BLOOMINGTON — It feels as though Andy Romine should have been a coach at the Illinois High School Shrine Game before 2022.
Through seven seasons as Tuscola’s football leader, he’s overseen 56 victories, five IHSA postseason berths and a 2017 Class 1A state runner-up finish.
Seemingly an ideal option to work with athletes in the upcoming 48th version of this all-star contest.
“I’ve been invited a number of times, and it’s the first time it’s worked out with our schedule,” Romine said Wednesday. “I’m a little bit nervous, because we’ve got some team activities going on at Unity tonight. The guys on my staff, I really trust they’ll do a good job there.”
Romine’s focus instead was turned to the Shrine Game, which will take place Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University’s Tucci Stadium. An 11 a.m. kickoff is scheduled for the affair, which pits some of the state’s best recently graduated seniors against one another in a send-off for their high school football careers.
This will be the showcase’s 48th game, as well as the second since the COVID-19 pandemic led to the 2020 version being canceled.
“It’s for a great cause, most importantly,” said Romine, referencing the Shriners Hospitals for Children organization whose name is attached to the event. “You want (the athletes) to have fun. These are good football players and really competitive people, from coaches to players. Come Saturday, when you kick it off, you want to win the game.”
Romine was on his way to an impactful presentation in Bloomington when he spoke with The News-Gazette.
“We’re meeting with an individual who’s been in a football-related accident and has utilized the Shriners children’s hospital for a spinal cord injury,” Romine said. “He’s going to present to both teams coming up here in the next hour or so. And then we’ve got two more practices.”
Romine is an assistant coach on the Red Team, which will be directed by Glenbard West’s Chad Hetlet. Carbondale’s Bryan Lee, Freeport’s Anthony Dedmond, Wheaton St. Francis’ Bob McMillen and Pana’s Trevor Higgins also are on the Red staff.
“We all reported pretty early (Tuesday) morning. ... The heat’s playing a big factor in the amount of time we’re out there, and we’re making sure the kids stay hydrated and things like that,” Romine said. “We’ve got a great group.”
Romine actually will coach opposite one of his former players in Haven Hatfield, who is on Blue Team. Fellow 2022 Warriors alumnus Patrick Pierce also was selected for Blue Team, but Romine said Pierce is out for the game with an injury.
“Just really grateful for the opportunity,” Romine said. “Grateful to talk football with a lot of other football coaches from around the state, a bunch of great minds. Over the course of the week, you’d delve into about every topic — from conditioning to practice planning to special teams structures.”
Prairie Central’s Daniel Hawkins is the only other area connection on Blue Team. Romine’s Red Team boasts far more athletes from local programs.
Among those listed on Red Team’s roster are Arcola’s Beau Edwards, Centennial’s Braylon Peacock, Mahomet-Seymour’s Dream Eagle, Monticello’s Joey Sprinkle, Paxton-Buckley-Loda’s Tyler Smith, Ridgeview/Lexington’s Evan Antonio, St. Thomas More’s Justen Green, Villa Grove’s Liam Barr and Westville’s Rylee Edwards.
Blue Team is coached by East St. Louis’ Darren Sunkett.
“You’re on such a contracted schedule for installation, and I’m on the (Red Team’s) offensive staff,” Romine said. “Verbiage is your biggest challenge. A lot of the same kids run the same stuff, (but) you can’t say, ‘Hey, we’re going to use the stuff from the kid who plays quarterback’ because not everybody else understands that. So we’re just trying to do things in an incredibly simplified way.”
The athletes’ pregame schedule for the week included multiple planned practices Tuesday through Friday, a media-day event Tuesday, a cookout Thursday, a baseball game with Miracle League Central Illinois on Thursday and a banquet at Illinois Wesleyan’s Shirk Center on Friday.
“We spent the evening (Tuesday) at Coach (Norm) Eash’s house at Illinois Wesleyan. It’s just been an enjoyable experience,” Romine said. “I always say if you can go to one of these things and pick up one or two things you can do differently, that’s great. ... Most importantly, it’s for the children’s hospital.”
This week also brought about news that the IHSA Board of Directors opted to rescind a previous change made to Class 1A through 6A postseason football.
The board voted last February to begin seeding those classes’ playoff brackets in a 1 through 32 format, instead of continuing to utilize a pair of 1-through-16 fields divided by geography.
But economic factors — namely the rising cost of gasoline — pushed the IHSA board to reverse its decision for the time being. Classes 7A and 8A already made use of the 1-through-32 setup and will continue doing so.
“Nobody really knew it was going to get changed the other way,” Romine said. “(Seeding brackets 1 through 32) is how it was when I played. I have no issues giving the kids opportunities to travel all over the state to play football (once gas prices drop).”