In Memoriam: Mike Scala, Montclair State Director of Sports Publicity [1970-2022]

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In Memoriam: Mike Scala (1970-2022)
 
Ira Thor, Senior Director of University Communications, New Jersey City University (and Mike’s friend)
 
MONTCLAIR, NJ — Montclair State University and the New Jersey Athletic Conference families are mourning the passing of beloved and respected Hall-of-Famer Michael J. Scala — the Director of Sports Publicity for the Red Hawks since 1999, who died on August 26 after a 3 ½-year battle with colon cancer. Scala, of Pompton Lakes, N.J., and formerly of Secaucus, N.J., was just 51 years old.
 
Scala was an October 2019 inductee into the Montclair State Athletics Hall of Fame and a 2020 CoSIDA 25-Year Award recipient whose work later branched out into professional sports.
 
A husband and father of three, Scala met his future bride Jamie Spargo when she was an athletic trainer at Montclair State, before marrying in December 2001. He is also survived by their three children, Jenna (17) — a high school senior — Michael (14), and Joelle (12).  
 
The longest-serving SID in the NJAC as of 2022, Scala served as Director of Sports Publicity at Montclair State for 23 years (1999-2022). He also held stints as Director of Athletic Communications at Monmouth University from 1997-99, Director of Media Relations for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) from 1995-97 and at ESPN Sports Ticker (1995).
 
Scala later joined this author in the National Football League, serving the New York Jets as Deputy Crew Chief of its Stat Crew and Offensive Caller through the 2021 season. Scala also was part of the New Era Pinstripe Bowl Stat Crew at Yankee Stadium (2018-2021) and the inaugural XFL Stat Crew for the New York Guardians during the abbreviated 2020 season. 
 
Even after receiving a cancer diagnosis in January 2019 — a diagnosis which would have frozen most people in their tracks — Scala continued to live his life by the mantra of former Montclair State and NFL Hall-of-Famer Sam Mills — “Keep Pounding”.
 
His work ethic and selfless professionalism can be summed up by how he lived life after being diagnosed — he began treatment on a Friday in February 2019 and was at a conference basketball playoff doubleheader the next day. 
 
Scala was never one to seek the limelight but the work he produced over a quarter century made him one of the most respected in the NJAC and throughout the New York market at any level.
 
Tributes to Scala have poured in across the collegiate athletics landscape and have all struck a similar chord: Mike was a consummate professional and a truly great man who treated everyone like a friend. While the love for Scala resonated across social media in the wake of his passing, those who knew him best shared memories of a Hall-of-Fame human being taken from us all too soon. Scala is remembered as a man who passionately served his alma mater and the ever-changing community of collegiate athletics and college athletic communications while having an equally indelible memory for great moments on the fields of competition and in the pages of life.
 
“I had the privilege to know and work with Mike for over 30 years, and in that time, he was one of the most special and talented people that I ever encountered, » said NJAC Commissioner Terry Small. 
 
« His love for his family and his love for Montclair State athletics were unmatched. It was impossible to have a five-minute conversation with Mike. I would call him about something work-related and it would turn into a 20-minute talk about our families, our profession, or some other random topic. He was an individual who was truly selfless, and he spent his entire professional life promoting the accomplishments of others. From a conference standpoint, I don’t think many people realize what an important role Mike played in preserving and archiving the history of the NJAC during his time as our league publicist. But more than anything, Mike was just a great friend, a loving husband, and a proud father who lived an extremely impactful life. On behalf of everyone associated with the NJAC, I offer my deepest condolences to Jamie and the entire Scala family.”
 
Retired Montclair State athletic director Holly Gera echoed those sentiments. “I’ve known Mike Scala since he was a freshman at Montclair State. He was already working for the Sports Information Department at that time and proving himself to be indispensable. Mike had a tremendous passion for all things MSU athletics. He loved the games, the coaches and the student athletes. He made every student feel known and appreciated. Mike probably knew more student athletes personally than anyone who ever worked for the department. He was our historian and our biggest fan. Mike knew stats and records off the top of his head with a truly amazing recall.” 
 
“But more importantly, he built relationships with people,” Gera emphasized. “Mike had a wonderful sense of humor and a silly side. We shared many laughs on road trips, while hosting championships and just in our day-to-day operations. We often said we should write a book about all the characters and crazy situations we encountered along the way. Mike touched so many lives in a caring and compassionate way. He was a loyal friend and colleague. We mourn his passing but celebrate all his accomplishments, meaningful contributions and all the lives he touched. We’ve lost a special person in Mike Scala and he will be very much missed. Love and condolences to Jamie, Jenna, Michael, Joelle and his whole family.”
 
During his impactful career with the Red Hawks as the primary contact for all 18 athletic programs, Scala helped transform the department during the growth of the digital age. He developed the department’s first website, which has grown into the current site montclairathletics.com, and launched all of Montclair’s social media accounts which rank among the most followed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference. 
 
His development of Montclair State’s record books were nationally recognized. He also was honored with several awards, including « Best in the Nation » honors from CoSIDA for both writing and media guide production. In February 2016, Scala was honored with the Bob Kenworthy Division III Football Communications Award, which is presented to communications professionals that have made a significant impact both on and off the field.
 
While his time as a full-time professional in the sports information office at Montclair officially began in 1999, his roots were planted as a sophomore at Montclair State in September 1989, when Scala began working as a student assistant for then Montclair SID Al Langer
 
During Scala’s 25-year award recognition in 2020, Langer said: “He earned the nickname « microchip » because of his uncanny ability to remember facts and figures off the top of his head like a computer, and to this day, still sends me texts reminding me of things that I misremembered or completely forgot!”
 
It’s one of the joys of being friends with Mike Scala. Great stories from an amazing man with a vast memory and an even bigger heart—a man who was loyal to his family, his friends and his alma mater. 
 
“I realized Mike’s potential immediately when I met him as a 17-year-old walking into my office as a freshman at Montclair State,” said Langer. “He came in looking for a job in athletics. I’m always partial to someone who has a great work ethic, and I can tell that he had that immediately. From there, my perceptions of him were even left in the dust as Mike exceeded every expectation I had for him as a student. As time moved on, he became my graduate assistant, and then eventually came back and took over as my successor when I left for Columbia University. Over the last 33 years since Mike walked in my office, I’ve hired hundreds of people at various levels and for many different types of positions. And to this day, my very first hire of my career was still the best hire of my career.”
 
Rob Chesney, current Director of Athletics and former men’s soccer coach, echoed those memories. “I remember his first nickname in the early 90’s — microchip — because of his vast knowledge of sports; in particular, Montclair State Sports. I’ll fondly remember his ability to be laughing and telling a story and one minute later be laser-focused on calling a game. He was a great colleague. I guess the one thing that will last with me was Mike’s unique ability to cover all sports so well — he really knew it all. He made the student athletes at the University feel special. He was a true Montclair State Hall of Famer. »
 
Perhaps his closest friend in collegiate athletics was Kim DeRitter `01, his former graduate assistant at MSU and the long-time Director of Athletic Communications and Compliance Officer at rival Kean University. She recalled the impact Mike made on her life.
 
“As someone who has to write or talk continuously on a daily basis, it is hard to put into words what Mike Scala means both to me and to our profession. Mike was my mentor — the one who took me from a student to a professional in this field. We learned together about transitioning from faxes to emails, from Dreamweaver to SIDEARM, from Myspace to TikTok, VHS to digital and the list goes on. 
 
Mike was all the qualities you would want in both a mentor, colleague, and friend. He was kind, passionate, professional, reliable, giving, thoughtful and genuine. He was my sounding board, the person I could count on to give me advice, lend an ear, or help me with the current challenge. Mike’s brain was a hard drive, and he could recall the tiniest details from even the most mundane game. I’m going to miss talking about what’s going on in the world of sports, helping each other when our campuses have too many games for us to cover or repeating one-liners from the TV show ‘Friends’. Mike’s passing is going to leave a big hole in the hearts of many, and I only hope that we can keep his memory alive by doing what he would have done.”
 
After graduating from Montclair in 1992, Scala began his career as the first Assistant Sports Information Director after serving six years as a student and graduate assistant—ironic considering he spent much of his 23 years as Montclair State’s head SID without an assistant. 
 
Scala left MSU to serve as the Director of Athletic Communications at Division I Monmouth for two years and spent two years as the Director of Media Relations for the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, before returning to his alma mater in 1999. Along the way he also spent eight years as the Assistant SID for the NJAC and became a bureau manager for ESPN SportsTicker, among many unique opportunities he had in the New York sports scene in the 1990s.
 
In the two decades since returning home to succeed Langer with the Red Hawks, he has hosted numerous conference and NCAA Tournament games, including the 2009 Division III Softball Championship and 2012 Division III Women’s Lacrosse Championship. 
 
Like DeRitter, Pat Duffy `10, the current assistant SID at Montclair State, worked for Scala as a student from Spring 2007 through his graduation, before returning to join Scala’s staff in November 2019.
 
“Mike was more than a colleague, he was a friend and a mentor,” said Duffy. “My thoughts are with his wife and children at this time. This is definitely a tough one to swallow; he’s going to be missed by all.”
 
Anita Kubicka, the Assistant Director of Athletics and long-time successful softball coach for the Red Hawks, recalled her colleague and office neighbor fondly.
 
“Mike Scala was a superhero in the world of sports publicity and information. He was also my colleague and friend. I relied on him throughout my Montclair State University Softball coaching career. He was a walking book of knowledge with an amazing memory of dates and sports moments. I loved him with all my heart.
 
During his Montclair State University Hall of Fame induction on October 15, 2019, Mike spoke of the way he lived his life, « from the heart » — a quote he learned from a third base coach during his youth baseball days. That quote became Mike’s mantra in all aspects of his life. Everything he did for his wife Jamie, children, family, friends, and student athletes was « from his heart ». This was evident during the 2009 Division III Softball National Tournament hosted by Montclair State. Mike showed his skill set, experience and true professionalism running the show in the pressbox. His goal was to ensure the event would be truly memorable and a positive experience for all the student athletes and their families. He succeeded beyond expectation. From Hall of Fame events that he handled personally for me to student athlete senior days, Mike went above and beyond because he did it from his heart.”
 
When Mike was being inducted into Montclair’s Hall of Fame in 2019, he described the moment as overwhelming. 
 
“When you look at all the people who have ever been part of [the school] as an athlete, as a coach and an administrator—to be in that group is an unbelievable feeling to be thought of and know that you now get to be part of a collection of people and a historical figure in the history of that program. The percentages are less than one percent.” 
 
Which is fitting because Scala will be remembered in the one percent of the great SIDs in the profession. It was not only how well he did his job, or his remarkably thorough record books, or his attention to detail that demonstrate it, but also in how he genuinely treats others. 
 
Because as Kubicka said, “he did it from his heart.” Today, many hearts are broken as we celebrate the life and embrace the memories of a man who will be missed immensely.
 
Services for Mike Scala will be announced in the coming days and this page will be updated to reflect this.
 
Those who may wish to support Mike’s family in this time of need are encouraged to donate via a GoFundMe established for the family at: https://www.gofundme.com/f/5pjur8-the-scala-family?viewupdates=1&rcid=r01-166153164272-eabdff0a255c11ed&utm_medium=email&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_email%2B1137-update-supporters-v5b 

 

 

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