Steve and Tina Romaniello didn’t attend UConn, but Steve, a Connecticut native, is a lifelong UConn basketball fan. Tina found his enthusiasm infectious and became a Huskies fan as well.
“I love seeing the passion my husband has for UConn,” Tina says. “He brought me in. Seeing these athletes play is pretty amazing.”
The Romaniellos, who currently reside in St. Petersburg, Florida, recently put their passion into action by establishing the Star Kids Kathy and Geno Auriemma Scholarship to support women’s basketball players. The scholarship is fully endowed and will completely cover all costs of the present-day value of a full women’s basketball scholarship, an amount that has increased over time.
The Romaniellos founded the Star Kids Foundation 10 years ago to teach their four children about philanthropy and the importance of using your good fortune to help others. The children are actively involved in the foundation, with each child allotted an amount of money annually to donate to a charity of their choice. The charities must support the foundation’s mission: to level the playing field for disadvantaged youth in the United States.
“We feel pretty strongly that talent is distributed randomly throughout the world, but opportunity is not,” says Steve, who works as a senior advisor at Roark Capital Group, a private equity firm. “We want to make sure that everybody has an equal opportunity to use their God-given gifts and their determination, and that the circumstances they could not control would not be the reason they are not healthy and successful.”
The Romaniellos say that investing in the UConn women’s basketball team aligns with the foundation’s mission as well as their second requirement, which is that they must be able to see demonstrable evidence of results.
“With the UConn women’s basketball program, obviously you see the results on the court, but that’s not really the results we’re talking about,” Steve explains. “What we see is women coming out of the program with a work ethic. They’re determined. They’re adaptable. The experiences that they have through this program clearly position them for a better chance at success after basketball, in life more generally. And those are the results we’re looking for.”
Geno Auriemma, head coach of the UConn women’s basketball team, says that universities benefit immensely from support like that of the Romaniellos.
“A university survives based on support. That support comes from state funds, if you’re a public institution, but that’s never enough,” he says. “It has to be augmented by private individuals who have a love and a passion for the school or, in this case, the women’s basketball program.”
Geno says that the impact of the Romaniellos’ generosity extends beyond the scholarship recipient—the entire team benefits.
“This allows us to take the money we were spending on scholarships and invest it in the program in other areas that we may not be able to do now,” Geno says. “It frees up funds to support things that will help the players reach their goal, to train better, to work in an environment that’s cutting edge in everything we do.”
Geno’s wife, Kathy, says she is honored that the Romaniellos included her in naming the scholarship.
“The team is an extension of our family,” she says. “We’re living in a time when college is in high demand. I’m glad that we can be a part of something like this and give an opportunity to young people who might not be able to go to college without this support.”
Geno hopes that the Romaniellos will inspire others to take similar action.
“The more people who support scholarships, the more resources we have,” he says. “It’s a snowball effect: once people start to give and it catches on, great things happen.”