Coach Ram: The art of giving back04/12/2022 03:44PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw John Ramagano, the head coach for the Kennett High School indoor and outdoor track team, will be serving as the race director for the Kennett Run on May 7.
By Richard L. Gaw
The long journey of Kennett High School head track coach John Ramagano has been one marked by resilience, and it all began on the track at Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, where he competed in the 800-meter and the mile races.
After he graduated, Ramagano entered the University of Delaware, where he ran track under the tutelage of esteemed coach Jim Fischer, but after this sophomore year in 1985, he was forced to leave the university and return home to Delaware County. Ramagano’s father was diagnosed with large cell non-hodgkins lymphoma.
“I needed to come home and work for the family to pay the bills,” Ramagano said recently from his office near Kennett Stadium. “It became a real struggle for my father, and we found out about six months into his diagnosis that he would have about six months to live.”
After his father died at the age of 45, Ramagano, with help from his mother, joined the local pipefitter’s union and finished his degree by taking night classes at Drexel University. In 1986, a cousin of Ramagano’s was coaching the CYO track team at Saint Kevin’s Elementary School in Delaware County, and asked him if he wanted to help out.
For Ramagano, coaching began as a distraction from grief, but for the last 36 years, it has become the other side of his life.
Coaching has taken him to elementary schools, high schools and even a college in Delaware County, Chester County and Delaware: from Saint Kevin’s to Cardinal O’Hara to Strath Haven to Widener University to Saint Patrick’s in Kennett Square to the Salesianum School in Wilmington to Kennett High School, where he has served as the coach of the indoor and outdoor track team since 2010.
‘I need to give back’
At every stop, Ramagano has helped mold the talents of student-athletes, taken hundreds of bus rides with them to meets, counseled them and helped them to believe that even their wildest dreams were within reach. Earlier this year, he added another notch to his coaching belt by accepting an offer to serve as the race director for the 32nd Kennett Run, which will be held on May 7. He will replace JJ Simon, who served as the event’s race director from 2016 to 2019. The event is making a return this year, after having to cancel in 2020 and being relegated to conducting a virtual run in 2021.
“At first, I thought it would be really difficult for me to do this, because I coach full time, but after reaching out to [Kennett Run President] Bob Merkle, JJ and the Kennett Run Charities Board, I thought about what Kennett Run Charities has meant to the Kennett Square community since it began,” he said. “I thought, ‘I need to give back.’
“It’s a great opportunity for me. I have been coaching track since 1986, and I have been a part of the Kennett community for a long time, and this will allow me to help the Kennett Run Charities recover from two years of COVID-19.”
For this year’s Kennett Run, Ramagano has enlisted the help of his fellow Kennett High School track coaches – Lance Frazier, Carl Lowe, Jermaine Richardson and George Walsh – and will also donate the entirety of his compensation as race director to benefit the Kennett Boosters Club, specifying that the money go directly to the school’s track team, which will help defray the costs associated with student-athletes’ track equipment and track camp opportunities at the school.
“Ultimately, if we can get the Kennett Run back up to as many as 500 athletes the way it was pre-COVID-19, it will help supplement the work that Kennett Run Charities already does,” Ramagano said.
For anyone who has competed in or attended the Kennett Run, the words “giving back” seem woven into the cloth of the race, which has donated more than $1.2 million to local charities and non-profit organizations in the Kennett Square community since its founding in 1989. Serving as the race director for this year’s event will have even more meaning for Ramagano; he was diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer last March, which was followed by an operation that removed his prostate and led to a round of radiation therapy and a current round of hormone suppression therapy.
While he acknowledges that the prognosis for his long-term health is good and he has returned to full-time coaching, Ramagano said that his work as a coach – particularly now – has taken on an even more special significance. Whether they are the nearly 250 student-athletes he coaches on the crimson Kennett High School track or weekend runners who will brave the 10-mile Kennett Run course next month, being in the company of the local running community has become an essential medicine dose of inspiration for Ramagano as he battles through his illness.
“I am ‘Coach Ram’”
“It is what helps me to survive,” he said. “I have a lot of friendships with other coaches all over the country, and we all have social media accounts, and one of the followers from Ohio once asked me, ‘How do you want to be referred as? By your first name? By your last name?
“I told him that I am ‘Coach Ram,’ and to me, the name ‘Coach Ram’ makes me feel so good about what I have been able to do for the community. When my athletes, my athletic director, my coaches and the extended families of our track team call me ‘Coach Ram,’ it means so much to me, because I know that I am giving back as a coach.
“That’s what I want to do for the Kennett Run -- to give back. I am a father. My wife Pam and I are soon to become grandparents for the first time. I am a husband and a friend, but I also define myself as a coach, because it has remained for me a big part of being alive.”
The 32nd Kennett Run will take place on May 7, beginning at Anson B. Nixon Park in Kennett Square. To register for the 5K Run/Walk, 10K Run, the 5K or 10K PoweRun or the One-Mile Run/Walk, visit www.kennettrun.net.
If a competitor registers for the race early, he or she can designate a particular high school booster club of their choice to receive a $5 donation from their entry fee.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].