Prep Rally

43 years after first game, surgeon still hasn’t missed one

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

High school sports are known for attracting devoted fans, yet none may compare to one Chicago-area doctor. While other fans may try their hardest not to miss any of their team's games, it's still likely that they miss the occasional faceoff. Not Chicago (Ill.) St. Rita School alum Gerardo Grieco, who has attended every St. Rita's football game since his freshman year at the school … in 1969.

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St. Rita's team doctor Gerardo Grieco

St. Rita's team doctor Gerardo Grieco

According to the Southtown Star, a subsidiary of the Chicago Sun-Times, 43 years after his first appearance at a St. Rita game, Grieco is now serving as the volunteer St. Rita team doctor. The 57-year-old makes the trek every week even though he lives more than two hours away in Bloomington, Ill. Grieco, who serves as a surgeon in Normal, Ill., during the day, has been at 503 consecutive St. Rita varsity football games, a streak that would impress any athlete at any level.

As Grieco told the Southtown Star's Pat DiSabato, that includes days on which the surgeon had other important commitments, like his brother's wedding, for instance. That was the case in 1990, when Grieco showed up at a St. Rita's game in a tux.

"I was the best man at my brother's wedding," Grieco told the Star. "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 have to wait for me. I've got the ring."

Among other important dates Grieco has sacrificed for St. Rita's football team are countless scheduled shifts when he was a resident at Chicago's Cook County hospital and the first morning of one of his son's life. On that occasion, Grieco reportedly waited until after his wife had given birth safely at around 4 a.m. and both mother and son were doing fine. Then, a few hours later, he left a note for his wife saying he was headed to the St. Rita's game.

"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."

That would be the first of many St. Rita's-based presents his son would receive. The school's athletic director, Mike Zunica, told the Southtown Star that Grieco is easily the biggest customer at the school's bookstore. If there is any new line of memorabilia, the surgeon will purchase it and give it to someone.

Perhaps that made the honor bestowed upon Grieco by St. Rita's all the more fitting. After years of sacrificing so much of his own life to protect the health of St. Rita's players, the school presented him with a plaque, football signed by the entire 2011 team and -- appropriately -- a St. Rita's letter jacket.

For his part, Zunica said he feels Grieco deserves even more credit than that.

"It's got to be Guinness Book [of World Records] material," Zunica told the Southtown Star. "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."

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