’m figuring ‘no way. Do you know who I am? I’ve played at Harrison and grew up in Hudson County. I knew soccer well and felt there was no way we’d go winless.”
Reitberger had succeeded Dr. Ohannes Voskian as the team’s head coach. Dr. Voskian had started the boys soccer program a year earlier.
“I give Dr. Voskian a lot of credit,” said Reitberger. “He put a lot of work in to get the program off the ground.”
In Reitberger’s first season, the team did indeed finish 0-14. And with the teacher he filled in for set to return for the fall of 1982, Reitberger assumed his days at Glen Ridge were winding down.
“I’m figuring it’s time to move on,” said Reitberger. “But late in the school year, I’m told to go see the Superintendent. I found out that the parents really liked the way I coached the team and didn’t want me to leave. Next thing I know, I’m back at Glen Ridge as a teacher and a coach. And I was there ever since.”
Reitberger isn’t sure of his career record as the team’s head soccer coach for 38 seasons.
“I really don’t know,” he said. “I’ve never put much importance into a career record, other than the satisfaction I had coaching these kids.
“I can tell you this. I’ve coached about 50 (future) lawyers, 38 doctors, countless money market (finance) people and a couple of architects. That’s what matters the most to me and it’s what I’m very proud of.”
In addition to soccer, Reitberger would remain as a baseball coach with the Ridgers for 22 seasons, including one as a head coach, before transitioning into the job as head golf coach at Glen Ridge.
Reitberger maintained a residence in Harrison, while also owning a home on the Jersey Shore. He and his significant other also share a residence in Scranton, Pa.
“From the shore, to the mountains, to my home town, I’ve had some great places to call home,” said Reitberger. “I love the shore, I’ve really come to enjoy high school football in Scranton, on a Friday night, and there’s always something special about being in Harrison. It’s not far from Glen Ridge, so during the school year, it was easier to go there after a day of teaching and coaching.
“And while I didn’t live in Glen Ridge, it’s been a part of my life for four decades.”
There’s an old saying that if you find a job you love, you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
“In my case, I won the lottery,” said Reitberger. “I worked with some incredible administrators, teachers, coaches and, of course, the kids.
“I taught in the Glen Ridge elementary school, starting with kindergarten for many years, before eventually coming to the high school (in 1996). I’ve really known a lot of these kids from K through 12. Joe Dubuque was a student of mine when he was in kindergarten.”
Dubuque, of course, went on to be a 2-time state wrestling champion at Glen Ridge and then captured a pair of NCAA championships at the University of Indiana.
Rob Hill succeeded Tim Liddy as Glen Ridge’s athletic director in Reitberger’s final season. Nevertheless, the two established a good working relationship.
“Steve was a pleasure to work with, and I’m sad I only had one year to work with him here at Glen Ridge,” said Hill. “What I admire most about Steve is that he was an exceptional coach, but he was an even better teacher. He truly took pride in everything that he did and set the bar high for the entire teaching staff of GRHS.
“He is missed greatly by all of us here. Steve is the epitome of what education-based athletics is all about. He truly believed that the playing fields are an extension of the classroom, and that the word student in “Student-Athlete” was the most important word in that phrase.”
Reitberger has worked with some tremendous coaches from other sports at Glen Ridge. Among them is Oscar Viteri, the long-time girls soccer coach.
“Oscar has done a tremendous job with that program,” said Reitberger. “He put a new emphasis on team work and striving for a common goal. Look what they’ve done since he took over (in 2001).
“When I first started at Glen Ridge in 1981, there weren’t many varsity sports for females. Field hockey was always big. I look at it now and it’s great to see all the opportunities for young women to excel athletically.”
Liddy, a Glen Ridge High graduate, later a coach, then the school’s athletic director, before moving into a new administrative role with the high school as an assistant principal in the fall of 2018, also lauded Reitberger’s accomplishments.
“Mr. Reitberger has passion for teaching and coaching,” said Liddy. “I was fortunate to witness this on a daily basis. He has made an everlasting positive impact on everyone he has come into contact with in the classroom and on the fields. His presence at Glen Ridge High School can never be replaced. He was one of a kind.
“(Steve) is the best person you would ever want to teach or coach your child. I truly miss my personal interactions that I had with Coach Reitberger on a daily basis. I wish him nothing but the best in his retirement. He is one of a kind, someone that can never be replaced.”
Dirk Phillips is another in Glen Ridge’s administration who rose through the ranks, from a teacher and wrestling coach, to now the Superintendent of Schools.
“Coach Reit ran an extremely successful program during his 38-year tenure at Glen Ridge High School,” said Phillips. “It is not the wins that defined him or his program, but the approach he took with his student-athletes. Coach Reit treated all his players with respect. He modeled sportsmanship, integrity, dedication, and citizenship. Those that were fortunate to play for him became better individuals because of their experiences with Coach Reit.”
Reitberger also spoke highly of his athletic friendships at Glen Ridge with Clem Tennaro, Chris Benacquista, Paul Palek, Rich SanFillipo, Calderone, Liddy, Will Montes de Oca, Corbo (whom he called his ‘right hand man’), Duke Mendez and Mike DelloRusso, along with a host of assistant coaches.
The success of the boys soccer program is something which makes him most proud. The Ridgers advanced to a state sectional final in 2018 before losing a heartbreaker to New Providence, 2-1, in overtime, in what would be Reitberger’s last game as head coach. Glen Ridge also won a Super Essex Conference championship last season.
“The last 10 seasons, we had some really good teams,” he said proudly. “Our numbers were always good. We had a lot of kids come out for soccer and I credit that to a good lower-level program for the kids in town.”
Playing against much bigger schools, enrollment wise, in the rugged Super Essex Conference, Glen Ridge was 95-80 in Reitberger’s last eight seasons at the helm.
Reitberger was recently honored when Glen Ridge opened its 2019 season at home, against West Orange. He tossed the ceremonial coin, which had a 'Restore the Shore' slogan, from 2013, after the effects of Super Storm Sandy. Reitberger's love for the NJ Shore is well known. He was also joined by a number of school administrators.
He loves golf, and speaks glowingly of shooting a par on the last hole at legendary St. Andrew’s, in Scotland, when he got a chance to play the course while taking a Harrison soccer club to Europe.
“I started playing golf at the old complex in the Meadowlands, before there was a Giants Stadium,” he said with a chuckle. “I’m really glad I got the chance to coach golf in Glen Ridge. That was a great time, too.”
It’s been quite the run for Reitberger, whose energy level remains at a fever pitch.
“I like working with my hands, so I’m helping some people build some new decks at their houses,” he said “There’s a lot of things I enjoy doing and now I’ll have some more time to do that.
“Like I said, I’ve been blessed at Glen Ridge. I really did win the lottery.”