BRICK – These are tough, sad times in the Brick Township High School athletics community.
There was the death of legendary football coach Warren Wolf last November 22 at the age of 92. There was the Dec. 20 passing of his wife, Peggy Wolf, who played a large role in the Green Dragons’ success, at the age of 89.
Dominick Marino, who coached the Green Dragons’ freshman football team, died April 14 at the age of 61.
And Irene Auriemma, the wife of retired coach Bob Auriemma, who set the state’s career wins record in ice hockey, died May 9 at the age of 80.
“It’s tough losing all of these people in Brick,” said Jim Dowd, a 1987 Brick graduate who starred under Auriemma and at Lake Superior State University and played for 17 seasons in the National Hockey League. “They built Brick into powerhouses in football and ice hockey for years and years. Brick is the little shore town that could. Brick whupped up on everybody. It is what it is. That’s the cycle of life. People are getting older. They all had great runs. They touched tons of lives in a positive way.”
“She was always there for us,” an emotional coach Auriemma said. “She was always positive, always upbeat. She talked to the parents of our players behind the scenes and got to know a lot of people around the town and around the state.”
Mrs. Auriemma’s passing did not escape the eyes of Pat Doyle, an avid Brick sports fan.
“She was a great lady,” he said. “Brick lost another legendary person.”
The First Lady of Brick Township High School ice hockey, Mrs. Auriemma was known as Coach Irene as she supported her beloved Green Dragons win, lose or tie. One of the couple’s sons, Bob Auriemma, said her nickname “probably” was born in the 1960s when the program was founded on the club level by Wolf. Auriemma’s dad was the first varsity coach in school history. Auriemma’s father was an assistant coach under Wolf at the club level.
“Mom spoke to our players near our locker room as they came in and out of the games,” said young Bob Auriemma, who played three varsity seasons for his father, including 1977 when Brick won the state title. “She did not miss many games when dad coached. She gave our players little pep talks. Each time our teams received new varsity jackets, she always received a jacket that said, ‘Coach Irene.’ She also received jackets from the Brick Hockey Club (which produced numerous Brick standouts). It said, ‘Coach Irene,’ on each jacket. The origin of her nickname was a collective fraternity thing.”
Mrs. Auriemma made sure her Green Dragons were groomed and dressed nicely.
“If a guy grew his hair too long, she would tug on it,” young Bob Auriemma said. “If a guy’s tie was crooked, she would straighten it. The guys would say, ‘Straighten your tie or Coach Irene will straighten it.’ They’d say, ‘Cut your hair or she will pull on it.’ That all took place in the 1960s and 1970s. Either you were a hippy or you were not. The guys would tell her, ‘OK coach Irene.’ “
Young Bob Auriemma said his mother was a disciplinarian.
“Her dad was no-nonsense and she was like that,” he said, “but she was also very loving. She believed that rules were rules. She grew up under a heavy thumb. Her mother was not like that. You cleaned your room. You did what you were supposed to do. You did the right thing even when people were not watching you. Her folks were from the World War II era. She did not believe in someone being of either Irish or English descent. She said, ‘We’re all Americans.’ She felt we were all one.”
Mrs. Auriemma also was involved in the strategy of ice hockey.
“If you got a bad penalty, she would let you know it on your way out of the arena,” young Bob Auriemma said. “She would go to the games and sit by herself as she did not want to overhear other parents of our players saying, ‘How come my kid is not out there?’ When we played at the South Mountain Arena (in West Orange), she sat by herself in the last row of the seats in the early 1970s because she felt more comfortable.”
Mrs. Auriemma, who also competed in baseball, enjoyed playing ice hockey.
“She was probably close to 40 years old and she was a little athletic,” said young Bob Auriemma, whose brother, Tom, played on the Green Dragons’ 1979 state championship team. “She created a women’s hockey league (in which she played with Dowd’s mom and others in the 1970s).”
Coach and Mrs Auriemma were high school sweethearts. Mrs. Auriemma, a member of the Memorial High School band, was a majorette in the movie “A Face in the Crowd,” a 1957 American drama which starred Andy Griffith.
“She was dead center in one of the final scenes with Andy Griffith and Lee Remick,” young Bob Auriemma said proudly.
The sons of Lori Auriemma-Kearns, Patrick and David, played for coach Auriemma and felt the warmth of Mrs. Auriemma. Lori Auriemma is the daughter of coach and Mrs. Auriemma.
“Mom was very friendly,” Auriemma-Kearns said. “After the games, she would encourage the boys about ice hockey. She liked supporting all of Brick’s sports. My dad coached under coach Wolf for 20 years and she was always at those games. People don’t realize that Brick’s football and ice hockey teams were dominant at the same time for many years.
“Mom was always very supportive, enthusiastic and positive except for when she would yell at the refs. During the 1970s, she yelled. She was spunky. When we were down a player because of a penalty, she’d yell, ‘Score with four. Score with four,’ as we always had a guy in the penalty box. She’d start chants of, ‘Let’s go Brick. Let’s go Brick.’ She always felt our boys played their best. She would tell the team after a loss, ‘You will get them next time.’ “
The home of coach and Mrs. Auriemma was the venue for team nights. The Green Dragons munched on pizza and Mrs. Auriemma served as the hostess.
“The other mothers of our players brought the food,” Auriemma-Kearns said.
Admirers participated in a procession past the home of coach and Mrs. Auriemma after her death. Signs and banners were displayed on motor vehicles. Former players displayed jerseys that contained their last names. The procession began at the Midstreams Elementary School in Brick. The Brick Township Police Department provided an escort.
“It had almost 100 cars,” Auriemma-Kearns said. “Dad watched it from the sidewalk and a curb. He wanted to hug everyone and everyone wanted to hug him, but that could not be done because of the (coronavirus) pandemic. He was very touched. We received food, fruit baskets and tributes on Facebook (the team’s page is Brick Township High School hockey).”
Wendy Auriemma-Acropolis’ ties to the Auriemma family also run deep. Her husband, Steve Sr., and their children, Cindy Acropolis-Toye. Steve Acropolis Jr., Bobby Acropolis and Daniel Acropolis, played under Auriemma. Wendy Auriemma is one of the daughters of coach and Mrs. Auriemma.
“Mom was friendly with all of the boys who played for dad,” Auriemma-Acropolis said. “When our children played, we did not win as often, but mom still went to our home and away games up in North Jersey. She was always there. Our football players were more afraid of mom than dad, but in a playful way. They enjoyed her comments and little digs. She cherished those times. She made the players feel a part of the Brick Township High School ice hockey family.”
Auriemma guided the Green Dragons to 729 wins. He led the team to six overall state titles, five public school state championships, four Shore Conference crowns and eight Gordon Cup titles. Auriemma coached Brick for 54 years. His teams played more than 1,000 games. A total of 16 relatives – three generations – played for coach Auriemma. His wife, Mrs. Wolf and others were members of the Brick Football Coaches Wives Club.
A key player was Warren Charles Wolf, a member of the 1976 team that won the overall state title. His father was Warren Wolf.
“They were a beautiful couple and two wonderful people I could always count on,” he said on Facebook. “God bless you, Mrs. Auriemma, and God bless my coach, Mr. Auriemma.”
“What a great couple,” Brick sports fan Joe Aulisi said on Facebook. “So loving and caring, Just great people.”
“Mrs. Auriemma was probably the number one hockey mom in the history of hockey moms,” said Dowd, who was a member of Brick’s 1986 state championship team and starred for the New Jersey Devils when they won the Stanley Cup in 1995. “She was an amazing human being … a down to earth, humble, nice person. I can’t say enough good things about her. She supported us win, lose or draw. Coach and Mrs. Auriemma were my second family. Mrs. Auriemma genuinely asked, ‘How is everything going?’ You get caught by surprise. Not many people ask that.”
In lieu of flowers, the Auriemma family requests donations be made to either the Brick Presbyterian Church Music Ministry, Parent Project or Muscular Dystrophy.