Right before Carol and Jim Rombough got married in 1979, Jim’s mother pulled Carol aside and asked her to let Jim keep his job as Kaneland High School timekeeper because he liked it so much. A short time later, the Kaneland High School athletic director asked her the same thing.
“It was almost word for word,” she said with a laugh. “I told him I would.”
It appears she was true to her word. Jim Rombough is currently in his 53rd year as timekeeper for football and girls and boys basketball games at KHS. There’s no way of knowing if that’s a state record; what’s more impressive is that Rombough has only missed five games since 1960, and hasn’t missed any in the past 34 years
Rombough, a DeKalb resident, began running the clock as a high school sophomore in the mid-1950s, before the current Kaneland High School was built.
“I just fell in love with it and I kept doing it,” he said.
Except when a nephew played basketball, Carol said she doesn’t go to any of the games herself. “Those are my evenings of freedom,” she joked.
Over the years, Rombough has received many honors, including from the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame as a friend of basketball, the Kaneland Hall of Fame, the Kaneland Hall of Fame 1962 boys basketball team and the first-ever Friends of Kaneland Award in 2010.
Rombough sat down with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson to discuss his long career.
MidWeek: Did you play sports when you were growing up?
Jim Rombough: No. I was the manager for football and basketball. I played sports in gym classes.
MW: How did you get started doing this?
JR: I was a sophomore in high school The teacher that was doing it was either retiring or going to another school. Bruce Peterson, who was the athletic director at the time, asked me to do it, (and) I said I would. I just fell in love with it and I kept doing it.
MW: Do you do all sports?
JR: I do boys and girls basketball, both sophomore and varsity, and football. When the basketball season is over, I’ll get a letter in August telling me what my schedule is.
MW: You’ve done this for over 50 years. Is that a record?
JR: No one knows. I asked the basketball coach, but they don’t have any records. I know Mr. Petty from Batavia was keeping the books for over 50 years.
MW: Have you missed many games?
JR: In 50 years, I’ve only missed five games.
MW: Have you ever been late for a game and someone else had to fill in?
JR: I was never late. I usually got off at 4 and the games started at 5:30. I had plenty of time to go home and change. I get there with 15 minutes to spare. ..I have done games with a cold.
MW: Is it difficult to keep time?
JR: You just have to pay attention to what’s going on and watch the referees. They’ll tell you when to start the clock and when to stop it and things like that.
MW: Is one sport easier to do than the other?
JR: In football, you have four referees you have to watch all the time, when to start the clock or stop it. But in basketball, there are only three referees. You are closer to them. You can buzz the horn and ask to talk to them. In football, you’re up in the press box and the only way to get them is by going through the coaches.
MW: Do any games stand out?
JR: In 1973, Kaneland was playing Elgin St. Edward and it went six overtimes. The referees told me to shake my head if the ball was out of a player’s hands (for a shot). It was so loud , they couldn’t hear the buzzer. I think that was the year Kaneland got second in state.
MW: Have you ever gotten to do a state game?
JR: I’ve gone as a fan, but I only do home games.
MW: Who were the best players you ever saw?
JR: In basketball, it was Dan Issel of Batavia. He went on to play with (Adolph) Rupp at Kentucky, then the ABA (American Basketball Association). In football, it was Kenny Anderson of Batavia. He played for the Cincinnati Bengals. The 1997-98 Kaneland football team that won back-to-back state titles; I remember all those kids. There’s also B.J. Fleck, who played for the San Francisco 49ers. And Don Beebe, he played in six straight Super Bowls. He only won one. He was with Buffalo, then he went to the Green Bay Packers the year they won.
MW: Between football and basketball, do you have a favorite sport?
JR: I like both of them.
MW: Which do you think is more exciting?
JR: Basketball is more exciting. A lot of times they’re close and come down to the last shot.
MW: What’s it like being inducted into the hall of fame?
JR: I didn’t think it would ever happen.
MW: Since you’ve been doing this for so long, you must like what you’re doing.
JR: Yes. The kids playing now, I went to school with their moms and dads, and now their grandparents. I see people from the Maple Park area I don’t otherwise see. That’s about the only time I see them. ...It’s a good part-time job. It gets me out the house.
MW: How much longer do you plan on doing this?
JR: The good Lord wiling, as long as I can get out of bed and keep driving. I must be doing something right because they keep asking me to do it.