Eagle Valley faithful gather to honor John Ramunno: ‘Maybe they needed a coach in heaven’
Friday night’s celebration under the lights was a fitting tribute to a coach who was all about teamwork
The scoreboard showed Devils: 57, Guests 21 on Friday night, the sound system blared Jimmy Dean’s “Big Bad John” and Hot Stuff Stadium was packed to remember John Ramunno.
“There is no place that John Ramunno would rather be on a Friday night than at this football field,” declared Ron Beard at the memorial kickoff honoring the longtime Eagle Valley High School teacher and coach who died July 17 at 64. Football antidotes and metaphors abounded as family, friends, former students and fans gathered in Ramunno’s memory. The night began with the national anthem, and as speakers made their way to the podium, they handed off a football.
But Coach Ramunno’s well-lived life was about so much more than a game. Yes, he loved football, but more than that he loved his family and his work with kids. He was a man of deep personal faith and he was proud of his life’s work at the school and community where he spent his 35-year career.
“One of the biggest honors of my life was to have John Ramunno as one of my best friends,” said Dave Scott, another longtime Eagle Valley teacher and coach. “The thing that John instilled into his players and into me was that old school is not too bad — hard work, rely on your teammates and everything fits together.”
Scott Green played for Coach Ramunno back in the 1980s. “I know I wouldn’t be who I am without John Ramunno,” Green said. He shared a story about how Coach caught him messing around in school one day and told him to shape it up because other kids were taking a lead from his behavior.
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“I never considered myself a leader. I wasn’t a particularly good athlete and I certainly wasn’t popular,” Green said. “That day changed my life. I just didn’t want to disappoint Coach.”
Success on the football field was important to Ramunno, but it wasn’t his top priority, Green continued.
“It was about more than winning. He was growing good human beings,” he said.
Longtime Eagle Valley assistant principal and athletic director Pete Nolan has always been proud of the corps of teachers he hired back in 1980. The group included Ramunno, Dave and Susan Scott and Randy Rohweder. They were green, but they were special, Nolan said.
“It’s pretty scary to send 22-year-old people out as head coaches,” Nolan said. “Our facilities were terrible then. The football field was a good horse pasture and that was about it. But that didn’t bother them. They wanted to be coaches, teachers and mentors.”
Heroes at home
John’s two younger brothers shared tales about the early days at the Ramunno household in Steamboat Springs. The family included five kids — Kathy, Carolyn John, Tony and Joe — and parents Carl and Marilyn.
“My heroes didn’t live in a bat cave and in comic books, they lived in my house,” said Joe Ramunno, the youngest of the Ramunno boys. “John was great and so influential in some of the biggest things in my life.”
But the youngest Ramunno quickly noted “that doesn’t, in any way, translate into John being sweet and kind when I was young.”
In fact, his oldest brother thought Joe cried too much, so he took it on himself to toughen up his sibling. That included ambushing him at the rabbit hutch and sparring with him in boxing matches. Their dad — affectionately known as Big C — ultimately declared that if Joe was going to continue boxing with his older brothers, he had to wear a helmet.
Joe recalled the Ramunno family attended church every Sunday. Their mom played the organ for services and sometimes sermons would drone on. The three boys would pass the time by filling out football depth charts, using the women of the congregation as their lineup. “Our mom did not find that at all amusing, even though we had her penciled in at the strong safety position,” Joe said.
Brother Tony also shared great tales about growing up with John. His brother started wrestling in the seventh grade and Big C, a legendary wrestling coach, had him follow a competition diet that included a poached egg and toast with honey. Tony said the mere thought of that meal made John nauseous for the rest of his life.
“After a two hour junior high practice, John would crawl under the stage where it was really hot and do push-ups and sit-ups in a rubber suit to pull off a few more pounds,” Tony continued. “A slight slip-up happened over one Easter Break that was in the wrestling season. We went to Arvada to visit grandparents and John got into Grandma’s homemade Easter bread. He showed up Monday and was 15 pounds overweight.”
It wasn’t an option to go up a weight, so John had to drop those pounds pronto.
“He made weight again on Saturday,” Tony said. “But even recently, John talked about nightmares of his college coach Tracy Borah laying into him about making weight.”
Words to live by
Randy Rohweder taught and coached with John Ramunno for 25 years. He recalled how John steadfastly advocated for kids — not because he needed a player so he could win a game but because he knew playing high school sports is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and he hated to have a kid miss a minute of it.
“John thought you should always try to give something before you get in a big hurry to take it away,” Rohweder said.
He shared stories of unlikely football wins and pregame speeches. John was the master of fundraising, Rohweder said. “He was always doing something for kids. Once we sold aspen trees out of the back of his truck to raise money — $25 for an aspen tree, but he didn’t guarantee it would live.”
Good sportsmanship was always a priority for Coach Ramunno, Rohweder noted. “John and his teams were always under control on the sidelines,” he said. “Eagle Valley would have won a sportsmanship trophy every year, if it didn’t have to rotate around the league. Our fans reflected that, and John had a lot to do with that attitude. If you have a coach out of control, your fans will be out of control.”
As for words to live by, Rohweder recalled some of the best advice he ever received from Ramunno — “You can get a lot more done if you don’t worry about who gets the credit.” Rohweder said philosophy says a lot about the man — John Ramunno was all about hard work, team work and shared success, not personal accolades.
“Eagle Valley Nation — Isn’t it great to be a Devil and wasn’t it great to be a part of John Ramunno’s life?” Rohweder said. He then made a final football hand-off to Ramunno’s wife, Cindy.
But earlier in the service, Ramunno’s son Rick offered the best conclusion to this story and a parting thought for a man who touched so many lives.
“Who knows? Maybe they needed coach up in heaven.”