They only had him for a little more than two years, but the Harrison High School softball team embraced Carmine Ronga like he had been there for 30.
“He always made us feel good,” said catcher Kiera Lucas. “When he first came, I knew that he would turn things around. Just by the way he spoke, you knew that he would make a difference. Not just in sports, but in life. He was very motivational.”
“Once I got to know him,” pitcher Jenna Vieira said, “I knew that he was there for us and wanted the best for us.”
Harrison athletic director Kim Huaranga remembers when Ronga, long established as a successful softball coach at his alma mater Hoboken, came in for the interview for her vacant softball coaching position.
“I asked him right away, ‘Why do you want this job?’” Huaranga said. “He said, ‘Listen, I can go anywhere I want where the program is doing good and win. I want to come here and rebuild your program. I can lead you to success.’”
Carmine Ronga didn’t get the chance to lead the Blue Tide to any championships like he did at Hoboken. He did change the culture tremendously before having to step down last spring when he was diagnosed with leukemia.
Ronga wasn’t able to return to the coaching box. He died last week after a year-long battle with leukemia. He was 67 years old.
“I think we were all totally shocked,” Huaranga said. “I heard things were looking up for him after getting a bone marrow transplant. He had a great positive outlook. We invited him to our banquet and his wife wrote back that he was in ICU. We hoped he would beat it.”
Huaranga said that the team had changed entirely under Ronga.
“We became a softball family,” Huaranga said. “He did a lot for our girls and a lot of it came out of the pockets of him and his assistant coaches. The girls took it really hard.”
In April, the Harrison softball team had a special game in honor of Ronga and fighting leukemia.
“We all wore orange shirts with his name on it,” Lucas said. “Just seeing him there meant a lot to us. He wanted to be there. It was a game just for him. We gave him a plaque.
Added Lucas, “We thought he was getting better, but he got worse fast. This hurt me the most. It’s really hard for me.”
Vieira was so upset that she visited Ronga’s grave Sunday.
“At first, I didn’t believe it was true,” Vieira said. “It was really upsetting to hear that he was gone. He always taught us to have fun and enjoy the game. All he wanted was the best for us.”
The team honored Ronga with the plaque that read:
Your dedications and direction has put fire in our souls
You have inspired us to do the best to reach our goals
Your lessons will be remembered after the game is won
For the lessons you have taught us have only just begun.
You’ve taught us about commitment, perseverance and hope
So as we go through life we will be prepared to cope
With all of our struggles, our failures and success
Because we had you, our Coach, the Very Best
— The Harrison High School Girls Softball Teams (2015-2017)
Huaranga said that Ronga made a positive impact in his short time in Harrison.
“They’re going to take that passion and drive he taught them and dedicate the upcoming season to him,” Huaranga said. “They’re going to be motivated for him. It’s a huge loss for Harrison softball. They all loved their coach. He changed the culture and had the program going in the right direction. I definitely feel he has built the foundation. He put in some nice work here.”
Vieira said that she will forever remember her coach.
“He will be with me every game next season,” Vieira said. “He will be in my heart.”
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.