WEST ORANGE, NJ — Collegebound students Jenny Alfaro and Alex Aromin-Gabbay gasped with surprise as they stood on the track at Suriano Stadium at West Orange High School and received scholarship checks from the inaugural Joe Suriano Memorial Invitational.
The Aug. 23 presentation realized track legend Bruce Berry’s vision to honor Joe Suriano, his former coach, and pay forward all that his friend and mentor had given him through the years.
“There has never been an invitational in Joe’s name,” said Berry, currently assistant track and field coach at Rutgers–Newark, “and it was important to me to make it happen, no matter what it took.”
Suriano, a giant in the local track community, was honored throughout his life as he coached winning track teams at West Orange High School from 1971 until his retirement in January 2016. During his legendary career, Suriano coached five All-Americans and three athletes meeting Olympic Team standards. Under his leadership, the WOHS track team won seven league championships. Suriano was also named All-Area Coach of the Year 16 times, League Coach of the Year eight times and Essex County Coach of the Year twice. He was named Essex County Retired Coach of the Year in 2015, was honored by the West Orange Township Council in 2016 and established the Suriano Family Scholarship along with the West Orange Scholarship Fund. In addition to his career as a coach, Suriano was named Teacher of the Year three times.
“Joe was my coach and my mentor and he was always there for me,” said Berry, who graduated from West Orange High School in 1984. “He cared about me and everyone he came in contact with…. I can’t even begin to tell you how much he taught me … about life, about coaching.”
Berry himself has a storied and successful track and field career due, in part, to his relationship with Suriano. He was a successful hurdler and sprinter at the University of Alabama and University of Virginia, collecting 11 All-SEC honors, seven All-ACC honors and nine All-American titles. After his collegiate career, he became a two-time qualifier for Olympic Trials in the 400-meter hurdles and 110-meter hurdles with Nike International.
Berry went on to coach at both the high school and college level, coaching 46 All-Americans, and earning nine New Jersey State Championships, seven Union County Coach of the Year awards and 12 Essex County First Team-All County Honors.
Working with WOHS Principal Hayden Moore, WOHS track and field coach Jason Lamont-Jackson and the Suriano family, Berry organized and funded the inaugural Joe Suriano Memorial Invitational on May 8 in the stadium named after the beloved coach, who died in April 2020 due to COVID-19.
All proceeds were given to WOHS Class of 2021 graduates Aromin-Gabbay and Alfaro, who both played track and field.
Aromin-Gabbay is heading to Rutgers University–New Brunswick. He is undecided about a major but is interested in business and computer science. Alfaro will attend the University of Delaware, where she plans to study fashion.
Suriano’s daughter, Nicole Suriano-Postiglione, presented a $2,800 check each to Aromin-Gabbay and Alfaro.
“Coach Suriano will always be close to our hearts, not only at West Orange High School, but in the entire track and field community,” Moore said. “He touched the lives of everyone he knew and he continues to do so today. We look forward to the second annual Joe Suriano Memorial Invitational in 2022.”