A former standout athlete at P.J. Jacobs High School and Central State Teachers College-Stevens Point, which is now the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point (UWSP), Roman was the head coach of the SPASH baseball team from 1979 through 2004 and also served as an assistant coach for the SPASH football team.
He guided the SPASH baseball team to three State Championships and finished his career as the all-time winningest spring baseball coach in state history with an overall record of 526-180.
“He was a good coach,” said Jerry Fitzgerald, the SPASH football head coach from 1974 through 1999. “And he was not only a good person; he was a very, very good teacher. He was good at everything he did.”
“From the outside, he was such a competitor that it looked like he only had one thing in mind, and that was winning,” said Dean Shuda, who played baseball for Roman at SPASH in 1980 and 1981. “But deep down, he was so much more than that.
“He cared about his players, he taught them right from wrong, and spoke in practices and off the field, much more about life experiences than about sports,” said Shuda. “He was a lot deeper than a lot of people would ever guess.”
Born in Wausau in 1934, Roman grew up in Marathon City, until his family moved to Stevens Point in 1948.
Roman played baseball, basketball and football for P.J. Jacobs High School, where he was the Team MVP for the 1951 State Championship football team and was named the co-MVP of the 1951-52 basketball team that finished as the State Runner-up.
He went on to play football and baseball at UWSP, where he was a four-year starter in football and a three-time First Team All-Conference guard and linebacker from 1955 through 1957.
He also played together on the UWSP football team with his younger brothers Fran and David, and was inducted into the UWSP Athletic Hall of Fame in 1981.
“We had to play both ways in those days, so Dave played left guard, George played right guard and I was playing fullback,” said Fran, who was inducted into the UWSP Athletic Hall of Fame in 1986. “And then on defense, George played middle linebacker, Dave played over the ball at middle guard, and I played cornerback.
“All three of us were starters on that same team, and it was fun,” said Fran.
After college, Roman became a high school teacher and coach, with stops at Loyal, Bloomington, Seymour and Wausau Newman, before he went to Wisconsin Rapids Lincoln High School, where he served as an assistant coach for the football team and was the head coach of the baseball team from 1969 to 1978.
He arrived at SPASH in the fall of 1978 to take over as the head coach of the baseball team and as the head coach of the sophomore football team, which he went on to lead to a 121-35 record and finish with two undefeated Conference Championship teams during his tenure.
“He told me many times, he ‘was a football coach coaching baseball,’” said Fran, who also was a head coach for the SPASH baseball and football teams in the 1960s. “He was hard-nosed and worked hard.
“He loved football; that was his first love,” said Fran. “He lived and died football.”
Roman began coaching the SPASH baseball team in the spring of 1979, and instantly put his team to work.
“Some of those kids on the ’79 team, when they came to practice, George had barrels put out in the fieldhouse in case there was too much conditioning and the kids got sick,” said SPASH assistant football and baseball coach Bill Blake, who coached with Roman for 25 years. “And I remember a couple of kids saying, ‘if I wanted to run this much, I would have gone out for track.’”
SPASH went on to advance to the State Tournament that year, where Roman’s nephew and Fran’s son, Dan, recorded a pair of wins on the mound, as the Panthers won the Class A State Title with an 4-0 win over La Crosse Central to finish with a 16-3 record.
“That was fantastic,” said Fran. “George bled SPASH red, he wanted to come to Point, and it was big for him.
“He worked very hard, he had a lot of good kids of course, but he did a good job,” said Fran.
SPASH returned to the State Tournament in 1980 and again in 1984, where it advanced to the State Championship Game, before it fell to Janesville Craig 8-2.
The Panthers made another trip to state in 1987 and moved on to the State Championship Game, where they beat defending State Champion La Crosse Central 6-5 to claim the Class A State Title and finish with a 21-1 record.
SPASH was knocked off in the State Semifinals in 1988, but advanced to the State Championship the next year, where the Panthers beat La Crosse Central 7-2 to claim the 1989 Class A State Title and finish the season with a 21-1 record.
That capped a three-year run that saw the Panthers go 61-5 and win two State Titles.
“That stretch from ‘87 to ’89 was unbelievable,” said Blake. “Even after each year you lost some seniors, (other kids) just came back and filled in the spot.
“They were baseball gym rats; you couldn’t get them out of there, they loved the game,” said Blake. “They weren’t over cocky, because George would work the hell out of them, so they never got over cocky. It’d be nice if everybody could experience that type of thing once in their coaching career, to see what he did with those kids, as far as keeping them in line and motivated and the high expectations.”
“I had two older brothers (Bob and Jim) that played, so it was something that I looked forward to,” said Pacelli baseball head coach Wayne Sankey of playing for SPASH. “As I was growing up, they had won two State Championships in three years, so you knew they were always going to be good.
“But you also knew growing up it was going to be tough to make that team too,” said Sankey.
SPASH qualified for state again in 1991, 1992 and 1994, where the 22-1 Panthers were knocked off in the State Semifinals, which ended a run that saw the team advance to the State Tournament six times in eight years under Roman.
“He was always intense,” said Sankey, who played at SPASH in 1993 and 1994. “Every game was huge; every game felt like it was a Conference Championship Game, just because he wanted it like that.
“And it was one of those situations where if you got beat, the other team acted like they won the State Championship,” said Sankey, whose younger brother Steve also played for Roman at SPASH. “It was that important, and because he made it that important, it was that important to the players too.”
SPASH returned to state one more time in Roman’s career, as they advanced to the WIAA Division 1 State Semifinals in 2004, in what turned out to be his final season as a coach.
He retired as the all-time winningest spring baseball coach in state history with 526 wins, a mark that lasted until he was surpassed in the spring of 2013.
Roman was also named the 1989 Wisconsin Baseball State Coach of the Year and was inducted into the Wisconsin Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1992, while he was also a member of the inaugural Stevens Point Athletics Hall of Fame Class in 2004.
“In baseball, there was nobody to equal him,” said Fitzgerald. “He was a perfectionist; he’d work with all of the kids. About the only slam that can come George’s way, is the fact that he had to make decisions on who would be in his program in such a short period of time.
“And they kept only 38, 39 kids, but the rest of them always ended up coming back as seniors, because he was a good person,” said Fitzgerald. “He treated them fairly and justly.”
Roman also left his mark on some of his former players who went on to coach after they were done playing at SPASH.
“I saw the rapport that he had with kids and his coaches, and that they were important,” said Sankey, who was an assistant coach for Roman in 1996 and 1997, and went on to lead Pacelli to the 2003 WIAA Division 3 State Championship and the Plover Black Sox American Legion baseball team to the 2007 AAA State Championship. “But at the same time, discipline was huge.
“He let us have it when we weren’t playing like we were capable of playing,” said Sankey. “He held you accountable to high standards.”
“He was the biggest influence I had in coaching,” said Shuda, who spent two seasons as Roman’s sophomore coach at SPASH and guided the Stevens Point Sixers American Legion baseball team to the 1992 State Championship and the UWSP softball team to the 1998 NCAA Division III National Championship. “Just how to teach the game and how to adapt to different players, and to teach each person differently.
“That epitomized George more than anything,” said Shuda. “He was a teacher.”
Blake said that Roman could be gruff, but that he was a good hearted and very religious man, and that he got the kids to believe in themselves and to believe in him.
“He was a big stickler for doing things right and giving it your best,” said Blake. “He could motivate kids by a number of different means. He knew that some kids he had to put his arm around and whisper in his ear, and there were some kids that could handle a good butt chewing.
“If you got yelled at, you knew he cared about you,” said Blake. “It didn’t take them long to learn that part. And if you didn’t hear from him, well then it was, ‘uh oh, the writing’s on the wall, something’s not going to be good.’”