by Andrew Garda
History and tradition are a huge part of Mounties football. When students join the Montclair High School team, they quickly become immersed in what it means to be a Mountie and part of the group.
One of the most hallowed traditions centers around the legacy of Ryne Dougherty, a player who died in 2008, a victim of what is termed “second impact syndrome” — when a player returns to the field too soon after a brain injury and suffers a second one. It can be fatal, and in Dougherty’s case, it tragically was.
Each year, the Mounties award the Ryne Dougherty Ring to the player who most represents Dougherty’s outstanding drive and effort. This year, head coach John Fiore, along with MHS teacher Alyson Wasko, awarded it to 2019 senior captain and recent MHS graduate Nareece Wright.
Wright also received a $500 scholarship from the team to help him pay for his attendance at East Coast Prep school in Great Barrington, Mass., this fall. After a season of hard work, he’s hoping to see some Division II or even Division I offers.
For Fiore and Wasko, Wright was the only choice for this year’s award.
“It’s funny,” Fiore said after the ceremony at Glenfield Park. “Because Alison and I will email around this same time of year. And this year, the email was the exact same name. You know, sometimes she has a thought, I have the thought, some of the coaches might have a thought, but this year was like a slam dunk.”
Fiore said Wright “exemplifies everything that a great Mounties football player and community member is.”
Wasko, who is assistant marching band director, said watching him on the sideline, in the hallways and around the field in general showed her Wright’s leadership.
“It was one of those things where I was refreshing my memory on the roster because it was months after the season,” Wasko said. “I was looking at the seniors and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s right. Nareece is a senior.’ So it was just one of those that just popped out immediately, that this was the right way to go.”
For Wright, the ring represented all his hard work – work he nearly didn’t start in the first place, as he didn’t want to play football his freshman year.
He ended up giving it a shot, though.
“I started going into practice freshman year, and that was an OK season,” he said. “Then sophomore year I played junior varsity. Then I made a promise to my Mom that I was going to do better for junior and senior year.”
Junior year saw him begin to make an impact, as he compiled 15 tackles, fifth-most on the team, as the Mounties went 7-5, making the playoffs but losing in the North 1, Group 5 playoffs to Ridgewood in the finals.
As a senior, Wright was named as a captain. The Mounties were a young and inexperienced team that went 5-5, losing in the first round of the playoffs. However, they finished the regular season strong, with three straight wins, as seniors like Wright kept the team focused on the season despite the rough spots.
He also took the reins on a defense that had lost phenomenal talents like Willie Matthews and Gary Robinson Jr. to graduation in 2019. Wright stepped right into the role, totaling 90 tackles, forcing and recovering two fumbles, and sacking the quarterback three times.
“It just shows me that hard work does pay off,” Wright said of the awards. “And that you can really do whatever you put your mind to doing and, you know, to be honored as a Mountie forever? I love it because I’m in Montclair for my whole life, you know?”
Wright will also receive a plaque and have his name placed with previous recipients on an award in the field house.
Fiore said the Dougherty Award is one of the most important ones the program hands out. The team shows its respect for Dougherty in many ways, including holding up four fingers in each hand during the National Anthem, which represents Dougherty’s jersey number, 44.
“When the last time we had certain issues [nationally during] the Kaepernick era with kids taking knees, our football team never took a knee because the National Anthem meant something totally different to us because of Ryne,” he explained. “I assume when we start out, we’ll do something to honor [the Black Lives Matter] movement. But our kids, during the National Anthem, always do the fours.”
The award has been given out as the Ryne Dougherty Award since a year after Dougherty died, according to Wasko, and Jostens has donated a ring every year for it.
“So, it’s a pretty great way to remember him,” she said. “For as long as we can. As long as [Jostens] is willing to do it, and then we’ll try to see what we can do past that. Let it go on forever.”