Jim Romano, the seasoned Jenkintown High School girls basketball coach, began a remarkably successful coaching career over four decades ago.
Since his inaugural season, Romano has overseen 10 Bicentennial League Constitution championships, 15 District District 1 Class A championships, a 2018 Class A state championship, an undefeated 2020 season (29-0), and 729 career wins to date.
His individual accolades include a 2017-2018 USA Today Womens’ National Coach of the Year Award and an induction into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame the same season. The Philadelphia Inquirer honored Coach Romano in 2013 after his 500th career victory.
He initiated a summer basketball program in 1982 at Cheltenham High School which is now known as Jenkintown Summer Basketball League. Romano’s main squeeze has always been the girls basketball team, though he has lent a helping hand to football and baseball teams as well.
According to current and former Jenkintown Lady Drakes, he has impacted the lives of countless up-and-comers and pushed a small school in a small town to be the best that it could be.
“He’s old school,” Phil Furse, a 1989 JHS grad who was coached by Romano, said.
According to Furse, a handful of parents in the district are asking for the discontinuation of his contract for the 2023-2024 season.
In response, former players and current parents in the district initiated a petition on July 13 in support of Romano’s rehiring. Dozens of signs, like the one pictured above, have been decorating the streets of Jenkintown ever since.
Furse and others plan to attend an August 21 (rescheduled from August 14) school board meeting to voice their opinions. The board has not disclosed when they’ll be voting on winter contracts and has long maintained a “no comment” policy regarding personnel matters, according to school board president Dr. Megan O’Brien.
“The school board will have a vote at some point, but there’s not a lot of information yet,” Furse said. “We plan on attending that meeting to voice our thoughts. My understanding is that they have a policy this year that opens coaching positions like his to everybody. This is about the incredibly positive influence he’s had over kids in the community over the years.”
According to Furse, the petition, which has garnered 801 signatures at the time of this writing, includes generational parents and players, former assistant coaches, former athletic directors, and teachers, among others.
“I was athletic but the worst player ever to play basketball at Jenkintown. We’re a very small school, so we needed bodies,” MaryAnn Boutcher Higgins, who played for Romano in the early 1980s, said. “Coach Romano was probably 26 or 27 at the time, recently married. I stayed with the team through my senior year because of the way he guided us. He was kind and understanding.”
Higgins reached out to the superintendent and the school board with her thoughts. An excerpt:
He made me want to be a better player and I tried to be one because I didn’t want to let him or my teammates down. Coach Romano is a once in a generation person who embodies the spirit of teamwork, fair play and discipline. His rules for the team were just that. They were for EVERY player. Whether you were a future JHS hall of famer or the kid on the bench. He didn’t expect you to be the best, but he expected the best effort from everyone. That lesson has stayed with me for 40 years.Over the years my friends and I have discussed the impact of playing for Coach and having the honor of being his first varsity team. Truly though, I wish we weren’t. I wish we had had him as a coach for four years, what we could have accomplished in that time. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’ve had 40 years to look back. It wasn’t always magical and it certainly wasn’t easy. It was the hardest thing I have ever done athletically and I am so grateful to Coach for working with me and helping me to stick with the program. I have told him before that he helped that scared and angry young girl and I don’t want to think about what may have happened without his guidance and support.
Higgins has asked former players to email the school to tell their stories. Angela Funk, who served as a co-captain of Romano’s first Varsity team during the 1982-83 season, sent an email to the district superintendent and school board prior to June’s board meeting. An excerpt from her email:
I am writing today to share with you the impact that Coach Romano has had on my life. I grew up in a home with little structure and few rules. Neither of my parents earned a high school diploma. I joined the girls basketball team in high school and I am telling you, I would not have graduated had I not been a part of his team. As I look back on that time, I realize he was only in his twenties when he started coaching at JHS. He was growing his own family at the time; his wife Ginny was pregnant with their first child. He made it a point to learn about each of his player’s academics and home life. He wasn’t afraid to reach out to our parents if he had concerns. He was invested in us and our futures.
Barb (Damm) Riggs, a 1984 graduate and JHS Hall of Famer, played for Romano’s first-ever team in 1981. She went on to receive a basketball scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science which appeared in the NCAA Division II Final Four in 1986.
Riggs emailed the school board in July. An excerpt:
Coach Romano is not only an amazing Basketball Coach, he is a Wonderful Man who truly cares about each and every person he coaches! Coach always treated each and every player the same and rules were rules, no matter what your talent was as a basketball player. As I have gotten older, over the years, I often think, “where would I be today if I didn’t have Coach Romano as my HS Basketball Coach” ? You see, it’s not all about the Game, it’s about Life. He teaches life lessons!!! Accountability, Honesty, Integrity, Being a Team Player…all of these things relate to life as we grow and have to get out in the real world. As we all know, it’s a different world today, compared to back in the 80’s! It is unfortunate that Coaches have to be careful in showing compassion and love to kids to help make a difference in their lives. Coach Jim Romano is not only a GREAT Basketball Coach, he is a GREAT Man who has made a huge difference in my Life, and I know for sure hundreds of others he has coached over the past 42 plus years!!!
“He’s beloved by the community. He manages to get the players out every year and buy into the system, and it works,” Boutcher Higgins said. “He was tough, but he checked up on all of us. Looking back on it, I think about how much we learned. He instilled a team spirit that we wanted to be a part of.”
Joanne Burmester, a 1989 alum, four-year protege of Romano and a former Jenkintown middle school coach, co-authored the petition.
“He’s an open book when it comes to coaching,” Burmester said. “I initially struggled in high school, and basketball really made me stick to school. He said, ‘Get your grades up or you can’t play.’ He was an important male role model for me. He gave me good advice, he was always there, more than happy to help, and that’s something that I treasure. He’s a genuinely good person and he’s dedicated so much of this time. Jenkintown is so fortunate to have 41 years with him.”
To access the petition, you can click here. For PAPrepLive’s 2021 coverage of Romano’s 700th win, you can click here.
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Feature photo courtesy of Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame