By Ted Waddell
ELDRED April 18, 2006 Ive been a jock, a gym rat
it was something we did growing up, Eldred Central School Athletic Director Al Wojtaszek said of what pointed him in the direction of devoting a 30-year career to high school athletics.
Its just that simple, he added.
Wojtaszek grew up in neighboring Orange County and graduated from S.S. Seward High School in 1965. During his years at Seward, he played soccer, basketball and baseball.
In the wake of attending his local community college, he transferred to Southern Connecticut State College. Wojtaszek continued his passion for booting a soccer ball around a field at both institutions of higher learning.
Wojtaszek earned a BS degree in physical education and health, a masters in PE and an administrative degree from SUNY New Paltz.
While at Orange County Community College, a professor told me I should be working with kids and teaching, and he set me up at a Catholic school teaching physical education to their kids a couple of afternoons each week after school, he recalled.
As soon as I did it, I knew thats what I wanted to do [for a living], Wojtaszek said.
In 1973, Sullivan County BOCES hired him to work a joint job. Wojtaszek taught health at Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School in the mornings and afternoons, then drove over to Eldred Central School to teach physical education.
The following year, ECS administrators asked Wojtaszek to join their faculty, where he assumed the role as AD a couple of years later.
Over the years, he coached girls and boys basketball as well as girls soccer. He also assisted with football at The Home of the Yellow Jackets.
Although he gave up coaching in the mid-1980s, Wojtaszek is never one to stray too far from the athletic field. For several high school soccer seasons, Wojtaszek has put on the striped shirt of an Orange County Interscholastic Athletic Association (OCIAA) official.
Asked about the importance of high school athletics, he replied, Its just part of the whole educational process. There are certain things you learn playing sports that you really dont get in the classroom how to be a gracious winner, how to be an honest loser when facing opponents on the playing field.
Wojtaszek added a couple more ideals that can be gained through participating in scholastic sports: a good work ethic and respect for people youre going to give 100 percent against.
These are things that are important for the rest of your life, Wojtaszek said.
Several years ago, before the Delaware Valley, Jeffersonville-Youngsville and Narrowsburg Central School Districts merged and became the Sullivan West Central School District, Wojtaszek and Debbie Owen, the former Athletic Director at Delaware Valley, created the Western Sullivan League (WSL) Sportsmanship Day. The annual event was held at Camp Champion-Young Life, which is located just outside the hamlet of Eldred.
Wed mix a group of juniors from different schools and spend a whole day working on camaraderie, he said. You can compete very hard against people, but still respect them.
When the WSL faded from the scene, local schools joined the OCIAA, and Sportsmanship Day went the way of the dodo, the large extinct bird from the Island of Mauritius.
It was a great thing, the kids got to know each other, Wojtaszek said of the WSL Sportsmanship Day.
His take on the current level of sportsmanship?
You cant make black and white statements, but based on some of the things kids see today in terms of the professionals things like trash talking have gotten more visible the emphasis on winning has come more to the surface than [the spirit] of the team sport, Wojtaszek commented.
You can get out of sports so much to help you with the rest of your life, he added. If you use it right, its a tool to help you get there, in cooperation with family values and good teachers.
According to Eldreds veteran AD, a few local high school coaches still focus on the values of sportsmanship. He noted the following coaches in particular:
Fred Ahart, Roscoe Central School Athletic Director, Varsity Football Coach and Varsity Boys Basketball Coach He gets every kid possible out [for sports] from that little community, and they love playing for Fred. A task master, yet hes someone whos very positive and a real gentleman when it comes to winning or losing.
Joe Iatauro, Tri-Valley Central School Athletic Director, Varsity Boys Cross Country Coach, Varsity Boys Indoor and Outdoor Track and Field Coach In terms of track, involved kids and pushed that sport to another level.
Charlie Donnelly, longtime Coach of the Eldred Varsity Boys Basketball who served as the Yellowjackets Assistant Coach this past season Hes done basketball for years, and he does it with class.
Frank Kean, Eldred Varsity Football Coach, Varsity Girls Basketball Coach, Varsity Baseball Coach Hes right up there with the best.
Frank Gibson, Retired Coach from Livingston Manor Central School A real leader and an outstanding man in terms of ethics and standards.
Wojtaszek has served as president of the WSL and Section IX representative.
He is the OCIAAs principal representative to Section IX and a member of the New York State Public High School Athletic Association (NYSPHSAA) Executive Central Committee. Wojtaszek is one of the committees top four members, along with Former Superintendent Don Andrews; Former Goshen High School Athletic Director Jim Wolfe, who represents boys sports; and Roberta Greene, Former AD at Washingtonville Central School, who is in charge of girls sports).
Under Wojtaszeks watch, Eldreds athletic program has turned out some outstanding student-athletes and state champions.
For example, at last years state track and field championship meet, Kyle Anthony took second place in the triple jump and placed seventh in long jump.
Hes a High School All-American, a great kid and number one in his class, Wojtaszek said of Anthony, who will graduate in June.
In the few years that ECS has fielded modified and varsity wrestling squads, the school has had a least one grappler make it to the state tournament.
In 2004, Yellowjacket wrestlers Charles Chandler, Tim Hallock, Corey Proscia qualified for states. The following year, Hallock returned to the state competition. This past season, Steven Gieger went the state tourney.
They didnt become state champs, but they went out and competed well and made the community very, very proud, Wojtaszek said.