By VINCE PELUSO — firstname.lastname@example.org
When the 2012 high school baseball season ended, Pymatuning Valley coach Steve Urchek felt something wasn’t right.
No one told him he was in danger of not returning for an 18th season with the Lakers.
Not after having coached PV to more than 200 wins over 17 seasons while building one of the best programs in the Northeastern Athletic Conference and Ashtabula County.
“At no point did anyone ever ask me to explain my coaching philosophy,” he said. “There was a lot of innuendo and half truths out there, but no one ever told me specific examples of what I did.”
Yet, on Oct. 8, Urchek found himself at a Pymatuning Valley Board of Education meeting with the board voting on whether or not he would be renewed for the 2013 season.
Despite having the recommendation of the school’s principal, athletic director and superintendent in addition to 30 minutes of testimony in favor of Urchek, testimony ranging from former players to opposing coaches, the PV BOE voted 4-1 to not retain the coach for the 2013 season.
“It’s unfortunate it’s happening,” Urchek said. “The time I’ve been here, I loved coaching these kids. The worst thing is I’ve got a whole group of kids coming back that I was really looking forward to coaching this season.”
While he was never directly told the school wasn’t likely to retain him for the upcoming season, Urchek did sense things weren’t quite right throughout the season.
“I had known that there were some people in the community that kind of had an ax to grind, probably not at the end of last year, but the year before,” he said. “These were some people involved with some of the powers that be that made it known they didn’t like what I was doing. The problem was, they never said anything to me. There was just a lot of hearsay, innuendo, wink-wink type stuff.”
With that said, Urchek said he was approached by the superintendent and principal after the 2011 season that some board members had issues with his coaching style.
The 1986 graduate of Maplewood high school said he was open to adjusting and improving as a coach, but in his view, it appeared to make no difference in how he was perceived.
“It wasn’t until last year where the superintendent and principal had said there were some questions by board members and that it would be better to make some changes, have a more positive attitude and stuff like that,” he said. “Me being a reasonable guy, I’m not going to say, ‘it’s my way or the highway,’ so I adjusted. I’ve been evaluated by five or six principals, superintendents, athletic directors at some point and there’s nothing negative in my file.
“My detractors won’t look at that. But I never feared going into an evaluation.”
With a clean file and an army of former and current players willing to validate his coaching creditionals, Urchek said what was the most hurtful to him throughout this process was having to wait for a vote in October when the season had ended in May, and the personal attacks he endured at the hands of those who no longer wanted him to coach the Lakers.
“The biggest thing is when I have to go through waiting for contracts in June and July and sit and wait until October, that was disheartening, having to wait that long,” he said. “The other thing, really the last thing I’ll remember, is what happened at the board meeting and the attacks on my character.”
As far Urchek is concerned, lost in those personal attacks is his love for his players and doing what he felt was best for them.
“To me, it’s kind of personal and kind of upsetting because I always wanted to do anything for my guys,” he said. “I still have a lot of guys who I text and Facebook and who come back to practice and I’m close with. They go on to be good citizens and have done good things. I always tell them if the worst thing they become is a good Little League coach, then I’ve done my job.”
While there was plenty of negativity with the non-renewal of Urchek, the main positive for the former Kent State Golden Flashes player was the support “his guys” gave him.
“Some of the guys came over to my house after the vote and we just talked and told stories,” he said. “Like I told them, no matter what happens, the 17 years I coached these guys, they can non-renew me from there, but they can’t non-renew me from all the good times and the friends I’ve made. The people I’ve coached and coached against, it’s nice to know that the coaching community supports me.
“The respect I got from my colleagues is one of the best things about coaching. It’s nice to be competitive, but it’s great to be able to go (to all these different schools) and see guys who I played with or coached and it’s fun to compete. We fight during the game then we’re buddies.”
Those relationships were built over a lengthy stay in the coaching community.
But while those relationships are positive, Urchek admitted if you stay anywhere long enough, the opposite effect starts to take hold.
“I think part of it is sometimes, when you’re somewhere for a long time, people outside the community begin to appreciate you more than those on the inside,” he said. “There’s a lot of loyalties and those people stuck up for me in this thing and I’ll remember that for the rest of my life. There’s a group of dads that fought tooth and nail for me and I’m indebted to them.
“I don’t think it’s tough to stay somewhere a long time if you don’t put in any effort. You can stay a place a long time if you don’t work hard and keep everyone happy. But to do what I do — whatever you want to call it, some guys say it’s old school — it’s tough to stay anywhere a long time. I’m probably lucky to get 17 years.”
As with any situation, Urchek admits there’s a silver lining in not coaching in 2013. It’ll give him an opportunity to watch his daughter, Sarah, play softball as a freshman at Point Park University.
“I think the biggest thing is I’m going to have a lot more chances to watch my daughter play in college,” he said. “That’s one of the things I regret from coaching, is not seeing her play much. I just remember we were playing at Eastwood Field once and someone told me my daughter was one out away from perfect game. She ended up throwing a no-hitter and I missed it.
“To her credit, I told her, ‘I’m thinking about packing it in to watch you.’ She told me, ‘you’ve been waiting to coach this group for years and you’ve seen me all summer. I’m going to have other opportunities, but you wanted to coach this group.’
“So now I’ll get to sit back and watch my daughter. I don’t know how long she’ll play, but I’m 44 and I honestly don’t remember a time in March I wasn’t getting ready for baseball season. That will probably be the weirdest thing.”
While he’ll likely be out of the game this spring, don’t expect that to last.
“I’ll watch my daughter, I’ll watch some guys who I coached who are still playing, but I can’t see myself out of it for an extended period of time,” he said. “I may be done (at PV), but I’m not at the point where I’m done coaching the kids. I think I still have a lot to give the kids. I have a hard work ethic and my energy.
“I’m a high-energy guy. So I can’t see myself out of it for too long.”
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