After 13 years as Verona Girls’ Tennis coach, 11 as coach of the Verona-Glen Ridge Hockey team, and eight as Verona Boys’ Tennis coach, Stephen Ruggiero has stepped down to accept the position of director and head of marketing for the Richard J. Codey Arena in West Orange. Ruggiero has also resigned from his position as teacher of social studies and dean of students at St. Joseph School in Maplewood.
Andor Kish, the Junior Varsity hockey coach, will become head coach and Patricia Schoenig, the coach of the Junior Varsity Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis teams, will become head coach for Boy’s and Girls’ Tennis. (Though Schoenig recently announced her retirement from her long-time position as physical education teacher at Verona High School, she will continue as tennis coach. )
Like Seinfeld and Sampras, Ruggiero is going out on the top of his game: His Boys’ Tennis team just won the state sectional title; his hockey team was McMullen Conference Champions and Star Ledger Essex County Team of the Year; Ruggiero was also named Star-Ledger Ice Hockey Coach of the Year and Coach of the Year by the New Jersey Press Association. He’s received many other such honors throughout his tenure: He was Colonial Hills Conference Coach of the Year for Girls’ Tennis in 2003, 2005 and 2007, for Boys’ Tennis in 2008 and was Star Ledger Essex County Coach of the Year for Ice Hockey in 1999 and Girls’ Tennis in 2004.
Ruggiero has mixed feelings about giving up his Verona coaching duties, and he got choked up making his announcements to his teams. “There have been so many special memories and times and the student-athletes have been tremendous, I’m certainly going to miss it,” said Ruggiero, a graduate of VHS. “But as much as my life has been about teaching and coaching, when this post was presented and offered to me, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for me, hockey nut and rink rat that I am. I think things are going to work out very well.”
Another positive about his new position is that it will leave more time for his three young children, Dylan, Colby and Madison, who attend Forest Avenue Elementary School in Verona and his wife, Anne Marie Ruggiero, a kindergarten teacher there. “Hockey season is seven days a week, between games, practices and scouting games,” he says. Tennis dominated after-school hours in fall and spring.
Continuing to coach while juggling his rink job wasn’t possible either. In addition to the intrusion into work hours, it would be a conflict of interest for a Verona hockey coach to be director of a facility where other county schools practice and compete.
And there are challenges aplenty with Ruggiero’s new position. His immediate goal is to bring more business to the arena in the off-season through kids’ programs, camps, men’s leagues, and specialty clinics. The county is now developing the area around the rink and Turtle Back Zoo into the Essex County Recreation Complex, which will include a restaurant and miniature golf area, and Ruggiero is excited to be a part of that new venture.
For Verona’s “Rugg” fans, however, there is comfort in the fact that Ruggiero is not severing ties with his hometown, and will still be involved in the hockey program, behind the scenes, through his sons. It’s a fitting legacy: Last year, Ruggiero helped put in place a new program for hockey “squirts” in grades 2 through 4, and a middle school program for players in grades 5 through 7. And he doesn’t rule out the possibility of returning to Verona someday to coach again. “I told (athletic director) Gary Farishian that I’m not closing the door on returning. I’m always open,” Ruggiero says. “I’m stepping down, not retiring.”
Home page photos courtesy Jeff Steifbold.