Carmine Ronga, the Hoboken athlete, teacher and famed coach, died last week after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 66 years old.
Ronga had the distinction of being inducted into the Hoboken/Demarest Athletic Hall of Fame both as an athlete and as a coach.
As an athlete, Ronga was a hard-nosed gritty offensive lineman and linebacker who never backed down to a challenge.
“He was a tough little competitor,” said long-time Hoboken football coach Ed Stinson, who also had the distinction of gaining the Hoboken Hall as both an athlete and coach. “He was a sophomore when I was a senior. He was the typical Hoboken kid of the time. He would fight until there no fight left.”
Ronga was a player on the 1966 Hoboken football team, coached by the late and great Vince Ascolese, that won the Group IV state championship.
Growing up in Hoboken, Ronga was the best of friends with John Barone, who eventually became the long-time basketball coach at North Bergen.
“He was known as ‘Carminooch’ or later just ‘Nooch,’” Barone said. “That was his nickname. When you grew up in Hoboken, you knew everybody. It was a very good family oriented town. Carmine was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He was as tough as nails. Everyone in the school were friends together and hung out together.”
His coaching career began as a Little League coach, coaching the famed Young Dems, who had Maria Pepe on the team. Pepe was the trailblazer for girls playing Little League baseball, being the first girl to gain acceptance into Little League nationally. When Pepe started to gain national attention for what she did, Ronga was right there, appearing with Pepe on “Good Morning America.”
Ronga was then an assistant coach in football.
“He had been my coach since I was nine years old playing Little League baseball [on the Young Dems],” said former Hoboken head football coach Lou Taglieri. “We had a great relationship through the years. His life lessons that were taught to me will remain embedded in my soul. Coach Ronga will be missed, not only by Lou Taglieri, but the entire population that he coached.”
“He coached with me for several years,” Stinson said. “He coached several different positions.”
Ronga was an assistant to Stinson when the Redwings went on an amazing run, winning 67 of 68 games over a six-year span, a stretch that will never be experienced again in Hudson County high school football.
Ronga, who was already once the head baseball coach, turned his attentions to softball, where he gained his most acclaim as a coach.
In 1993, Ronga turned the Hoboken softball program completely around and made the Redwings into a Hudson County and state powerhouse, winning one state sectional championship, one county title and five HCIAA divisional titles.
“He applied the discipline and regimen of football into softball,” Stinson said. “He was the catalyst of that program’s success.”
Over his 20 years with the softball program, Ronga posted an astounding 460-117 record.
“Whatever he did, it was always with the kids in mind,” former Hoboken athletic director Mauro DeGennaro said. “It was always for the kids.”
Ronga was the four-time recipient of the Hudson County Coach of the Year.
Ronga was also the first coach of the girls’ soccer team at Hoboken, when the school district initiated the sport in 1995.
At the same time, Ronga became a legend down the Jersey shore.
“We got a summer house together for six years,” Barone said. “Each year, we had to go to a different town, like Beach Haven or Bradley Beach. Being with him all summer was a blast. We were all teachers, living together down the shore. We met our wives because of those shore houses.”
After Ronga retired from Hoboken in 2015, he moved on to become the head softball coach at Harrison High School, where he instantly became beloved. But last year, he was diagnosed with leukemia and had to step down.
“He fought it and fought it,” Barone said. “He really didn’t give up, like the way he was as a kid.”
Ronga ended his softball coaching career with a record of 490 wins and 142 losses. It’s sad to think Ronga fell just 10 wins shy of the magical 500-win plateau. It’s also sad to think that Carmine’s gone. He will be sorely missed…
Speaking of Hoboken, former Redwing standout hurler Kenny Roder is getting the chance to play professional baseball. Roder signed a free agent contract with the Sussex County Miners of the Canadian-American League in Augusta. He made his debut last week pitching two innings against the Cuban National team.
One of Roder’s teammates is Gianni Zayas from North Bergen, who was with the Seattle Mariners’ organization and was released this year. Two Hudson County kids on a pro team in northwestern New Jersey. We’ll have more on them in the coming weeks…
The professional boxing debut of Nicoy Zilla-Clarke will have to wait a little longer. Three boxers scheduled on the card that was to be held at the Jersey City Armory dropped out in the days prior to the card last Friday, so the New Jersey Boxing Commission ruled that it was not going to sanction a three-bout card. The entire event was canceled and a new date has not been determined.
Needless to say, the Jersey City teacher was disappointed after waiting for his pro debut for almost a year. Now, Zilla-Clarke has to wait a little longer…
The Rich Glover “All Access to Life” Football Camp will be held this week (Monday June 26 through Thursday June 30) at Caven Point Cochrane Field. The former Nebraska All-America nose guard and Outland and Lombardi Trophy winner hosts this free camp for boys and girls ages 9 through 14 from 9 a.m. to 12 noon. Breakfast and lunch is provided.
For more information about the free camp organized by the former Dickinson and Ferris head football coach, contact the All Access to Life Foundation at (201) 423-9961. It’s a great week of learning football and life lessons from a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and it’s all free, so parents should really check it out…
The annual Weehawken Open charity golf tournament has been set for August 10 at the Black Bear Golf Club in Franklin. The tournament benefits the Weehawken Volunteer First Aid and Rescue Squad. For more information, contact the Weehawken Recreation Department or organizer Carnig Nersessian via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. – Jim Hague