Paul Romig wasn’t buying my questions.
His Selma High girls basketball team had just annihilated Fresno High by 32 points to win the CIF Central Section Division III basketball title, the program’s first Valley championship in, well, ever.
Question 1: C’mon, coach, how much coaching did you really have to do today? It was a logical query, given that Selma had won a 71-39 decision that appeared to tax the veteran head coach very little.
The hard work comes in the preparation, Romig countered, and it was difficult to fault that observation. He had been scouting Fresno High for two months and that preparation showed in a first half that ended Selma 43, Fresno 16. Game over.
Question 2: This was redemption for you today, right? Another obvious question, given that Romig’s two previous trips to Selland Arena, for championship games in 2013 and ‘14, had ended in tough losses.
Again, a deflection. This was a great opportunity for his players, he said, who will remember this for the rest of their lives. (Romig had won two CIF Section titles, in Sacramento, before coming to Selma 11 years ago.)
Romig was’t being contrary, just sincere. It’s one of the reasons I like him.
Coaches are liked, loved and beloved for various reasons.
Parents like high school coaches who give our children playing time and/or help them grow as athletes and human beings. Who treat our kids with respect.
College administrators favor coaches who win and put butts in the seats. Who are running clean programs and don’t embarrass the university.
Professional sports fans like coaches who put up W’s, period. Just win, baby.
Sports writers, on the other hand, have different criteria. We like coaches who tell cool stories. Who are funny and give great quotes. Who treat our questions seriously and give honest answers. Who aren’t snarky or condescending.
We prefer Steve Kerr and not Bill Belichick, even though they both coach dominant professional teams. It is more a matter of style and coolness than success.
I have been a coach, a parent and a fan. And a sports writer.
As a journalist, I am commissioned to deal with everyone fairly and impartially. As a human being, I like some news sources better than others.
Since I first covered his teams about eight years ago, I have liked Paul Romig. I have appreciated his patience with questions, the honesty and thoughtfulness of his answers and the way he appears to value the young women who play for him.
That, and being a loyal Bears supporter, is why I ventured to Selland Arena on Saturday, press badge hanging from my neck. I had hoped to see the Lady Bears bring Romig the Central Section championship that eluded him five and six years ago.
I wrote columns about both of those trips to Selland Arena. They were stories about heartbreak and tears, about close-but-no-cigar and get-‘em-next-time.
Well, Saturday was next time.
And when it was over, after the interview room and locker room were cleared, Romig stood between two sections of bleachers and talked about players past and present. In the days before the championship game he had put the word out for alumni from his past Selma High teams to impart their wisdom to the current Bears.
And so they did, in person, in text and video. They told the girls to enjoy the moment, not to let the big arena get into their heads, to treat the final as just another game. Easy to say, harder to accomplish.
But these Bears, who struggled in their semifinal against Tulare Union, brought their A Game to Selland Arena. They were at their running, scoring, ball-hawking best at the right time.
And what more could any coach ask?
So here’s a shout-out to Clarissa, Elena, Rachel, Audrey and Yesenia, the Bears who got the job done last Saturday.
And here’s another one to the coach who prepared them to do so.
Coaching is a dicey game. If your players perform, you are a genius. If they don’t, you’re as bum. The ultimate measure comes when the players are at their best when it counts the most. Just ask Belichick and Kerr.
And, this basketball season, a guy named Romig.