Carmel girls rugby coach alleges nepotism, sexism motivated her sudden dismissal


Kelly Romano couldn’t believe she was terminated as the Carmel High School girls rugby coach. Many of the parents in the club program couldn’t believe it, either.

More than 300 people have signed a petition to reinstate Romano as coach. Romano led the team to two state high school titles, the Rugby Indiana’s girls 7s (players) title in the fall of 2021 and the girls 15s in the spring of 2022.

Romano said she was informed by a Carmel Rugby Club board members March 16 she was being terminated.

“While I was speaking with the board member, an email went out to all parents and players informing them that I had stepped down,” Romano said. “The reasons they gave me were vague at best, but I feel they were contrived. It is my opinion that my termination was carried out with nepotism and sexism as the core motivators.”

Romano said she was given some indication the termination came after Romano disagreed with a referee’s ruling in a Cincinnati tournament March 11. However, Romano was not given a yellow or red card.

Greg Thompson, a parent of a boys rugby player, was watching the game.

“I saw absolutely nothing to see that she was in violation of anything,” Thompson said. “She’s an excellent coach and we’re all flabbergasted.”

The board of directors would not directly respond to Romano’s assertions on why she was dismissed. The board released the following statement to Current in Carmel:

“The purpose of the Carmel Rugby Club is to develop and encourage good sportsmanship in our youth, parents, and coaches. We strive to develop programs that serve all players and foster an environment of fun, fitness, development, understanding, and love of the game of rugby. The club continues to strive toward excellence in competition on the pitch, while also ensuring necessary compliance with the policies, practices, and regulations set forth by the governing bodies including the US Center for SafeSport, World Rugby, USA Rugby, and Rugby Indiana. Our girls head coach Kelly Romano accepted an offer to resign, as such a new direction for the girls high school club rugby program is underway. We sincerely appreciate all her hard work and efforts during her tenure.”

Romano insisted she did not resign.

“Despite my credentials, the Carmel Rugby Board terminated my position, in violation of their own bylaws, because I yelled at a referee,” Romano said. “To be clear, I did yell at a referee, from the sideline, without using foul language or descending into belligerence. I thought he was making the wrong call and putting my players at unnecessary risk. I will be the first to admit that I can be combative especially when it pertains to my player’s safety. As a woman, I have found that the only way to be heard is by not shying away from conflict.”

After the game, she had a cordial conversation with the referee, and the other coach told her she agreed with her position regarding the call.

Romano said one of her other assistant coaches was told that she couldn’t continue coaching the high school girls for safety reasons.

“So, the two women in the entire Carmel rugby coaching staff were removed from their positions on the same day,” Romano said.

An email has been sent to Carmel Rugby Club parents requesting a special meeting be held, not before April 14, to discuss the board’s decision. The bylaws state a minimum of 15 days’ notice must be given to the members before the meeting.

Before this season, Romano had let an assistant coach go, who was previously president of the board.

“He did phenomenal things as president. It was just differences in coaching philosophies,” Romano said. “He never played rugby, and I did.”

Romano said she speculates her dismissal might have been retaliation for letting that coach go.

Most of the board members are parents of girls team members.

Romano said she is saddened by the situation.

“I don’t doubt that my chances of reinstatement are slim to nonexistent, but I will not stop until those responsible for this are held accountable, or at the very least, the full truth is made available to everyone,” she said.