At St. Rita, this doctor is always in
By Pat Disabato email@example.com October 9, 2011 4:38PM
St. Rita 1972 graduate Dr. Gerardo Grieco (second from left) performs the coin toss as he is honored for attending his 501st consecutive football game Friday, September 23, 2011.| Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 15, 2011 12:25PM
There are proud alumni, and then there’s Dr. Gerardo Grieco, a member of St. Rita’s Class of 1972.
Grieco has not missed a varsity football game since he was a freshman at the Chicago school back in 1969.
Not a single game.
Not even when the Mustangs are on the road or when Mother Nature has produced an icy obstacle.
Grieco has attended 503 consecutive varsity football games.
That’s right. Forty-three straight years without missing a St. Rita football game. It’s a streak that would draw the envy of even Cal Ripken.
Grieco’s reason for his devotion is simple.
“I love St. Rita,” Grieco said. “It’s been a love affair since I was a student here.”
For the past 32 years, Grieco, a surgeon, has done more than cheer on the Mustangs. He’s generously donated his time as team doctor during the football season.
Even though he resides in Bloomington.
“It’s 144 miles from my front door to St. Rita,” said Grieco, who earned his medical degree from Loyola University.
In many instances, road games require longer drive times. It doesn’t matter to Grieco who, ironically, didn’t play sports at St. Rita and graduated from St. Mary of Mount Carmel Elementary School.
“I know those words (Mount Carmel) are not popular around here,” said Grieco, who is also a Cubs fan.
Grieco, who practices at Bromenn Hospital in Normal, views the jaunt up Interstate 55 as a labor of love.
“I’ve put lots of miles on my cars,” Grieco said. “I just think about the game while I’m driving.”
There have been a few close calls that nearly ended his consecutive games streak.
In 1990, he showed up for a 1 p.m. Saturday game in a tuxedo.
“I was the best man at my brother’s wedding,” he recalled. “The wedding was three hours later. My mother asked me where I was going. I told her I was going to the St. Rita game. Besides, I said, they (the bride and groom) have to wait for me. I’ve got the ring.
“It’s been a challenge. Especially when I was a resident (surgeon) at Cook County (Hospital). There were a lot of close calls. A lot of young doctors took my calls and my place. Even today, I schedule my surgeries around St. Rita’s schedule. I owe a lot of people and my wife, too.”
Coincidentally, one of the close calls involved his wife. When the couple gave birth to one of their four sons at 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning, Grieco left a note for his wife at her bedside.
“St. Rita was playing that day and I just let her know where I was at,” said Grieco, who has four grandchildren. “Everything was fine (with the birth and recovery) or else I wouldn’t have gone. It was my son’s birthday present.”
Speaking of presents, Grieco has purchased many from St. Rita’s bookstore for family and friends. Hats, shirts, you name it, he’s bought it.
“He’s our bookstore’s biggest customer,” St. Rita athletic director Mike Zunica said. “If we had a ‘Bookstore Customer of the Week,’ he’d win it every week. He’s incredibly generous to the school.”
In an effort to show its gratitude, the school honored Grieco before the kickoff of the Mustangs’ Sept. 23 game against Providence.
Not only did St. Rita send its loyal alum home to Bloomington happy by way of a 19-0 victory, it presented him with a plaque, a football signed by the 2011 team and a letterman’s jacket in honor of his consecutive games achievement. He also was allowed to flip an honorary coin prior to kickoff.
“It’s got to be Guinness Book (of World Records) material,” Zunica said of Grieco’s streak. “He’s an inspiration to us and the 107-year tradition of the school. It’s incredible for our students to see a renowned surgeon have that much passion for his high school. He’s supported this school through thick and thin.”