Romstad Helped with Foundation of Women's Basketball Tradition
"It happened by accident when Kansas State retired my (No. 33) jersey," reflected Romstad of the Bramlage Coliseum ceremony in March of 2009. "It got around town what was happening and the kids said, 'Mom, you didn't tell us you were that good!' They knew I played at K-State and bled purple, but until my jersey retirement they didn't know what kind of player I was."
Now married to Gerhard Geldenhuys, her kids - Melissa, Chase, Junior and Dani - are now set to watch "mom" enter K-State's Athletics Hall of Fame on October 11, as only the sixth female athlete in Wildcat history.
"It will be a humbling moment," said Romstad. "It's a time where you remember all the coaches and teammates that have touched your life and how you absolutely thrived on being a competitor. I was very blessed to play for two very competitive coaches (Judy Akers and Lynn Hickey) and be surrounded by a cast of competitive teammates."
THE TITLE IX GROWING YEARS: Romstad goofed around with basketball at the fifth-grade level, playing 3-on-3 half-court, but admits, "I didn't find it that much fun."
Before her high school years, she remembers that Kansas City's Truman High School's administration voted to have girls track and volleyball but voted against basketball until a couple years later.
"I really only started playing in my sophomore year (1974). That was the first time I played full-court basketball and I remember thinking, 'Wow, I kind of like this.' It was then that basketball started to challenge my love for volleyball," said Romstad, who had sprouted to 6-feet, 1-inch. "It was the first time I could forget about standing out because I was taller than most. It was now an advantage."
Romstad's game improved with each year of playing, plus scrimmaging the semi-pro Raytown Piperettes during the summer. Little did she know that she was going against Lynn Hickey in those scrimmages... the same Lynn Hickey that would soon be her K-State coach.
"I had planned to play volleyball all along, but it was a time that basketball was starting to move forward," said Romstad, who was a member of the first Parade All-American prep basketball team. "LeAnn Wilcox had been a rival in high school, but she went to Kansas State and said great things about Judy Akers and the overall program.
A knee surgery forced Romstad to miss over a year of basketball, but when she hit the floor, she did so with a flurry.
Romstad completed her career as the school's second all-time leading scorer - 1,548 total points for a 15.2 average - and career rebounder - 778 for a 7.3 average.
K-State won 20, 26, 23 and 26 games in her four years and claimed Big 8 titles in 1979 and 1982. The Cats played in three AIAW postseason tournaments, plus the first NCAA women's tourney when the Wildcats defeated national powers Stephen F. Austin and No. 7-ranked Old Dominion before being eliminated by No. 2 Cheyney State in the East Regional's title game.
"I was a very hungry player. I came out every day trying to make a difference," said Romstad, a two-time Wade Trophy finalist and a third-team All-American. "I had a great cast of athletes around me pushing every day for my playing time. Practices were so hard that you looked forward to the games."
Of Akers, Romstad said, "You had to admire how she took women's basketball from not much more than intramurals into club-sport status and finally the intercollegiate level at a high level. She taught all her players to have high expectations to become the player you were gifted to be."
Of Hickey, she added, "She took a program that was strong in the region to strong at the national level. It was a time women's basketball was just entering the NCAA and we were trying to earn respect."
But it took time, not to mention character.
Romstad laughs today of having to share the training room with the men's basketball team, but having to wait out in the hallway until the men were finished.
"Things like that made us feel very unimportant," said Romstad. "There was one time where we just walked in on the guys, but that was not met with a real positive experience. It was a time of adversity that helped build your character. It was an age when things were just beginning to change in women's athletics."
SINCE K-STATE: Romstad toyed with the idea of trying to play professionally when it was in its infancy, but she knew she wanted to coach.
That career included high school stops at Labette County, Neodesha, Wichita Southeast and Wichita Collegiate before going to Independence Community College in 1991-93, where she coached volleyball (62-12) and basketball (51-16).
She was named the NJCAA Region VI Coach of the Year in 1993 when Independence was perfect during the Jayhawk season and placed fourth in the national tournament.
Of the two levels of coaching, the 54-year-old Romstad said, "In high school, you're still teaching the game. In college, I like to say you're managing the players. But at both levels, you're trying to get them to be competitive and focused."
With the hiring of Brian Agler at Kansas State in 1993, "He called me and said, 'I could use your help.' We had just been in the national tournament at Indy and it was time for a new challenge."
After a stint in the business world, Romstad returned to Independence Community College first as vice president for student affairs and for the last five years as athletics director. Today, she is one of only two female AD's in the 20-team Jayhawk Conference.