Even in death, Tony Simonelli, renowned for his kindness and good nature, is still finding a way to give back to the community.
The memory of the former J.P. Stevens High School football coach and Rutgers University gridiron star, who died at the age of 71 last November, will be kept alive during a Sept. 19 scholarship dinner in his name at the Pines Manor in Edison.
All proceeds from the event, which is expected to feature a who’s who list of some of the greatest athletes in school history, including those who were part of the 1977 and 1978 football teams that were widely regarded among New Jersey’s finest, will benefit the Tony Simonelli Education Foundation.
A scholarship in Simonelli’s name will be awarded at the end of the academic year to a well-rounded J.P. Stevens senior student-athlete who embodies what the coach stood for including citizenship, character, strong work ethic, determination, athleticism and academic excellence.
Without a funeral or wake – Simonelli died from a pulmonary embolism a day after Superstorm Sandy – many of his former students and players were unable to give their mentor a proper send off.
The Sept. 19 dinner, meant to be a celebration of Simonelli’s life rather than a memorial service, will provide a second chance, not to say good-bye, but for fond recollections of one of the state’s most respected coaches.
“I think a lot of people had a lot of emotion at the time (of Simonelli’s passing) and no outlet for it,” said Steve Cahn, a 1979 J.P. Stevens graduate who played football for Simonelli and captained his track and field team.
Cahn said the scholarship dinner will be a great way to not only remember the coach, but to educate current J.P. Stevens student-athletes about who Simonelli was and for what he stood.
“To say he was a role model is such a cliché and an understatement,” Cahn said. “I think (the scholarship) is an opportunity for him to continue teaching. The kids at the high school will read about who he was and the recipient will be somebody who heard a little bit about him. Hopefully, he can continue to educate kids without being there.”
Simonelli served as the head football coach at J.P. Stevens from 1983 through 1992, compiling a 63-33-2 record while winning back-to-back Central Group IV championships over East Brunswick in 1984 and 1985.
He starred on the offensive line at Rutgers University, playing alongside All-American center Alex Kroll while leading the Scarlet Knights to an undefeated 1961 season. The following year, Simonelli was named team captain.
Simonelli taught health and physical education in the Edison Public Schools for 35 years, retiring in 1999 as J.P. Stevens athletics director. After graduating from Rutgers, he earned master’s degrees from Montclair State and Kean.
He began coaching in 1964 alongside Joe Gutowski. The two led the Hawks to a 120-53-5 record from 1964 to 1982, finishing undefeated once and winning three sectional titles along the way.
Simonelli and his wife, Cookie, would have celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in June. The couple met when Tony was in college and Cookie was a high school student in Metuchen, where they raised two daughters, Jill and Janis, and lived for 40 years.
“The family was overwhelmed by the response from the community when my father passed away,” Janis Simonelli said, “and still now the fact that they want to do this scholarship, we are all taken aback by it.”
Those interested in attending the event (a cocktail hour will precede the 6:30 p.m. dinner) or donating to the scholarship fund can contact Cahn at 732-650-0444.
Tickets to the scholarship dinner cost $100 per person. Payment and additional donations should be made to the “Tony Simonelli Education Foundation” and mailed to Cahn & Parra LLC, 1015 New Durham Road, Edison, NJ 08817.
Further information about the scholarship fund and about Simonelli can be found at the soon-to-be-launched web site, TonySimonelliFoundation.org.