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Romeoville's head coach Jeff Bambule yells for a call during their regional matchup against Naperville North at Benet Academy on Monday, February 25, 2013. North would go on to win 51-44. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Jeff Bambule will tell you high school basketball is not the same game it was a couple of decades ago.
He should know. He has coached at his alma mater, in the Romeoville boys program for 22 years, the past 13 seasons as head coach. Not many coaches in the Joliet area can match that record for longevity at the same school.
But the time came after this season ended for Bambule to resign.
“It’s been a rough year,” he explained. “My mom died. It’s a family thing. I had to be there more from my dad.”
The athletic endeavors of his son, Jake, a Romeoville senior, and daughter, Kaylee, who will be a freshman at Montini in the fall, also were involved in the decision.
“Jake is going to play football at the University of Dubuque and I’d like to see him play,” Bambule said. “My daughter is entering high school. She’s a pretty good basketball player, a guard. I did not want to miss seeing her play.
“I love coaching, but I don’t love it more than my daughter.”
Jake Bambule was the Spartans’ quarterback and played basketball through his junior season. A concussion suffered in basketball as a junior and another in football as a senior made him reconsider playing his final season of basketball.
“I would have loved to have Jake on the team one more year,” Bambule said. “I’m sure he’ll look back at the basketball he did play as a positive.”
Bambule, who graduated from Western Illinois and has been teaching special education for 20 years, was a senior on the Jack Hermanski-coached Romeoville team that finished fourth in the state in 1986, “although they took it away from us” after Larry Wise, who had transferred in from Chicago, was found to have been too old.
But Bambule never has forgotten what he learned from that season.
“We had Duane Mandley, Shaun Vandiver and Larry Wise on that team,” he said. “They averaged maybe 13 points each, and any of them could have scored 25 a game. But they knew what it took for us to succeed. I wish I could have done a better job relaying that to our players through the years.”
That ties in with how Bambule believes the game is different.
“Basketball has changed so much,” he said. “I always loved going to practice, working on different things and seeing kids grow.
“But what people want out of the game has changed. Maybe it’s unrealistic. People don’t realize how hard it is to go play even on the D-III level. That changes the high school game.”
The talent level being what it was, Romeoville had some good teams but was not a consistent power under Bambule. However, much like the Romeoville teams Hermanski coached and the teams current Lockport sophomore coach John Meyer guided through the 1990s, with Bambule an assistant, the Spartans always gave their best.
“Some years you have better players, but people have told me our teams always played hard regardless,” Bambule said. “I’m proud of the way we went out this season against Naperville North (51-44 loss in a Class 4A Benet Regional quarterfinal). It was a one-point game with six minutes to go.
“A guy there told me after the game, ‘That’s Romeoville basketball.’ Naperville North had just beaten West Aurora at the end of the regular season, and West Aurora went on to win the sectional.”
Bambule recalled the year (2004) the Valley View School District opened the new Bolingbrook High School. Romeoville students could have opted to attend the new school. But most of the Spartans’ top players remained.
“The teams with Kierre Miller and those guys were pretty good,” Bambule said. “They could have left when they built the new school but they didn’t. Most of the seniors stayed here. Will Walker (then a junior and destined to have a solid career at DePaul) chose to leave.
“Kierre (Miller) was hurt some and that hurt us that season.”
Bambule, who still keeps in touch with Wise (a school principal in Texas) and Vandiver (head basketball coach at NCAA Division II Emporia State), said the biggest positive he gets from coaching is “to have the opportunity to influence young men. It’s not necessarily the best player all the time, but it can be. I’m lucky to have had that chance.
“I look at Jack Hermanski and John Meyer and the tremendous influence they were on me in that regard.”
Bambule and Romeoville athletic director Jim Boudouris, who is accepting applications for a replacement, ran the Romeoville Christmas Classic, the former Lemont Christmas Classic, the last two years.
“To host the tournament was exciting for me,” said Bambule, who will continue teaching at Romeoville and has not ruled out returning to coaching some day. “It’s a lot of work, but we get a lot of volunteer help. Like Jim said, it’s never going to be Proviso West or Pontiac, but we want it to be the best of the tournaments a notch below that.”
“I told Jeff the only way I would accept his resignation was if he was chairman — not co-chairman, chairman — of the tournament next season,” Boudouris said with a laugh.
“Jeff has done a great job for us for a long time. We want to find someone who can do the job like he did it.”