Bulldog born, bred

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HEGINS - Clark Romberger is no stranger to Bulldog basketball.

A 1984 Tri-Valley graduate, Romberger has been seated beside head coaches on the Hegins hardwood for years.

He'll be standing a lot more now.

Romberger takes over as head girls' basketball coach at Tri-Valley for Bob Felty Jr., who resigned earlier this spring. Romberger's hiring was approved at the May school board meeting.

"Bob had talked to me after the season that he was considering resigning but he wasn't sure," Romberger, 48, said in a phone interview.

"He asked me if he stepped down if I'd be interested in taking over the program. He said - since I'd been there so long - he'd feel comfortable if I would take over."

Romberger had been an assistant on the girls' team for the last eight years, most of which were with Felty. He noted he was an assistant with the boys' team for "several years" before his stint with the girls.

Rick Otto, another of Felty's assistants, is the only confirmed member of Romberger's staff for next season.

"Coach Romberger will do a tremendous job for Tri-Valley. He has been my assistant for the last seven years and is very prepared to be the head coach," Felty wrote in an email. "He has passion, commitment, knowledge and, most of all, he cares tremendously about the girls.

"He is invested in our program and committed to doing things in the best interest of the student-athletes at Tri-Valley."

Felty coached the Dawgs to the PIAA Class A championship in 2012-13, a team that showcased the talents of Juli Weber, Tara Nahodil and Taylor Troutman, among others.

The state title earned Felty Coach of the Year honors on the All-Area team.

"It is never easy to walk away from high school athletes who are very special to you as the girls at Tri-Valley are," Felty said. "However, I just continued to struggle with dividing my time between my family at home and my family at school. It was not an easy decision and I can only hope the players understand my decision."

Romberger acknowledges he learned a lot from Felty over the years.

"One of the biggest things I learned from Coach Felty is preparing," Romberger said. "Don't leave anything to chance when you're preparing, especially for quality opponents - but for us, it's every opponent."

An accurate assessment for a Tri-Valley team playing in the Schuylkill League's deep Division II.

Defending division, league and District 11 Class AA champion Minersville brings back a host of talented players - most of whom will only be sophomores; neighboring rival Williams Valley only graduated one player; and Lourdes brings back two high-scoring guards.

Tri-Valley finished 5-8 in the division last season.

"Our division is brutal," Romberger said. ... "Our record in our division was awful (last year), so we definitely need to make some progress this year and try to hold our own in our division a little better."

Though Tri-Valley graduated starters Kylie Spickler, Brittany Smeltz and Brianna Wiscount, it returns a deep contingent of guards - including Paige Doyle, Taylor Header and Katie Dietrich - and forward Taryn Wilson.

In addition, Romberger hopes a group of juniors that has been developing will also join the varsity squad in 2014-15.

All the familiar faces will make the transition much easier.

"We're not going to try and fix something that's not broke," Romberger said. "Coach Felty established a great program here ... a work ethic where we're always going to be defensively oriented with our girls.

"There will be a few differences that I hope will at least make it exciting for the girls, but it's going to look pretty much the same as Tri-Valley girls' basketball has looked under Coach Felty."

Romberger has coached some of the girls on the current Bulldogs squad all the way up from elementary, junior high and junior varsity. Familiarity won't be a problem - particularly with Kelly Romberger, the eldest of Clark's two daughters, who also returns to the team this year as a junior.

After graduating from Tri-Valley, Romberger served in the U.S. Navy before earning his degree in environmental engineering from Penn State Harrisburg. He has been working for the state at Fort Indiantown Gap for the past four years.

But he never stopped learning, particularly from Felty, about preparation for opposing players and teams and, especially now, a new challenge.

"We try and prepare really hard for each and every game - take it one game at a time. Hopefully I got some of those characteristics from Coach Felty," Romberger said. "Everything from scouting and breaking down opponents to coming up with game plans we think will work against our opponents.

"I'm hoping a lot of that rubbed off on me."

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