Neil Rosa remembered: ‘He was a coach to everybody

Robert Rosa said there’s one childhood memory that particularly exemplifies his late brother Neil. As Marist High School’s first 1,000-point scorer, Neil had received an engraved game winning ball the family kept in a glass case to commemorate the accomplishment. One day, Neil came home to find one of his sisters, shooting hoops in the driveway. When his sister passed him the ball to let him take a shot, Neil discovered she had taken the game winning ball from its case.

“He shrugged his shoulders, threw the ball back to her and said, ‘Make the next shot,’” Robert said. “It was more important that my sister was having fun than this piece of leather get preserved.”

Robert said enjoying the success and happiness of others was always Neil’s top priority. Neil, the long-time athletic director of Moorestown High School, passed away on Monday, Dec. 4 at the age of 63 following a brief battle with leukemia.

Neil was the middle child of eight. His mother died when he was in seventh grade, and his father went on to marry a widow with seven children herself. Robert said despite being a blended family, they never referred to their siblings or parents with the word “step” — a sentiment Neil would apply to his own family later on.

The Jersey City of the Rosas’ childhood was dominated by a sports culture, according to Robert. Neil was eager to play whatever sport was in season and logged much of his free time on the local basketball courts. Neil was Marist High School’s first 1,000-point scorer — for which he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, Robert said. From there, Neil went on to attend Bentley College of Waltham, Mass., and UMass/Amherst.

Robert said Neil’s career was cut short by a knee injury, so upon graduating, Neil embarked on his 14-year-long basketball coaching career at Massachusetts, Colgate and Rider universities and Ramapo College. While Neil enjoyed his time in coaching, he didn’t have a taste for the grind that came with recruiting players. For that reason, Neil decided to pursue his interest in athletic administration, Robert said.

Neil met his wife of 25 years, Debby, at a restaurant. Debby said her husband was the type of person who gave everyone an audience, and she attributes this directly to Neil’s love of God. Neil was a devoted member of Grace Bible Church in Wall.

“I think really what’s important is the man he was is because he loves the Lord,” Debby said. “He loved God, and God was extremely important. It was his foundation.”

Neil served as athletic director at Clayton High School and Kingsway Regional High School before coming to Moorestown nearly 15 years ago. Neil, a Wall resident, made the transition to Moorestown to be closer to his home, commuting from Monmouth County to Moorestown each day, Robert said.

One of Neil’s favorite parts about being an athletic director was the scope of the responsibilities, Robert said. His brother said unlike coaching, serving as athletic director did not come with a defined season, since Neil oversaw all of the school’s sports programs. No job was too small for Neil. From moving mats for wrestling games to directing traffic for games, Neil was always willing to step in to get the job done, and his attention to detail was unsurpassed, Robert said.

Moorestown boys tennis coach William Kingston said Rosa was extremely dedicated to Moorestown High School and worked tirelessly. He said Neil would come early to games to organize traffic logistics and ensure everyone had a place to park. He said he also recalls Neil coming at 7 a.m. to help him dry wet tennis courts.

“He was actually helping squeegee the courts,” Kingston said. “This speaks, too, to his commitment to bring all available resources to bear on each athletic team and program.”

“The fact that Moorestown achieved a lot of success in a lot of different sports was something he really took a lot of pride in — not for himself but because the kids were successful,” Robert said.

Neil’s greatest accomplishments, however, were his children and grandchildren, Debby said. He was a father to his son, Travis, and Debby’s daughters Michelle and Melinda, as well as his grandchildren, Richie, Luke and Logan Bianchi, Kaz Kostidakis and Kayla and Carson Fallon. Robert said on Saturdays and Sundays, Neil and Debby’s house was often the place to be.

Debby said work took up much of Neil’s time. A devoted athletic director, if he couldn’t finish something at his office, he would often come home and continue to work. She said he knew many of the students by name.

Andrew Seibel, principal of Moorestown High School, said Neil was understated in everything he did, and when he first began covering for Neil following his leukemia diagnosis, he was struck by just how much Neil was involved in. He said Neil was a role model to so many of the students and a mentor to many.

“He wasn’t just our coach; I think he was a coach to everybody,” Seibel said. “Starting as principal even as he was already an athletic director, he was even a coach to me.”

Robert said Neil was diagnosed with leukemia around 50 days before his passing. On the day Neil died, he had just been informed at 2 p.m. that the leukemia had been beaten back. However, around 6 p.m., the family received word that Neil was having trouble breathing and was in the Intensive Care Unit. Robert said an autopsy was not performed on Neil, so the family is unsure what ultimately led to his passing.

Robert said he remembers Neil as someone you just wanted to be around.

“He had a big smile, and he always had time for everybody,” Robert said.

Family and friends paid their respects to Neil on Saturday, Dec. 9, at Grace Bible Church in Wall.