Former Southern Regional Basketball Coach Jim Ruhnke Honored at Halftime of Rams’ Victory on Jan. 3

By David Biggy | Jan 08, 2020
Photo by: David Biggy Former Southern Regional boys basketball coach Jim Ruhnke (center) is surrounded by his family following the court dedication ceremony at halftime of the Rams’ victory over Toms River East on Jan. 3.

Stafford Township, NJ — Jim Ruhnke always liked the atmosphere of the Southern Regional High School 9/10 gymnasium. And even though a large element of the electric atmosphere within the gym on Jan. 3 had to do with the fact he was the center of attention at halftime, he enjoyed it yet again.

“I don’t really like all this hoopla. You know what I mean?” Ruhnke said after the Rams’ 37-25 victory over Shore Conference Class A South foe Toms River East. “Put me on the sideline to coach with 2,000 people around and I’m fine. Being the focus with that many people in the gym isn’t my thing. But it was great, and I appreciate being honored.”

Before a crowd of hundreds, the court was dedicated in honor of the former Southern hoops coach, who had been part of the district for 31 years and accumulated 323 coaching victories while his team’s racked up 18 state tournament appearances, three division titles, a trio of Southern Roundball festival championships and six WOBM Christmas Classic tourney crowns.

“Those are a byproduct of why we’re gathered here to celebrate,” school district Superintendent Craig Henry said at the outset of the dedication ceremony at center court. “At the core of what we’re doing tonight is honoring a man who molded men, myself included, using a template of ingredients of intellect, creativity, preparation, toughness, tough love, accountability, grit, wit, mindset and perseverance. These are a few of the qualities Jim modeled.”

During a ceremony that lasted some 14 minutes, 1985 graduate and former hoops standout Tim Tantillo spoke of several “great memories playing for Coach” and said Ruhnke had “a profound effect on my life.”

“He was a real taskmaster and tough, but he had an unparalleled record of success,” Tantillo said. “I loved every minute of playing on his team. He was a great motivator and had a great way of pushing people’s buttons, including my own.”

WOBM sports broadcaster Kevin Williams, who has been the Christmas Classic tournament director for 36 years, also spoke highly of Ruhnke, whom Williams dubbed “the best high school basketball coach I’ve ever watched.”

“Jim was a remarkable high school basketball coach, so much so that many other coaches sought his counsel, when he was coaching and even after retirement,” he said. “This is long overdue, and a lot of people are all kind of surprised you even allowed this to happen, but it’s appropriate.”

Once Ruhnke stepped to the mic, he kept his comments short and to the point.

“Thanks to my friends, my colleagues and especially my family, who have all been a part of this,” he said. “But mainly, my thanks go to the players. You’re the guys that made this happen.”

Afterward, Ruhnke recalled some of the better moments in Rams’ history while he was coach, including several “nice runs” in the Shore Conference Tournament and the year his Rams played against an excellent Camden squad in the South Jersey Group IV final and lost by only five points. However, there was one question he politely thwarted – who was the best player he’d coached?

“There’s really no answer to that,” he said with a smile. “It could have been anybody because every player had a role in our success. Everybody thinks the best player is the guy who scores the most, but that’s not always true. Sometimes the best player is the guy who ran down the guard on defense.”

It’s no wonder the proclamation read by Southern Board of Education President Scott Waters stated this: “Jim Ruhnke exemplified confronting adversity with intelligence, dignity, integrity and character, and the souls Jim Ruhnke influenced during his time at Southern are immeasurable.”

— David Biggy

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