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Hinsdale South senior guard Toni Romiti has been a three-year all-conference player for the Hornets. | George M. Wilcox~Sun-Times Media

A major part of Toni Romiti’s world ended Dec. 12, 2007 — the day her father died.

“It’s sad around the holidays,” said Romiti, Hinsdale South’s senior guard. “Christmas used to be one of my favorite holidays.”

Hornets coach Jen Belmonte remembers the first time she saw Romiti play basketball several years ago.

Belmonte was an assistant coach helping then coach Brenda Whitesell at a summer camp for the Hornets. Romiti was a sixth grade student at Burr Ridge Middle School at the time.

“She was always trying to play with the older girls for a long time,” Belmonte recalled.

Now Belmonte is Romiti’s varsity basketball coach, but there are a few added roles for Belmonte while trying to guide her leading scorer and best player.

Few players, boys or girls, are as competitive as Romiti, who also played on Hinsdale South’s perennial state power badminton team last season only because her basketball teammates were playing on the team. Romiti is one of the school’s best female athletes and leaves everything on the court. She can be aggressive, feisty, emotional and mainly misunderstood.

Belmonte describes Romiti’s personality as “strong.”

Romiti’s best game of her career was Hinsdale South’s second this season although Hinsdale Central beat South 58-48 to open the Hinsdale South Thanksgiving tournament Nov. 15. Romiti scored a career-high 38 points on 14-of-25 shooting, including another career-high 10three-pointers.

But two games later was one of Romiti’s worst. She scored eight points in a 56-30 loss to Sandburg with at least a dozen missed shot attempts. She earned her first technical foul of the season after uttering an obscenity after a missed layup in the second half blowout.

“It’s a large challenge (coaching Romiti). I get my daily dose of Toni,” Belmonte said. “She’s funny at practice with her and she’ll be great. Once she plays in a competitive situation, when things are not going her way, she can be volatile. At the end of a practice, were are joking again.”

Against Morton Nov. 27, Romiti was back to effective play with 28 points in a 64-50 win for the Hornets (2-3, 1-0 West Suburban Gold).

For Belmonte, a former Hornets player herself, being Romiti’s coach can also mean being a friend and mentor.

“Toni feels she can tell me anything,” Belmonte said.

Mark Anthony Romiti Sr. died at the age of 52 from an aneurysm of the heart. Toni (or Antoinette), the youngest of his three daughters, shares his middle name. Although he had high blood pressure, Mark Romiti loved to golf and worked at ABD Tank & Pump Co. Mark also attended all of Toni’s youth softball and basketball games. Toni said many of her teammates could not believe that Mark was her father since he was white, but Romiti’s mother is African-American.

Romiti’s mother, Janice, does not keep in contact with the family. “My mom has never been around,” Toni said.

It was Toni who discovered her father’s body after returning home from school.

After Mark’s death, Irma, the oldest child, took over as guardian and raised Mark Jr., 21, Tina, 19, and Toni. Toni lives in Willowbrook with Irma and her son, Kendall, 9, who now regularly attends Toni’s games.

“Irma is an amazing person,” Toni said. “She is such a strong person. She has taken care of all of us since she was 27. She’s a great person. She’s very strong.”

Irma received her degree from the University of Illinois-Chicago in industrial engineering and currently works for a construction company.

After her father’s death, Toni became more serious about basketball. She transferred to Cass Junior High in Darien for the eighth grade and won a championship with current teammate MacKenzie Kern.

Toni knows there are only a few months left to her high basketball career. She said she has not received much interest from colleges, but would seem best suited for a junior college program looking for a tough-as-nails player. Romiti is aware of her reputation.

“I try to tell myself it’s OK,” Romiti said. “It’s hard for me. I try. I don’t know what I do sometimes.”

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