Frank Ciongoli, a senior football player at Ridge High School, has received the first annual C. Harry Bush Memorial Scholarship.
The scholarship was established to honor the memory of for 23 years, from 1965 to 1988. The scholarship, in its first year, will be awarded annually to a Ridge High School football player who exhibits leadership, character, and academic achievement.
The scholarship was awarded at Sunday's football banquet.
“As a coach and a teacher, effort and integrity meant more to Harry Bush than natural talent or physical prowess,” said his daughter Laura Bush, in presenting the award at the Ridge High School banquet. “He was interested in teaching his players to be not only the best athletes they could be, but true citizens of the football team, the school, and their larger community—and this award reflects that priority.”
Because Bush felt so strongly that being a successful member of any team rises above statistics or pure athleticism, this scholarship was designed to honor one young man every year who is a consummate team player as demonstrated by his upstanding character, everyday leadership skills, and personal academic achievement — someone who strives to be and exceed his best in all areas of his life, Bush said.
“Our father was always most impressed by people who worked hard, gave their all, and never forgot the people around them,” Bush said.
In explaining why Ciongoli was chosen for the award, Ridge Head Football Coach Bill Tracy described the player as a natural leader who always supports his teammates. “He challenges himself to improve at everything he does, to soar to new heights,” he said. “And as part of that, he never goes to those places without bringing his teammates with him.”
“Frank can always be found helping any player on our team, motivating them, practicing alongside them, and demanding their best,” Tracy said. “Frank could do all this because he was right there with them, giving his all, doing the dirty work, and giving his efforts to his teammates.”
Tracy said that the dedication Ciongoli shows his teammates was demonstrated recently in their dedication to him. Interested in the Air Force, Ciongoli had to pass a physical fitness test, which he asked the coach to administer. On the day of the test, in December, on a raw, 34-degree day, four of Ciongoli’s teammates — fellow linemen — showed up to go through the test along with him.
“Now that speaks a great deal to the other four guys and the bond that they formed as teammates and as linemen,” said Tracy. “But it also speaks to Frank and who he is and what he meant to all of us. There is no way those guys would leave Frank out on his own, because there is no way that he would have left any of them out there on their own either.”
Ciongoli, who played both offensive and defensive guard as well as on special teams, was one of four team captains. This year, he was named second team All Area by the Courier News for the offensive line and second team All County by the Star Ledger for the defensive line. He was also named to the Mid State 38 All Watchung Division Coaches Team for defense.
Ciongoli has been on the honor role for four years, and received a certificate of academic excellence from the National Honor Society last year. In his free time, Ciongoli has done a variety of volunteer work, including tutoring elementary school students in math, history, English, and science; tutoring high school students in physics in math; helping children in a YMCA aftercare program with homework; helping with a girls’ 5K run, and serving as a football camp counselor for sixth and seventh graders. He has also spent summers working in landscaping.
Ciongoli was presented with a check for $500 and a book about leadership by Robert F. Cooper, “The Other 90% — How to Unlock Your Vast Untapped Potential for Leadership and Life.” Ciongoli’s name was also the first inscribed on a perpetual plaque for the award, which will be displayed at Ridge High School, and updated annually with each new awardee’s name.
About Harry Bush and His Career
Harry Bush started his coaching career as an assistant at North Plainfield High School in 1950. He moved to Dickinson College in 1952 as an assistant football coach and head lacrosse coach. In 1955, he moved to Hofstra University, serving as an assistant football and lacrosse coach, while working on his master’s degree. In 1957, he took the head football coach position at Boonton High School. After turning the Boonton program into a winning one, he went to Lehigh University as assistant football coach and head lacrosse coach. While at Lehigh, his lacrosse team won the Middle Atlantic Championship in 1964 and his football team won the Lambert Cup in 1961.
Bush came to Ridge in 1965, and in 1967 Ridge had its first winning season. During his tenure, he led his Ridge High football teams to six Mountain Valley Conference championships; had 12 consecutive winning seasons (1969-1981); had 20 straight regular season victories (1976-78) and coached five playoff teams.
In 1987, the team won the Central Jersey Group II championship and Coach Bush was honored as the coach of the year. His overall record at Ridge was 186-92-8.
In 1988, Bush retired. Within a few months, however, he was coaching again, this time at Princeton University. After seven years there, first with the freshman team and then the lightweight team, he retired again. Then a former assistant, then head coach at Watchung Regional High School, recruited him to run the defense there. When he finally retired for good in 2000, he had coached for 50 years.
Bush grew up in East McKeesport, Pennsyvlania. He joined the Navy at age 17 in 1943 during WWII and was discharged as a petty officer 1st class in 1946. After the war, he attended Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College) where he studied history and played center and linebacker all four years.
He was inducted into the Western Maryland Sports Hall of Fame in 1992, the New Jersey Coaches Hall of Fame in 1998, and the Ridge High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2004.
Harry Bush was a loving husband and father known for his great sense of humor, his passion for teaching, and his intensity and creativity as a coach.
How to contribute to the scholarship
Donations to the C. Harry Bush Memorial Scholarship fund may be sent to Laura Bush, 522 Old York Road, Flemington, NJ, 08822. For more information, please contact Bush at firstname.lastname@example.org.