Beloved West Orange track coach and educator dies from COVID

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Legendary track coach and beloved West Orange High School English teacher Joseph Suriano, 73, died April 10 due to complications from COVID-19. 

Married to his wife, Marlene (Melillo) Suriano, for 50 years, Suriano leaves behind daughters, Stephanie Suriano and Nicole Postiglione, with husband Joseph Postiglione Jr.; and granddaughters, Avery and Dylan. He was the son of Carmella Suriano and the late Joseph Suriano Sr. and is survived by many in-laws, nieces, nephews, cousins and friends.

Suriano grew up in West Orange and began work as an English teacher in 1969. As a 1965 state champion in the 100-yard dash and an All-American in track, he translated his passion into coaching beginning in 1971.

During the course of his legendary career, Suriano coached five All-Americans and three athletes meeting Olympic Team standards and, 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. 

As a lasting tribute, Suriano Stadium at West Orange High School is named in his honor.

Suriano retired after 43 years of dedicated service to the West Orange School District in January 2016. A special surprise sendoff was organized by Suriano’s daughters, both educators in West Orange. Teachers and staff stood near Room 1125, Suriano’s classroom for many years. Taken completely off guard as he rounded the corner, the staff applauded and cheered as he smiled and joked while heading to the Tarnoff Cafeteria where family and friends awaited. 

WOHS English teacher Craig Champagne spoke on behalf of the staff. 

“I always say I am lucky to be the principal here,” WOHS Principal Hayden Moore said at Suriano’s retirement. “Joe, just look around you. Look at the lives you’ve touched and all the retired teachers who are here to see you. You are part of our success.” 

Suriano himself stepped to the microphone at the celebration and, echoing baseball great Lou Gehrig, said, “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I’ve taught and coached my whole life.” 

A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the Suriano family asks for donations to be sent to the St. Jude Children’s Fund. Condolences may be sent to the Suriano family at 7 Barone Road, West Orange, NJ 07052.