RINGING BELLS: Pandemic won’t stop Lyndhurst grid coach from presenting rings

This is a sports story that will certainly warm the cockles of your heart, even in today’s emotionally trying COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

In fact, it’s the best “feel good” local story – news, sports or otherwise – that has ever been written by this writer in nearly 40 years of popping out words, phrases and clauses.

Here goes:

By now everyone knows – and if you don’t know, then you’ve been living in a cave for the last six months – that the Lyndhurst High School football team won the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II state championship last November.

It was the first football state championship that the Golden Bears celebrated since the 1983 season.

So to make the season even more memorable, Lyndhurst head coach Rich Tuero – who was already a candidate for sainthood before last week – wanted to purchase rings for each of his 88 players, as well as team managers and cheerleaders.

There was only one problem. Because of the recent budgetary problems that the Lyndhurst Board of Education had experienced, there was no money available to purchase the rings.

Undaunted, the head coach, who will be called Saint Richie from now on, decided that he was going to raise the money – on his own – and purchase the Golden Bear players and cheerleaders rings and pendants.

It didn’t take long for Tuero to receive a sales pitch from championship ring manufacturers.

“I got a lot of calls, including one from Lincoln, Nebraska,” Tuero said. “They saw we won and shipped me a catalog to look at.”

Signature Championship Rings said that they were willing to match any price that Tuero received as an estimate.

“That’s who we went with,” Tuero said.

So Tuero and his wonderful wife, Koriann, sat down and designed the championship rings and pendants.

“Koriann was a big help in all of this,” Tuero said smartly, giving credit where credit was due, especially in a lock down quarantine.

Now came the time to get the $22,000 needed to purchase the rings. Tuero raised the money – by himself. And the kids didn’t have to pay a single dime for their rings.

“I went around the town and asked if people would be willing to donate,” Tuero said. “My assistant coach (and Lyndhurst police officer) Steve Passamano helped me and drove me around.”

It took the Tueros about a week to design the ring. It took about three more weeks to raise the funds.

“It was honestly amazing,” Tuero said. “The town came together to honor these kids once again. They worked so hard and deserved something nice. The town came together and all chipped in.”

Some donors kicked in as much as $2,500. Others gave what they could, a dollar here and there. It was truly a community effort, honoring the kids who gave Lyndhurst so much pride throughout the fall.

“It was really humbling to see this unfold,” Saint Richie said.

So the rings were designed, manufactured and eventually purchased. A big ring ceremony was planned. There was only one problem.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone in the town to stay at home. School is out. You can’t even shake hands with your neighbor or hug the person across the street. It wasn’t sure when Lyndhurst would be able to have a ceremony to honor their grid heroes.

The rings were delivered to Saint Richie’s house on Friday, April 3. They sat in a huge box on the Tuero’s dining room table for a day or so.

Then, equipment and field manager par excellance Rich Gress and Koriann Tuero came up with an idea to deliver the rings to the kids door-to-door.

However, no one expected Tuero to do it all in one day.

“I woke up Palm Sunday and told Koriann that I was doing it today,” Tuero said. “I said, ‘I’m delivering the rings.’”

But before he did, Tuero wanted to make sure to capture everything on video to preserve for posterity. So Koriann and Saint Richie got in their car and drove around Lyndhurst, presenting rings to each and every kid. Tuero made sure the kids were home (where else would they be in a pandemic?), then rang the bell, placed the ring on the front porch and waited for the kids’ reactions.

“The kids knew I had the rings, but they had no idea I was delivering them,” Tuero said.

The first player Tuero contacted was senior captain Tommy Ryan. Saint Richie fibbed a little (the Man Upstairs will let this lie slide) by saying that he had an assignment from a teacher that he had to give to Ryan.

“I honestly had no clue,” Ryan said. “He said that one of my teachers needed me to do something. I said, ‘Great,’ so he was going to drop it off. And there it was.”

Ryan came down the stairs and saw the box. Ryan jumped higher than any lineman ever did in his stocking feet and ran to hug Tuero, but the coach had to stop him.

“I love Coach Tuero,” Ryan said. “I saw his face and wanted to hug him. It was so amazing that he brought the ring to my house. I’m not shocked, because that’s the kind of guy that Tuero is. I love him. He’s like a father figure to me. It’s crazy that he did this, but he’s a crazy guy.”

Ryan could not believe the size of the ring.

“It’s huge,” Ryan said. “It’s a rock. It’s unbelievable.”

Ryan is headed to Bergen County Community College in the fall. His football career is unfortunately over.

“I want to focus on grades in college,” Ryan said. “So this will stick with me forever.”

After Tuero dropped off the ring for the state’s leading rusher Piotr Partyla, the one who had 2,381 yards rushing and 34 touchdowns and is headed to Rutgers in the fall, Tuero stopped at the Lembo house, where there were two recipients, quarterback Anthony and his younger brother John.

“I looked down and saw the box,” said Anthony Lembo, headed to Stevenson University in Maryland in the fall to play safety. “When I opened it, I was just shocked. I never expected it to be that big. It weighs about two pounds on my finger. It was the best feeling in the world. I knew that if Coach Tuero was going to do it for one, he was going to do it for the whole team.”

That he did. The journey continued.

Aaron Alvarez, who is going to Rutgers-Newark to play baseball, knew that Tuero was coming with the ring.

“Under the circumstances, it was great,” Alvarez said. “It meant a lot to me that he delivered it. I open the box every day to look at it. It serves as a motivation to me. We put a lot of work in to get that ring.”

Alvarez is an excellent baseball player who is waiting to get back on the field for his senior year at Lyndhurst.

Isaiah DeLaCruz was sleeping, so he didn’t see the group text that was floating around with the others showing their rings off. He got his ring from Tuero around 1 p.m.

“I had no clue,” DeLaCruz said. “His phone call woke me up. He said, ‘Be outside in five minutes. I’m coming to your house.’ I had no idea what was going on.”

DeLaCruz opened the box and was totally shocked.

“I said, ‘No way,’” DeLaCruz said. “It’s beautiful and it’s huge. I never thought it would be that big and be that nice. I’m going to wear it every day to show it off.”

DeLaCruz said that the gesture was typical Tuero.

“It shows how much he really cares about us, football season or not,” said DeLaCruz, who is headed to William Paterson to play football. “He goes out of his way to show that we’re a family.”

There was another special delivery Tuero had to make. Jordan Werner was working the drive-thru lane at Wendy’s on Ridge Road. Tuero stopped to make an order for his family.

“I took the order and when I did, I could tell it was Coach,” Werner said. “He said, ‘I got something for you.’ When he pulled up, I literally had no idea. I was stunned. As soon as I saw it, I was amazed. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I knew it was going to be big. I took my gloves off and I put it on my finger. Everyone around me (at Wendy’s) wanted to see it. They all said, ‘What’s that?’”

Werner did the smart thing. He soon took the ring off his finger, put it back in the box and put the box safely in his car.

“To me, this represents what Coach is all the time,” Werner said. “He’s all about family. He preaches that to us. He took the entire day and delivered the rings on his own to all of us. That’s out of the kindness of his heart.”

Werner is headed to Rutgers-New Brunswick in the fall, so his football career is over.

Tuero went door-to-door, delivering each and every ring to his players in one shot, eight hours in all, from noon to 8 p.m. Even the student managers, special kids Tyler Banuls and A.J. Leone, got rings.

“They’re just like everybody else,” Tuero said.

Tuero wasn’t done for the day. He went home and downloaded the videos and photos that Koriann and Saint Richie took of each kid and made a special video of it to two songs, the second one “The Boys of Fall,” by Kenny Chesney, will put a tear in the eye of anyone who has ever played the game of football and knows that experience. The video is fantastic and was done with a special app called Splice. It’s now on YouTube and has been seen by more than 5,000 viewers so far.

Needless to say, that was a long day for Tuero and his wife.

“It really didn’t hit me how special of a day it was until I published the video,” Tuero said. “I just wanted to capture the moment forever. I am getting the positive feedback and seeing how happy it made people. I always tell the kids three things. Do the right thing, be a good person and love everyone. I love my kids. It’s why I did all of this. The coolest part was seeing how happy the kids are.”

“That video is unbelievable,” DeLaCruz said. “It’s one of the greatest moments of my life. It shows people what we’re all really about. It was the song that got me.”

The Chesney song is one that was played in the Lyndhurst locker room after every game.

“The song meant so much to us,” Anthony Lembo said.

“It brings back the memories,” Alvarez said.

“I’ve watched the video three times already,” Werner said. “It made me miss football. I might have had a tear or two watching it. And I’m keeping that ring everywhere I go. It’s a great memory.”

And so is what Saint Richie did in delivering those rings door-to-door, each and every one. On Monday, Tuero and his wife Koriann brought the pendants to the cheerleaders. There truly is a place in heaven for people like the Tueros.

The story was featured on Channel 4, Channel 2 and News12NewJersey, but not in as much detail as this.

If you care to see the video of the presentation, go it’s embedded at the top of this post.

Learn more about the writer ...

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”