In Memorium: Michael J. Cleary, 1951-2018

  • July 16th, 2018
  • By: Brother DiCorcia

In Memorium: Michael J. Cleary, 1951-2018

Union, N.J. (7/14/18) – The Kean University Athletic Department and the Men’s Lacrosse program is saddened to inform the passing of Mike Cleary.

“Coach Cleary was the epitome of Kean Lacrosse”, stated head coach Shelley Sheiner. “He touched everyone he met in a special way. His love for Kean University was only outshined by his love of Trish (his wife) and his family. I am a better man for having him in my life these past 27 years. Words cannot express how much we all loved him.”

A pioneer of Cougar athletics, Cleary was a major part of the largest athletics expansion in Kean history. A member of the school’s first-ever lacrosse team in the spring of 1970, he was also a charter member of the school’s football program, which began play that fall.

A four-year letter winner in lacrosse, Cleary was a standout defenseman from 1970 through 1973, becoming the first Kean player to be named as a first-team All-Knickerbocker Conference honoree. Cleary was also a three-year starter at tackle for the football team from 1970 through 1972, helping to lead the fledgling squad to a solid 4-2 record in its initial campaign in 1970. Besides lacrosse and football, Cleary played basketball for the 1969-1970 then Squires. For his accomplishments his senior year, Cleary was presented with the D’Angola Award, the highest honor presented as recognition of outstanding individual performance within the team concept that contributes to the enhancement of the team, the department of athletics and Kean. He was also the editor of the student newspaper and the yearbook. Additionally, he became an active member of Sigma Beta Tau fraternity, participating in many service activities. It was also at Newark State that he met his wife, Patricia.

Upon graduation, with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1973, Cleary joined the East Orange Police Department where he became Deputy Chief in 1993 before being promoted to Chief in 2004. He retired from the force in 2008 after a 35 year career which was filled with notable highlights, including the reduction by 56% of overall crime in the city. He received many accolades during his police tenure including from the New Jersey Assembly, State Senate, New Jersey State Police, Drug Enforcement Authority, PBA, FOP, Essex County Chiefs of Police, Community Groups and East Orange City Government.

Cleary remained very active in the Kean athletic department. He served as an assistant lacrosse coach since 1978 and was an assistant coach on the Kean teams under the legendary Hawley Waterman that participated in the World Games in Japan 1992 and Australia 1993. Cleary was the offensive line coach for the Kean football team from 1981 to 1986. He served as a member of the Hall Of Fame selection committee after his induction into the Kean University Hall of Fame in 1985.

Cleary recently earned several honors for his time, commitment and mentorship. Kean University named him a “Distinguished Alumni” in 2016 and most recently he was selected the Intercollegiate Men’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IMLCA) / Hudl Division III Assistant Coach of the Year. In addition, this past winter he was honored by the New Jersey Lacrosse Hall of Fame as a member of the 21st induction class.

To many of his colleagues here at Kean he will always be remembered as “The Director of Lacrosse Operations” who was never at a loss for words and always had a story for any situation. He will be missed by not only members of the lacrosse program, but all Cougars who got to know him. The tributes have been pouring in since his passing and almost everyone can say “thank you” for this time, mentorship, friendship, and laughs. He is being remembered as a good man and most will always remember him saying “yeah baby”.

He is survived by his wife Tricia and sons Michael and Matthew.


Wednesday, July 18th (5pm-8pm)
Thursday, July 19th (2pm-8pm)

McCriskin-Gustafson Home for Funerals
2425 Plainfield Ave.
South Plainfield, NJ 07080

Mass of Christian Burial

Friday, July 20th (10am)

Immaculate Conception R.C. Church
35 Mountain Ave.
Somerville, NJ

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made in his memory to Kean University Men’s Lacrosse, 1000 Morris Ave, Union, NJ 07083

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