In Play with Tom Markowski

Romeo takes its place among the state's elite

Multi-Sport   | Tom Markowski

Romeo takes its place among the state's elite

Romeo – The jokes about milking cows and hay wagons in Romeo should stop now that the Bulldogs laid claim to three state titles in three major sports since the fall of 2014.

As they say in Romeo, it’s good to be a bulldog.

Romeo won the Class A volleyball title in ’14 and was runner-up the following season.

Then last December the football team captured the school’s first state title in that sport when the Bulldogs defeated Detroit Cass Tech at Ford Field.

This month Romeo’s hockey team won the Division 2 title.

Individually, Romeo’s Gia Milana was named Miss Volleyball this past season and, a week ago, Logan Jenuwine was named Mr. Hockey.

It’s been a whirlwind for school located in rural northern Macomb County. Though it competes in one of state’s the largest conferences, the Macomb Area Conference, Romeo Is small town America. And that’s the way those that live in Romeo and nearby Shelby Township, where many of Romeo’s students live, like it.

Greg Brynaert is finishing his 18th year as athletic director and the previous 14 years he served as parks and recreation director in Romeo. Changes have been many in this community, some good, some bad, and Brynaert has witnessed much of it. Through it all those in the community have remained passionate for athletics and committed to the individuals who represent the school.

“What is exciting is our coaches,” Bryant said. “And the fabric of the community. It’s the little league soccer programs, for one. The people care about quality programs. Little league football, it has changed. We had as many as seven teams. Now we have four but the numbers are strong.”

Romeo isn’t unlike communities like Southfield or even Detroit when one analyzes the decline of the student population over the years. In 2008 the enrollment at the high school was just under 1,900. It’s now approximately 1,640. The economic downturn in ‘08 also took its toll.

“Many in the community are self-employed,” Bryant said. “Eight years ago the economy took a beating.”

Many in the area work at the Ford Engine Plant located on 32 Mile Road. Still, Brynaert said, there is more farmland in the area than there are subdivisions.

What makes Romeo unique from other school districts in the MAC and elsewhere in Metro Detroit is transfers. Transfers are rare at Romeo. One reason is its proximity to the surrounding school districts. Located on 32 Mile Road, Romeo is seven miles from the nearest high school, Utica Eisenhower. Others in the MAC, like Warren Mott, are 20 miles away.

“We’re homegrown,” Brynaert said. “The success we’ve had is amazing. It is exciting. When you talk about the community in the coffee shops, they’re flying high.”

Jason Couch is a Bulldog through and through. He’s a 1993 graduate of Romeo, lives in the community and his three children are in the Romeo school district. Couch, who along with Curt Rienas, is a co-coach of the football team. As one can imagine Couch and Rienas are town heroes, and part celebrities.

“I go out and eat breakfast and it’s a little like Hoosiers,” Couch said. “It’s nice. My boys tell me, ‘why do we have to go out for dinner. You talk to everybody. It takes two hours’. My wife goes to the grocery store and (inevitably) they start talking about the championship (football) game.”

Couch tips his hat to the volleyball team and coach Stacy Williams. He said they are the ones who got it started.

Couch also recalls the bad times. In 2001, when he became an assistant, there wasn’t much excitement surrounding the football program. The season before they were 0-9.

“Kids weren’t overly proud to put on a Bulldog t-shirt,” he said. “I remember that. Now there is a pride, and it’s not just athletics. When the hockey won it, we were so proud. We’re a community. We’re a town.

“What public school, with homegrown talent, can say they won three titles in three major sorts in three years?

“I remember getting an email from a 2005 grad. Curt and I started (as co-coaches) in ’03. And it said if Sterling Heights Stevenson, Utica Eisenhower and Macomb Dakota can get to the finals, why not us? We’ve been to the playoffs 12 consecutive years. You start talking about it.”

People in Romeo will be talking about the last 18 months for many years to come.