‘Ain’t it great to be a Devil!’ It’s time to say goodbye to Eagle Valley High School legend John Ramunno
Ramunno, who died after a short bout with cancer, will be celebrated Friday night at the field that bears his name
Through winning and losing football seasons, challenging and successful days in the classroom, and difficult and delightful days at home, John Ramunno managed to live his life with a relentlessly positive attitude.
Part of that was personality and part of it was choice.
“With coaching and teaching, it’s easy to go to the negative,” said Ramunno’s wife, Cindy. “But he loved his job and he loved going in every day. He thought it was a privilege.”
As generations of Eagle Valley High School students and athletes can attest, the privilege was theirs. For 35 years, Ramunno taught at the high school in Gypsum. For 34 of those years, he was the school’s head football coach. It’s not hyperbole to say he was an Eagle Valley legend as evidenced at the school where he spent his lengthy career. The football field at the high school bears his name — John Ramunno Field.
Ramunno died July 17 at the age of 64 after a short fight with cancer. But in his memory, family, friends, students, former students and community members will gather for one last celebration Friday under the lights at the field that’s named in his honor.
Participate in The Longevity Project
The Longevity Project is an annual campaign to help educate readers about what it takes to live a long, fulfilling life in our valley. This year Kevin shares his story of hope and celebration of life with his presentation Cracked, Not Broken as we explore the critical and relevant topic of mental health.
“We need to share him, his memory, because he made an impact on a lot of kids,” Cindy said.
John Ramunno Memorial
When: Friday, Aug. 13
Time: 4:30 p.m. tailgate at the Eagle Valley front parking lot and the memorabilia display and slide show inside the school will open. Remember, no alcohol is allowed on public school property. The memorial service will begin at John Ramunno Field at 7:30 p.m.
Rooted in the Western Slope
John Ramunno grew up in Steamboat Springs — the second oldest of Carl and Marilyn Ramunno’s five kids. Both of his parents were teachers and his father was also a lion of the Colorado sports scene. Carl Ramunno was inducted into both the Colorado High School Activities Association Hall of Fame and the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“I feel like he was raised in such a solid, caring home and he emulated that,” Cindy said. “He had really good relationships with his parents and his siblings.”
John used to say that life in the Ramunno house ran like a well-oiled machine — with predetermined breakfast menus that reflected the day of the week. “Marilyn had five kids, she had to do that,” Cindy said “Plus the kids were involved in everything. They were just a really busy family.”
Tony Ramunno, one of two younger brothers, said John set the bar for his siblings in both athletic prowess and behavior expectations. Sometimes the marks were literal, such as his discus distance. Sometimes they were accomplishments, such as a football team’s season record.
“You would see John do it and think ‘I have to get that far,’” Tony said. “Our whole world was football, wrestling and track — sports offered through the school.”
John continued his trailblazing after he graduated from Steamboat Springs High School. He attended Western State College in Gunnison on a football and wrestling scholarship. “John went down there and brought back stories to Joe and I about the players at Western State and how tough they were,” Tony said. Their older brother’s experience convinced the younger Ramunno boys to double down on their weight training regimes.
“We would go and watch his games and I would think ‘My goodness, those guys are tough” and I wanted to play at Western State and be like that,” Tony said.
Eventually Tony and Joe would follow the dad and older brother — becoming teachers and football coaches. They also practiced the positive thinking that was John’s hallmark.
“If you start rolling negative, it dominos to your team and your community,” Tony said. “So you have to swing it positive.”
After graduation, John had three job offers. He decided to go with the position at Eagle Valley. Pete Nolan, the longtime former assistant principal and athletic director at the high school in Gypsum, fondly recalls his teaching recruits from the fall of 1980. That crew included John Ramunno, Dave and Susan Scott and Randy Rohweder — a corps that remained at the school for decades.
“When you get a group of really motivated young people like that, it is amazing what they can do,” Cindy said.
Tony noted that John was always grateful for the supportive network he had at Eagle Valley. “He had right-hand men like Randy and Dave and a leader like Pete, and it is so good to know you have guys like that who have your back,” Tony said. “John coached whoever walked through the door and that is not always going to be a state championship team. Those guys understood that and supported him.”
During his early years at Eagle Valley, John welcomed daughters Amy, Lacy and Matty. His family later expanded to include sons Rick and Mike. Between having little kids at home, his classroom work and his coaching duties, John was always one busy guy.
“He coached and taught P.E. and health. Early on he also taught business math and typing,” Cindy said. “When I was going through things, I found pages and pages of typed 1980s wrestling stats. You can tell it was an assignment from one of his classes.”
During his later years at Eagle Valley, John taught weightlifting, but throughout his career he opened up the weight room during the summer. He volunteered thousands of hours to help out kids who were dedicated to a fitness program.
His imposing figure and gravely voice might have given off a drill sergeant P.E. teacher vibe, but it didn’t take his students very long to figure out Coach Ramunno didn’t fit that mold.
“He did stuff for kids who weren’t on his teams,” Cindy said. For example, one year a candidate for Eagle Valley valedictorian honors was a top student who readily admitted she had little to no athletic talent. John worked out a deal so she could earn her P.E. credits and not mess up her GPA.
“He understood the big picture for kids,” Cindy said. “He knew that for lot of kids, P.E. wasn’t the end-all, be-all. For some other kids, P.E. is the most important part of the day. He had a soft side that people didn’t always see, but if a kid had a class with him, they got it.”
Kids who couldn’t swing their camp tuition or afford a set of cleats also learned about that side of their coach because John would quietly foot the bill.
John just loved hanging with kids, Cindy said, as evidenced by his school office/barbershop tradition.
“He really loved to cut hair, not that he was very good at it,” Cindy said. “One time at a birthday party for one of our kids, we ran out of activities so John started clipping hair. Not all the moms appreciated that.”
Football – particularly Devils football — was John’s passion. When he coined the school’s famed “Ain’t it great to be a Devil!” cheer, the exclamation was an expression of his personal feelings.
“His knowledge of the game was just immense. It is a really hard game and it is very strategic,” Cindy said. “His preparation was unmatched.”
His pregame ritual included lots of at-home study, reviewing film. “Before the internet, that was our weekend date — making the film exchange with other coaches,” Cindy said. “Then we would watch the film all weekend long.”
His coaching style reflected his favorite advice to kids: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.
“He always said he would rather have 20 guys, working hard, working for each other and having each others’ backs than having a couple of star players,” Cindy said. “He loved kids and he loved coaching. I think he loved the up and down of it. He always remembered dates and scores and kids’ jersey numbers. It was crazy and it really made kids feel special.”
When he announced his retirement in 2015, John talked with Vail Daily Sports Editor Chris Freud about what kept him on the field so long.
“Every year, you pull up a few memories,” John said. “During my son Rick’s senior year, we had the win against Frederick. Those kids will never forget that. I had a kid on the bus tell me, ‘I think this might have been the greatest day of my life.’ When a kid tells you that, I still get goosebumps.”
“There is a special moment coaching before a game,” he said. “The energy is so powerful in the wrestling room or the locker room, when you know the kids are with you. It is electric.”
Being the high school football coach in a small town carries certain notoriety. In the community he was Coach, but he was every bit as committed to being Dad at home.
“John was just a super humble, super easy guy to live with,” Cindy said. “He was a really chill dad and our house was always really fun. He made me laugh every day. Our house wasn’t always clean and it wasn’t always perfect, but it was fun.”
The Ramunno kids’ comments also reflect that theme.
“In 2015, I called my dad to ask him what song we should dance to for our father daughter dance at my wedding,” said daughter Amy Jamieson. “And he said, ‘Amy, it has to be ZZ Top ‘Sharp Dressed Man.’’ I laughed and said, ‘Dad, I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something and that’s it!’ We danced to that song over and over in the basement of our house when I was little and we rocked that song the day of my wedding.”
“My Dad had a gift of captivating storytelling. I loved that about him,” said daughter Lacy Morrill. “My husband and I were lucky to buy my dad’s childhood home in Steamboat. We renovated and utilized the knowledge and labor of our fathers. We laughed our way through the process as my Dad would recall story after story from his years living in what we’ve all nicknamed ‘the little house.’”
“Anytime we needed help, Dad would hop in his Dodge Ram and zip up to Steamboat,” Morill continued. “He gifted us a 1982 chainsaw, but he was the only one brave enough to operate it and would happily trim our trees and shrubs. When it was time for him to go home after each visit, we seemed to hang out in the driveway for an hour after we originally said goodbye, sharing stories where no detail was left untold. He was good company. I am going to miss him forever.”
“My dad absolutely loved giving haircuts,” said Matty Ramunno. “Whether it was to his kids, his students, his grandkids and basically anyone who would allow him access to their hair. Every time my son and I would visit, or when he would come to California, he would give Noa a haircut. We came to Eagle for a visit in 2019 and Noa walked away looking exactly like Lloyd Christmas from ‘Dumb and Dumber.’ It was amazing and my dad was very proud of his work.”
“There are so many memories, and I learned so much from Dad,” said Rick Ramunno. “One funny memory is as a senior in high school, I was getting a little too close to the girl I was dating at the time, during the final school bell. Out of nowhere, a dodgeball whizzed by my head and slammed into the wall behind us and I heard dad’s voice boom, ‘Rick, get to practice!’ We jumped and all the kids in the commons area froze. I looked over at Dad, and he had his sly grin. I hustled to practice and was the first one on the field.”
“There were so many great times,” said Mike Ramunno. “One time, Dad and I drove to Steamboat to work on my grandparents’ house. His goal was to get a solid day of work out of me, so he told me that if I went, we would stop by every fishing hole on the drive from Eagle to Steamboat and back. Dad didn’t love Colorado fishing because a Canada fishing trip he took with Grandpa made fishing here a little boring. But he did it because he knew I loved it, and he wanted to make the work day fun. That day, and so many other days, he taught me how to work hard, but also enjoy time with family and time to yourself.”
Retired, sort of
After John retired from Eagle Valley in 2015, he went to work for fellow former teacher Gary Hollandsworth at ABK Construction. He loved the work, Cindy said. “It was like a big guy club,” she said. “They worked hard and he loved being with those guys. On Fridays they would have ‘safety meetings’ but it was having beer in the garage.”
During football season, he would return to John Ramunno field to watch the Devils, but he positioned himself behind a chain link fence on the opposite side of the field. “He didn’t want to hear parents complain about the coaching and officials,” Cindy explained.
“He loved skiing and after he was done coaching wrestling, he skied almost every weekend,” she added.
John’s robust health took a turn this spring when he was diagnosed with a rare form of thyroid cancer. “He remained positive to the end and grateful to the end,” Cindy said. His Friday Night Lights send off is planned to reflect that spirit.
“Everyone has a John story and I don’t even know all of them,” Cindy said.
Anyone who attends his service will have time to share a Ramunno tale or two during a tailgate time planned prior to the ceremony. To participate, just pack up a picnic and park at the north Eagle Valley High School parking lot. Inside the school, a slideshow will play on a loop and a huge memorabilia display will be set up. And, because there are so many physical tokens of his teaching and coaching years, there will be an area where visitors will be welcome to collect an item to remember Coach. The memorial ceremony will begin at kickoff time — 7:30 p.m.
Additionally, for anyone in the community who would like to share a favorite John Ramunno story, use the link: FlipGrid.com/40725be3 and enter the guest password EVHScoach. There, you can enjoy the video stories and recollections by other friends, coaches, colleagues, players and students and add your own memories.
In honor of John Ramunno, a legacy fund has been established at Alpine Bank in Eagle to fund a scholarship program for Eagle Valley High School graduates. To make a donation, send a check to the EVHS Foundation c/o Alpine Bank, POB 70, Eagle, Colorado 81631 and write “John Ramunno Legacy Scholarship” in the memo line. Donations can be made via Venmo through EVHS Foundation@John Ramunno Scholarship.