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Syosset twin sisters have special bond with Oceanside girls soccer coach

The Oceanside and Syosset soccer teams surround Oceanside

The Oceanside and Syosset soccer teams surround Oceanside head coach Marianna Winchester and Syosset sisters Bella and Emma Romano on Friday, October 1, 2021 in Oceanside. Credit: Dawn McCormick

What started as a simple pregame chat between two players and an opposing coach will form a lifetime bond.

Bella and Emma Romano, twin sisters on the Syosset girls soccer team, are committed to play at Navy next fall. Before their matchup with Oceanside on Sept. 13, the two met with Sailors coach Marianna Winchester.

The Romano sisters knew Winchester had Navy ties, but they found out how deeply they ran during their conversation. Winchester’s son, Ron, played football at Navy. He was selected out of the academy to join the Marine Corps and served as a first lieutenant.

He was killed in Iraq on Sept. 3, 2004, by an improvised explosive device (IED).

After the game, which Oceanside won, 1-0, the Romano sisters went over to say goodbye and share one final embrace with Winchester. The Oceanside coach then handed the girls Ron’s Mass card and his Navy football player card, among the extras she has in her phone case, saying that her son would keep them safe at Navy and beyond.

"I was not expecting it and some tears came out," Bella said. "I did say ‘I love you’ and she said ‘I love you’ back so it’s nice knowing that you have someone who is always going to be there for you."

That moment had a deep impact on the sisters. Winchester went from an opposing coach to a friend in a matter of hours. The girls wanted to find a way to show the coach how special that moment was for them.

The two teams played again Oct. 1. After the game, which ended in a 2-2 tie, the Romanos presented the Oceanside coach with a custom metal photo sign based on Ron’s Navy player card and Mass card. Winchester was deeply moved.

"I had no words," she said. "Nothing came out I got so choked up. I didn’t start crying right away, but I got so choked up that nothing was coming out at that time. But when I saw the girls crying, I cried."

Committing to Navy

The Romano twins have shared a soccer field since they were 4 years old. They came from a soccer family and their talent shined instantly.

Bella, a forward, and Emma, a defender and midfielder, have different styles of play. . Bella’s job is to score goals. Emma’s is to stop them. Each has an elite training partner whether on a field or in the backyard, which can make for some intense moments.

"There was a lot of bickering of whose ball it is and who touched it last," Bella said. "And if I scored a goal, she’d get upset."

"There was a lot of competition," Emma said with a laugh. "So it was always fun."

As college recruitment increased, Emma said she wanted to go where her sister went. Bella didn’t share the feeling initially.

"I wanted to go to different places and check things out," Bella said. "Obviously if she wanted to come to my school, I wasn’t going to say no. And we wound up falling in love in the same place and I’m happy to be playing with her and seeing her every day still."

But Navy certainly isn’t your traditional college, and the girls embrace that. They will be required to serve five years after graduation. Bella said she is interested in engineering, Emma doesn’t have a major in mind but they both feel honored to serve their country in some form.

"I have a family who has served, I’ve had uncles and cousins in the NYPD," Bella said. "After seeing all them do it, I wanted to be a part of that and give to the country."

Emma added, "With a family of service, you just want to follow in their footsteps and just be like them."

I’ll watch your back

Winchester said one of her son’s favorite mantras was, ‘"I’ll watch your back.’" Ron did that, Winchester said, and she believes he is continuing to do it.

Ron, who graduated from Chaminade High School, committed to Navy as a junior and decided in his junior year at the academy that he wanted to join the Marines. He graduated Navy at 21 years old, and did a 10-month tour in Iraq . with the Marines. After returning home, he had the opportunity to work at the academy, but Ron felt he needed to go back to Iraq.

"Ronnie had a mission," Winchester said. "He just said to me, ‘I have a mission and it’s not complete.’"

He returned to Iraq in August 2004 and died eight days later in the IED explosion, which also killed three others. Ron, 25, was reportedly at the front guarding a convoy when the IED exploded on the bridge they were crossing. Winchester said witnesses told her even after being hit, Ron relayed information to his soldiers not to enter the area, which saved multiple lives.

"Would he do it again? Absolutely," Winchester said. "Would I be a mother who says don’t go? No, I would not because this was his dream. He loved his country and he was there for our freedom."

When Winchester met the Romano twins this year, she told them Ron would watch their backs while at school and whatever came afterward.

"I know they were touched by the moment and grateful for the coach thinking about them," Syosset coach Joe Marchetta said. "I think it actually further reinforced the decision they made to go where they’re going and that it’s the right one."

Another game to be played

Syosset and Oceanside are expected to be in the Nassau Class AA championship mix as Oceanside is in second place and Syosset in third place behind Massapequa. There’s a good chance they’ll meet again in the playoffs, and although both sides will be trying their hardest to win, there will be a different perspective.

"Honestly this helped me realize not everything is just about a game," Bella said. "Yes, you want to compete, but we are all one and we have to be there for each other."

Winchester remembers returning home after the Oct. 1 contest with her bags and gifts in hand, trying to take in the moment.

"Here it is almost 10 o’clock at night, and I’m like, ‘What just happened tonight?’" Winchester said. "I had to rewind and go back and at that point, I had to sit there and say that was really, really amazing to see what happened in that half-hour after the game. And win, lose or tie, it didn’t really matter to me anymore."

What mattered was the new bond and appreciation formed.

"We’ve only met her twice," Emma said, "and it feels like we’ve known her our whole lives."

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