Former Westhampton Beach Resident Finds Fraternity Coaching American Football Overseas

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By all accounts, John Romanoski was a pillar in the Westhampton Beach community.

After moving from his hometown of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, which is located outside Philadelphia, to Westhampton Beach in 1997, Romanoski held jobs at Cor-J Seafood and Dean’s Country Market and even spent a few days behind the grill at Dave’s Bun & Burger. He also managed, at one point, the bar Fat Lucy’s, which was next to Oakland’s Restaurant and Marina on Dune Road in Hampton Bays.

Romanoski also helped shape the community’s youth as a football coach in the local Police Athletic League. So why did he pack up everything and move across the Pond to Ireland? When he met his wife, Marie, she once told him she would love to move back home to Dublin, so Romanoski made that come true in March 2012. John, Marie and their daughter, Ella, who turns 4 in November, planted their roots in Ireland.

It wasn’t the easiest thing to do though, Romanoski said. “When I moved there, I essentially knew no one,” he explained by email from Ireland. “I just threw or gave away everything I owned—bar, golf clubs, guitar—and was starting from scratch at 40. [It] was a tough adjustment until I discovered that there was an American football league here.”

Not too long after he first moved to Dublin, Romanoski saw a flier about an American football club team called the Dublin Dragons of the Irish American Football League. At the urging of his wife, Romanoski eventually offered his services to the Dragons and became the defensive coordinator/assistant head coach.

“We had some work to do—[Dublin] was winless in three years and only scored a handful of times—but we ended the season 6-2 and in second place by way of a 2-0 loss to the champions in a defensive battle,” he said.

It could be said that Romanoski’s first love was football. He played the sport in high school, then went on to play Division II ball at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. A severe shoulder injury, though, forced Romanoski out of the sport he loved after just two years on the field.

He went on to coach at a high school in Berks County, Pennsylvania, but when he moved to Westhampton Beach, he decided to stop coaching because of the commitment it takes. Eventually, Romanoski was asked to coach a PAL team by Bryan Dean, a Westhampton resident and owner of Dean’s Country Market.

“John is definitely a very knowledgeable guy when it comes to football and just in general,” Dean explained of why he asked Romanoski to coach. “His passion with the kids was great. It’s hard to describe, but he would get into that three-point stance and really show the kids how to do something the right way. A lot of guys now just go through the motions, but John had a lot of heart.”

Romanoski’s heart was challenged last summer when his daughter was hospitalized for a week with what the doctors are still not completely sure of. It could have been viral meningitis, but whatever it was, it took Ella two weeks to sit up and a month just to get her on her feet again. At the same time Romanoski lost his job.

But it was Romanoski’s love for football—something he never thought he’d be involved with again after having moved to Ireland—that saved him.“Football was, most assuredly, one of the things that saved me here in Ireland,” he said. “To find a group of men that wanted to be good at a sport that is barely shown in this country, let alone thought about to play, made me feel welcome. And I have made some real friendships through the American football fraternity here.

“[I] still can’t stand calling it American football though,” Romanoski quipped. “Or calling the field a pitch. Cleats are boots. Some things just ain’t right.”

The Dublin Dragons are a club team, so the coaches and players do not get paid. Many of them have full-time jobs—Romanoski is a business development/accounts buyer for an online retail company. And since it is a club team, just about anyone can come out to play for the Dragons. Players’ ages range from 18 to 50 years.

The IAFL, Romanoski said, is run with rules similar to those of the NCAA, with a few adjustments. Many of the fields the teams play on are rugby fields, which are 90 yards. And a lot of the players don’t start playing until they’re 16 years old, whereas American youth start when they’re about 7.

“There is a steep learning curve that goes on here to get players up to speed with the fundamentals,” Romanoski said. “These guys are used to rugby and the fundamentals are very different.

“The passion, though, of these guys is amazing,” he continued. “They eat and sleep the sport over here.”

While the Dragons still struggle to score at times, Romanoski’s defense has played well since he took over. It’s allowed only 39 points in eight games and the defense has actually scored three touchdowns and three safeties. Even playing in a lower division got the attention of the under-20 Irish national team. Romanoski was hired as its defensive line coach recently.

Ireland played Canada in an international friendly match on August 28 and won 22-20. Romanoski’s defense had two interceptions for touchdowns.

“That was an absolute honor to be asked to coach an Irish national team,” Romanoski said. “There hasn’t been one in a long time and the thought of it becoming a regular thing is pretty cool. It feels good to be a part of a small niche fraternity of people here, and getting respect in the sport after one season has been fantastic.”

Dean said he’s not at all surprised to see Romanoski be successful, although he is surprised that he’s coaching football, a sport that isn’t too popular outside the U.S. “I was surprised to see he was doing it over there,” he said. “I know one of his concerns was missing Sunday football with the guys, but now, all of a sudden, coaching seems to be something that brings the United States to him.”

While Romanoski still misses certain things back in the States, he’s come to grips that he’s in Ireland with his family for the long haul.

“I am here for good,” he said. “Ireland is my home and where I will live until I retire to a condo in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, to play golf. After you get over the weather—it rains a little—Ireland is a great country with great people. I miss my friends and family in Westhampton Beach tremendously, but Dublin is home for me now.”

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