Late coach leaves ‘monumental impact’ on players, students in Springfield, Bellbrook

Fairmont grad Jon Rommel coached at North High School from 2000-07 and was later offensive coordinator at Bellbrook

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Jon Rommel stepped away from a long career at the high school level to coach his son Carson in youth football. That proved to be beneficial decision for not only Carson but everyone who played for the Bellbrook Wee Eagles in Rommel’s four seasons — especially Brett McNamara’s son Cavan.

“Jon put up with his crap from fourth grade on and was just there every minute he needed him, and so was his wife Kat,” Brett said. “It took a toll on us watching some of the struggles (Cavan) went through at practice, and they were just there for us all the time.”

When Rommel died at home unexpectedly at 47 on Dec. 23, Cavan, now in eighth grade, was one of many of Rommel’s former players — at all levels — to pay tribute.

“I remember after my last game in sixth grade, coach Rommel talked to me all about how middle school ball was like,” Cavan said, “and he is the one of the sole reasons I still play today. He always had a chip on his shoulder, and he led me throughout my time as a youngster on the field.”

Rommel’s wife, Kat, has seen many emails and messages like that from his former players and students since his death.

“I had no idea that people from years ago are still impacted by everything he was to them during that time period,” Kat said. “He made a monumental impact on students and athletes.”

In addition to Kat and Carson, 14, who’s now in eighth grade, Rommel is survived by his daughter Kelsey, 17, who’s a senior at Bellbrook. A campaign has raised more than $12,000 for the family and remains open for contributions.

Rommel, a 1993 Fairmont High School graduate, became a head coach for the first time at North High School in Springfield in 2000 after two seasons as an assistant to Brian Blevins with the Panthers. He coached the program for seven seasons before North merged with South to form Springfield High School in 2008.

Tim Elliott coached on Rommel’s staff for most of his tenure at North.

“He was a great educator,” Elliott said. “He understood the important thing was to build relationships with these kids, and that was important to him. He wanted them to understand he was there for them. Not only was he their coach, but he loved them. He wanted to build something with them. Jon also worked hard. He prepped well. He had high expectations for us as assistant coaches, and we did what we could to compete.”

Rommel was named the Greater Western Ohio Coach of the Year in 2003. One of his most memorable moments came in his last game with the Panthers, who defeated rival South 6-0 in overtime in the final game of the 2007 season to end a three-game losing streak in the series.

“There’s no trophy, no tangible object of what you do, but you have the memory,” Rommel said after the game. “We said before the game we wanted to create a memory for ourselves that we would be proud of the rest of our lives. It’s not about bragging rights. It’s about that memory that we wanted to leave with that was always going to be a good one.”

Kat remembers the victory being exciting and sad at the same time because it marked the end of Rommel’s time as head coach of the Panthers.

“He would have stayed there forever,” Kat said. “He loved the kids. He loved the staff. He loved that building.”

Mark Stoll was the athletic director at North when Rommel was hired and remembers he was a young guy with not a lot of experience.

“We liked the way he interacted with kids,” Stoll said. “He did a good job with the kids. He wasn’t a boisterous guy. He was always real calm and treated the kids well. He treated my two adopted sons great. They both admired him and respected him. He was always talking to kids about life lessons or saying, ‘You can’t act this way public,’ and things like that. My wife said it best: he was an old soul.”

Stoll and Rommel stayed in touch over the years and reconnected often as baseball fans last fall when their favorite team, the Atlanta Braves, won the World Series. They also loved to talk to politics.

After North and South merged, Rommel worked at the new high school for two years and joined Rick Robertson’s staff as the offensive coordinator for the football team. He then moved to the Bellbrook-Sugarcreek School District, where he coached and taught for 10 years.

Kevin Basinger, who was the head coach at Bellbrook when Rommel joined the program, said Rommel was a down-to-earth guy who was always professional in the way he went about things.

“He always was able to connect with kids and find a way to kind of reach them on their level,” Basinger said. “He never tried to impose an authoritarian kind of attitude. He wasn’t a screamer. He was somebody that could always just kind of talk it through with kids and get his point across that way and they responded well to him.”

Rommel inspired Brian Kindell, the longtime Lebanon High School softball coach to get into teaching. They were high school friends and college roommates at Bowling Green.

“He knew he was going to be a teacher and a coach before he ever graduated high school,” Kindell said. “He went to Bowling Green for their education school, and honestly, I don’t know why I went there. His desire and passion to go into coaching kind of rubbed off on me.”

A memorial service for Rommel will be held Saturday at Crossview Christian Church in Waynesville. Visitation will take place from 3-5 p.m., and a service will follow at 5 p.m.

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