Harrison mourns the loss of softball coach Ronga

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:

Coach Ronga

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.

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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”