We live in a time where commitment to a high school football program is negotiable.
Coaches and players have left neighborhood schools to chase championships at moment's notice. At the high school level, it isn't how it used to be. Loyalty sometimes takes a backseat.
This is not the case at Westminster.
The Westminster School community knows what loyalty means. It starts with head coach Gerry Romberg, who is midway through his 25th season at the helm.
Romberg is the third-longest tenured coach at one school in the state behind Charlton County's Rich McWhorter (27 years) and Marist's Alan Chadwick (32 years). Chadwick, interestingly enough, coached Romberg for one season at Marist. Chadwick's example apparenty stuck.
Romberg grew up in Atlanta and attended Marist. After graduation, he attended Springfield College in Massachusetts. Shortly after college, Romberg was hired as an assistant football coach at the Maret School in Washington, D.C., from 1983 to 1985.
From 1985 to 1989 Romberg was an assistant coach at the United States Coast Guard Academy and then at The Citadel in Charleston for one season.
Realizing the recruiting aspect of the college game was not for him, Romberg wanted to coach at the high school level. He made his homecoming to metro Atlanta in 1990, when he was hired at Dunwoody High School. He stayed there for two seasons. Then Westminster came calling.
When he took over at Westminster in 1992, he began turning the football program into a post-season regular. The Wildcats have been to the playoffs 18 times ... and every season since 2007. After entering the 2015 playoffs with four losses, Westminster defeated Blessed Trinity to win the Class AAA state championship.
This season the Wildcats are 4-2 (3-0 in region play) and are poised to make another deep playoff run.
Romberg took time Monday to answer a few questions in a wide-ranging Q&A:
Q. What got you to Westminster?
A. I coached college for several years, but I got out of college coaching because I was ready to make a move into high school. I just was not interested in recruiting. It was not one of my favorite things to do. So I moved back to Atlanta, and because I grew up in the Dunwoody area I coached there for two years in 1990 and 1991 and then got the job at Westminster and have been here ever since.
Q. What is different about high school football now vs. 20 years ago?
A. I think the kids are different. There are so many more distractions now for kids since I first started. The whole college recruiting process has changed it so much. When I first started, kids went to the school where they lived. You didn't see the recruiting and the kids transferring to other schools. And you have the 7-on-7 programs and all the AAU stuff, not just football, but across the board in all sports. And there were more kids that wanted to play high school football just to play high school football. Now, it's to put themselves into position to get into college or play in college. It has all kind of trickled down from college. There is more pressure on coaches now, I think. You see more coaches every year getting fired for not being successful or what is considered being successful by making the playoffs. The pressure on coaching now is amazing. I have been at Westminster for 25 years, and I think I am the second or third-longest tenured coach in the state behind Alan Chadwick at Marist, who interestingly enough, was one of my coaches at Marist. He was an assistant when I was there. He has been there 30 some-odd years, and you just don't see that anymore, with coaches staying with a school. A lot of coaches are looking for the best program and jumping from school to school to try to find the best opportunity to put themselves in position to win a state championship. You lose that community atmosphere of having the same coach there.
Q. What is your most significant victory?
A. That is a hard one. You know, a lot of people would say that last season's state title would be it. But thinking back, when we first started rebuilding the program in my first year (1992) we went 1-9 and the program had been through three coaches in three years , so we just didn't have an established foundation. My second year we beat Marist, and I don't think Westminster had beaten Marist in 10 years . So in 1994 we beat them, and I would say that would be up there as a signature win because we were able to beat a team that the school had not beaten in 10 years . But it also kind of put us on the map.
Q. What made you decide to be a coach?
A. It is pretty amazing. I knew I wanted to be a coach since I was like 10 years old. I mean it is always something I wanted to do. People have asked me that question before, and I just knew that is what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to go into coaching. And then when I went to Marist, those coaches there really made an impression on me. And they really reinforced that decision that I wanted to be a coach, and it really confirmed it for me. So that's why I looked for a school that their main focus was on coaching and teaching. I just knew all along that is what I wanted to do. I just had the desire at a young age, and I was very fortunate in that regard.
Q. What are the goals for your team this season?
A. Hopefully we will get back (to the dome). Like I told our guys, the goal every year is just to make the playoffs. You can't win the championship unless you are in the show. So we just focus on getting in the playoffs. Whatever that takes. However we get there, you know, last year we were 6-4, so the bottomline is just to get there and you never know what will happen.