Every year, one special athlete on the Montclair State men’s lacrosse team is voted to wear the #24 jersey. The tradition to pass down this jersey number is an honor, as it serves to remember the legacy of one of Montclair State’s most beloved coaches.
In 2010, local Clifton resident and former Red Hawk John Greco coached the Montclair State Lacrosse team to the most successful season the program had seen in its 38 years. He led the team to a 15-4 record, received national ranking in the United State Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association national poll and captured the second straight Skyline Conference Championship. Greco received Skyline Coach of the Year, but just five months later, on Nov. 5, 2011, he passed away suddenly due to a heart attack. He was 33.
“Everyone was stunned,” said Matt Prongay, who was entering his senior year at Montclair State when his coach of three years passed away. “It was the last thing we expected to hear when they called an emergency meeting.”
Greco joined the Montclair State coaching staff in 2003 after playing as a standout defender on the team from 1997-2000, where he wore the number 24. There have been two different coaches since his passing and an abundance of young, new athletes on the team, which could have led to Greco’s legacy at Montclair State going unremembered.
However, when a senior at the time of Greco’s passing, Robert Sincola, asked if he could wear the #24 in recognition of his late coach, it was an idea the Red Hawks decided to make an annual tradition.
“The key has been educating our team about coach Greco’s passion for MSU lacrosse,” said first year head coach Michael Schambach. He knew Greco as both a rival coach and a friend. They coached against each other when Schambach served on the staff at Fairleigh Dickinson, but also coached together within the Morris Select Club Lacrosse Organization.
Schambach was unaware of the jersey tradition when he started here this year, but was thrilled upon hearing it was a part of the program.”It’s a great lesson for our players that we are part of something that is much greater than ourselves,” said Shambach. “Greco’s passion was MSU lacrosse; we don’t want that to be forgotten.”
It was not just his winning statistics that were important to Greco’s peers and players, but it also was his genuine love for Montclair State that made his time as head coach a memorable one.
“Coach loved MSU so much that they chose to bury him in MSU coaching gear rather then a suit,” said Prongay. “His passion for Montclair State lacrosse is what made him a coach that you wanted to play hard for.”
The qualities of passion and hard work are what the passing down of jersey #24 represents. This year, there was an anonymous decision to vote for senior captain and four year starter Michael Shreck to honor the number.
“It’s a symbol of everything that coach Greco stood for and I am proud to keep that going,” said Shreck. “Every time I put that jersey on, I know it means a lot to so many people, including myself and that I have to go all out in order to represent the tradition here at MSU.”
Shreck is one of the last personal ties the team has to Greco. He was recruited by Greco to play Montclair State lacrosse as a senior at Hunderton Central but never had the opportunity to play on Sprague Field with Greco on the sidelines. Shreck has experienced two different head coaches during his four years at MSU, but is persistent that #24 should be recognized, no matter how many changes there are.
“Having coaching changes is never something players want to deal with, but it does happen,” said Shreck. “But that shouldn’t change the way a MSU lacrosse player plays. Each year at the beginning of the season, the team should spend time talking about Coach Greco to let the new kids coming in [understand] what 24 means to this program.”
The tradition of #24 keeps a legacy alive, embodies the definition of Montclair State lacrosse and honors a memory extremely special to these grounds. It’s a gratitude that the whole program agrees should continue forever.
“It’s part of our program’s rich history and tradition,” said Schambach. “To wear the #24 jersey is the greatest accolade a MSU men’s lacrosse player can receive.”
“I’m very happy and I know all of the alumni are as well, that the tradition is being carried on past the players who played for coach,” Prongay added. “The program wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for him and it’s important that we remember that.”