By Rick Kern
If you are “one of the boys” (so-to-speak), Delta Lake Men’s Retreat 2019 was the place to be. Taking place this past May 3rd and 4th, it shaped up to be a great weekend of fellowship for guys with awesome activities and deeply meaningful worship. Delta Lake Bible Conference Center is located just north of Rome, New York, on 39 acres of breathtaking countryside that overlooks, predictably enough, Lake Delta. The conference center’s 2,000-plus feet of shoreline afforded participants ample opportunity to cut lose in the water with pastimes such as swimming, waterskiing, tubing, boating, and fishing.
In addition to fun on the waterfront, the men may have enjoyed any number of the wide range of recreational activities offered by Delta Lake, including sandpit volleyball, horseshoes, basketball, archery, softball, and even soccer. And if they instead preferred to chill out in the gazebo, relax on a swing overlooking the lake, or kick back in the supple grass under a tall pine to reflect on what they had heard from the keynote speaker, it is all there for the taking.
If they choose the latter option, they’d be pondering the insight, compassion, and experience of former ESPN Emmy-award winning producer and senior manager, Jason Romano. Romano, who enjoyed a highly successful 17-year tenure with ESPN, currently serves as the host, producer, and editor of the Sports Spectrum podcast. Wildly popular, Sports Spectrum has registered over 500,000 downloads since its debut on March 31, 2017. Jason also contributes articles and stories to Sports Spectrum magazine. And while God has led him to minister throughout numerous venues, speaking to thousands of people at conferences, colleges, companies, and churches, this was his first time at Delta Lake.
“I’m very excited to be coming to Delta Lake,” said Romano eagerly before the event. “Amazing things always happen when a group of men come together to fellowship and grow closer to the Lord. I’m expecting those same things to happen that weekend.” And they did!
However, sharing at itinerant gigs is not all he does by way of ministry, Jason also serves as an elder and associate pastor at his home church. And though he doesn’t consider himself a Bible scholar, (that distinction belongs to his brother, Chris, who is both a Bible professor and president of a Bible college), he is a seasoned speaker with a winning game plan, whose playbook is the Bible.
“When I speak, I consider it a sermon rather than just a talk,” he explains. “I’m definitely incorporating Scripture and teaching into my speaking.” He adds thoughtfully, “I can’t just go up there and talk about things that I’ve experienced. I have to talk about Christ and talk about the Gospel. I’ll teach on obedience, or teach on patience, or teach on waiting on God…”
It wasn’t always that way for Romano, whose parents divorced when he was six. “I lived with my mom,” he recalls. “My dad was around, but he wasn’t really present in my life, I grew up in a broken home, but my mom was a rock and she was around a lot.” His first book, “Live to Forgive,” hit the shelves in January 2018 and, as you might guess, delves deeply into his relationship with his father.
Raised in a little town called Ravena, New York located south of Albany, he lived not too far from the Finger Lakes. “I grew up there and I am a huge sports fan,” he notes, “sports was pretty much my life and I loved it.” He continues, “I always had this dream about playing sports but as I got older, I realized that wasn’t going to quite work. I then went into sports broadcasting, which was the next best thing.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in “Broadcasting & Communications and Media” at SUNY New Paltz, Romano landed his first degree-related job at WGY in Albany, where he stayed some three-years from 1997 to Y2K. In 2000 he made the quantum leap to ESPN and dropped anchor for 17-years, moving to Connecticut which became home — and still is. And on the home front he reflects, “I got married to my wife, Dawn, in November of 1999, so it will be 20-years in November that we will be married. We have a daughter named Sarah, who is fourteen and will be fifteen in June — she is our only child, so we have one child.”
Jason surrendered his life to the Lord about a year after he joined the team at ESPN. “It wasn’t until I was 26 or 27-years old when I understood who Jesus was and what Christ was about — salvation and all those things,” he recalls. “My brother, Chris was the first person in the family to be saved to Christ and led me to the Lord, which is a cool story!”
Offering a thumbnail of his testimony he recounts, “It was Mother’s Day 2001 and we reluctantly went to his church. He had been saved in a very Charismatic, Pentecostal church. Coming from a Catholic background, they’re both basically at each end of the spectrum — there’s no middle ground. It’s one way or the other as far as how church is done, which was very intimidating and a little weird at first.” Continuing he candidly adds, “The Spirit kind of worked in me a little bit and softened my heart as I realized that I had all this great stuff. I had this great job, I had a great wife, but I was still missing something. My brother recognized that and led me to the Lord in the back bedroom of his house on Mother’s Day of 2001. That’s when I got saved and that’s when the journey of my walk with the Lord began.”
Like all of us, Jason found his way forward and matured in the faith with time, teaching, and the right influences. “Early on, I was a Christian and I got saved and I was walking with the Lord, but it wasn’t a daily occurrence in my life,” he explains. “It was more like going to church on Sunday and coming home and reading my Bible occasionally.”
Among those right influences, however, was pro football Hall of Fame coach, best-selling author, and sports broadcaster, Tony Dungy. Jason was apprehended by a watershed moment with Coach Dungy (as he is known), when
Dungy spent a day at ESPN with Romano around 2009 or 10. “We talked about matters of faith quite a bit in our conversations,” reflected Jason, “and he asked me how I lived my faith out at ESPN. It was a question that changed my life forever because it really made me think about how I live as a Christian.”
From that point on he “upped his game” and began to walk the walk and talk the talk (as it were) with conviction and focus. His perspective deepened and reflects a thoughtful maturity at this point. “I think you can get so caught up in your work that it becomes an idol and you could get consumed with it,” he observes. “You’re asked to work a lot of hours; you’re asked to dedicate a lot of your life to the job at ESPN — just like at any other job. And if you’re not careful, if you don’t manage that well, it can become an idol and idolatry is a sin against God.”
Continuing he declares passionately, “I think that the temptation is to realize that, and even now, doing ministry work, that can become an idol… As good as that is and as great it is to tell people about the Lord in the work that I’m doing, if I’m not careful in not watching my own personal walk with God, that stuff can become an idol.”
His book, “Live to Forgive,” sort of elbowed its way into Romano’s game plan as he never had an interest in writing a book at all, much less a raw, deeply revealing memoir that pried his life wide open exposing its many vulnerabilities… “It just kind of came about through a couple of circumstances and sharing about my faith and sharing my story of my father,” he reflects. “Through that and meeting a couple people who had written books before and sharing the story with them.” He adds, “I got introduced to a person who got introduced to a person to another person and we got connected with a few people that I had known from my past. All of a sudden, the book came together.”
With a Foreword penned by his childhood baseball hero, Darryl Strawberry, a strong believer who has become a treasured friend and often shares the platform with Romano at conferences, “Live to Forgive” boasts an impressive roster of endorsements. It is acclaimed in writing by the likes of Bart Millard, Lead Singer of MercyMe; NFL Tight End, Benjamin Watson; ESPN Anchor, Amy Lawrence; CBS Sports Radio Host, Jon Gordon; Third Day Front man, Singer, Songwriter Mac Powell; and others.
Romano has no qualms about bringing the heat with his admiration for Darryl Strawberry and all that the former baseball icon has meant to him. “Darryl and I have this unique relationship that I would have never dreamed of as a kid,” he explains. “As the guy I root for in many ways, we’re doing ministry together, but Darryl, on his own has been a traveling evangelist for the last ten-years. He preaches God’s Word to whoever will listen from conferences to different events, using his platform as a baseball player to be able to tell others about Christ.”
“There’s a real neat connection of repentance,” he continues, “and a great story of how forgiveness has meant a lot to his life and how it’s meant a lot to my life and how now, those paths intersected. Darryl’s a big hero of mine.”
The complete title of Jason’s book is, “Live to Forgive: Moving Forward When Those We Love Hurt Us,” and it openly and honestly walks readers through his personal journey of forgiving his alcoholic father. Through sharing his own story, Romano invites readers to enter into their own messy journeys of forgiveness-to fully feel their pain, evaluate their pain, transform their pain, and ultimately forgive those who caused their pain. You can sum up his basic thesis by saying that the only route to freedom and peace is forgiveness.
He is not only a seasoned speaker at this point but is also working on a second book which should be released about a year from now. “I signed a contract a couple months ago with Kregel Publishing,” he notes, “and the book is going to be a leadership book on biblical lessons that I learned from my time at ESPN.” Elaborating he adds, “There will a lot more stories about ESPN in this book. A lot of positive stories, using the example of Christ as the best way to help others in leadership, and use the stories of the times that were spent at ESPN, which will be the catalyst for that.”
Romano is something of a blue-collar heart who’s made his mark in a white-collar world and ill-at-ease in an ivory tower. Laid back and extremely approachable, “If anybody is interested, I’m available,” he says. “I try to make myself available for people to email me. They can always do that.”
Looking forward to the Delta Lake Men’s Retreat he exclaimed, “I’m just excited to come out to Rome. I’m excited to pour into the men because the men…we have to get together and stand up for men and stand together for biblical manhood — stand up for Christ. We need to be encouraged and grow together in our community. That’s really what has me excited. I’m really pumped to coming to Rome and being able to share — getting a group of guys together and growing in Christ. I’m excited about that.” I wish I could have been there!