WEST ORANGE, NJ — Three contributors to local sports programs were honored at the Toby Katz Center on March 2. Mike Loreto, Brad Palent and Mike Shannon have all served as players, coaches and leaders, and were recognized for their work with the West Orange Police Athletic League, the Mountain Top League and with the West Orange Recreation Department.
Palent has been involved with the MTL since he joined the soccer and baseball teams at age 7. He has stayed a part of the league ever since, becoming a referee for soccer, basketball and baseball, and later rising to coach, league commissioner, trustee, vice president and president. Palent helped create the MTL hockey team, which began play in 2013, and is currently president of the West Orange High School Hockey Booster Club.
“I still remember the games and the coaches I had and all the people, so you want to do that same thing for kids when you’re an adult,” Palent said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “Then I had my own children, and it was fun to coach them.”
Palent said he has drawn a lot of inspiration from his father, who also served as president of the MTL.
“He was always working on it,” Palent said. “We were always having meetings at our house and fundraising, so it’s come full circle. I hope it’s around for another 50 years.”
Palent’s son plays hockey, so that’s where his focus has been lately.
“I never played hockey; I don’t even know how to ice skate,” Palent joked. “But you fight for what your kids are into.”
Mayor Robert Parisi presented Palent with his award, saying that Palent is one of the reasons the MTL has endured for so long.
“The success and longevity of organizations like the Mountain Top League happen because of people like Brad,” Parisi said. “The kids that he coached and played with might not remember him, but they will remember their time there and the memories that were created because of him.”
Loreto has been coaching baseball since the late 1990s, starting with T-ball and coach pitch teams before getting involved with the WOPAL. He has coached both the junior and senior teams as well as travel baseball teams for the recreation department and the West Orange Legion team. He has organized baseball showcases and instructed clinics, and spent a season refereeing recreation department flag football.
Loreto’s son, Giovanni, a West Orange police officer, presented his father with the award. Giovanni Loreto has also coached recreation baseball.
“It was a luxury knowing that your dad has the key to every equipment box and all the lights in West Orange,” Giovanni Loreto joked. “If anyone called and wanted extra practice time or scrimmages, he was there no question. No one is more deserving of this award than him.”
In an interview with the Chronicle, Mike Loreto said he became involved with coaching when he worked the night shift as an Essex County corrections officer, so he had time during the day and after school.
“I was able to give the hours,” he said. “There’s a lot of parents who can’t do after school and during the day, and I could. It was fun to work with young kids especially.”
Mike Loreto coached Giovanni and his other son, Anthony, and said he enjoyed teaching children to play baseball.
“Baseball can be boring, but it’s all about getting that one hit or that one out,” he said. “If you do all the little things, you can win. There are so many scenarios in baseball to learn. If you’re in the outfield and get a ball hit to you, know where to throw it. It’s a thinking game, so it was fun to teach that.”
Shannon, who grew up in West Orange, was a basketball star at Essex Catholic High School. He worked for the recreation department in the summers as a teacher before becoming the face of EO Sporting Goods; he now owns Mike Shannon Sports, a sporting goods store in Whippany.
“Colgate Field was my home growing up,” Shannon said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “You never wanted to go on vacation in the summer because you might miss out on something.”
Shannon said his grandfather also worked at the recreation department, in addition to his father-in-law and sister-in-law.
“I loved coaching and being with kids, so it was perfect for me,” he said. “I ran Little League and basketball, and it was kind of like being a kid still. After I left teaching, there was a void, so I started coaching.”
Three of Shannon’s four children played basketball at Our Lady of Lourdes, and he coached all of them and their friends. He served as the school’s first Athletic Association president, in addition to coaching recreation department baseball and basketball.
“It was a little gym, but it was exciting,” he said. “So this is an honor, being recognized with the Mountain Top League and the PAL. There were a lot of really good people involved.”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic