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Tom Sarkovics still making an impact on Starpoint after 50 years | Sports - FlagSpin

Tom Sarkovics still making an impact on Starpoint after 50 years | Sports

PENDLETON — When Tom Sarkovics entered coaching, he had a pretty simple goal — to help people improve.

Fifty years later, you can’t swing a stick at the Starpoint High School athletic facilities without hitting something covered in Sarkovics’ fingerprints. So, if Starpoint was going to induct one person into its athletic wall of fame this year, Sarkovics was the only logical choice.

Since 1970, Sarkovics has been a constant, always seeking to help and always attempting to make the school better. Sarkovics has seen the district grow from a collection of cowtowns to a thriving bedroom community while serving as a coach for five sports — four as a head coach — and athletic director for the final 16 years of his career.

Sarkovics played a key role in upgrading Starpoint facilities for a variety of different sports, including the baseball field that bears his name. He has retired twice, but at 73 years old, if he isn’t spending time with his grandchildren, coaching is the next best activity to fill time.

At 1 p.m. Jan. 15, Sarkovics will be the lone inductee into the Starpoint Sports Wall of Fame to commemorate a half-century worth of service, but his time with Spartans is far from over.

“I just love the place,” Sarkovics said. “Retirement is hard because there’s nothing to get up in the morning to do. I don’t like that feeling and I know these coaches pretty well, so they’re willing to let me help out and that’s what I do.”

Growing up in North Tonawanda, Sarkovics was thrilled to secure a job teaching health and coaching junior varsity basketball right out of college. He eventually moved on to stints as the varsity baseball, football and girls basketball coach, also filling in as the field hockey coach for a few years.

But when he retired from teaching in 2004, Starpoint needed an athletic director. Despite a budding enrollment that necessitated a move from Niagara-Orleans League to competition against similar-sized schools in the Erie County Interscholastic Conference, it was only a part-time job. There’s no such thing as a part-time job for Sarkovics.

“They gave me the job at the right time,” Sarkovics said. “They just let me do stuff. … Just to be part of it and see the place get better all the time.”

Sarkovics oversaw swimming move from a co-ed winter season in the N-O League to split seasons in the ECIC, while also adding varsity hockey for boys and girls, along with getting the ball rolling on lacrosse, which will debut in the spring.

When the Spartans moved from a crackerbox gymnasium to a spacious 1,600-seat barn when the new high school was built, Sarkovics climbed a ladder and touched up splotches in the paint job by hand.

He was one of the first baseball coaches to take his team south for spring break to escape cancellations due to weather. Sarkovics had a vision for the athletic department and was aggressive in making it a reality.

“I could see constant growth,” Sarkovics said. “(Starpoint) was always great with me about wanting to build dugouts for baseball or doing this for some other group. A lot of times they told me to go find the money, but we would do that. It was always about seeing the place get better.”

As an unpaid assistant to the football, basketball and baseball teams, Sarkovics is now coaching grandchildren of former players, but he is still adept at relating to kids and parents. Communication has long been a strong suit in dealing with parents, players, administrators and donors.

During his time as varsity baseball coach in the 1980s, Sarkovics started a baseball club to help increase funds. He wrote to everyone he could think of and got the likes of Tommy Lasorda, Johnny Bench, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin and Ronald Reagan to not only respond, but offer small yearly donations.

“He doesn’t know how to use his iPhone, he’s not great on social media, but he is a great communicator,” Starpoint principal and boys basketball head coach Gil Licata quipped.

Adapting to change

Sarkovics knew retirement was coming in 2020, often feeling like a senior class with graduation looming — his feelings torn leaving a job he loved for a new chapter in life.

But he went through a similar phase moving from coach to athletic director. Sarkovics missed the daily interaction on a deeper level with kids, but also enjoyed having a say in the direction of the entire athletic department.

Tim Racey replaced him on the football coaching staff in 2000 and took over his job as baseball coach, but Sarkovics never demanded coaches to run programs his way. He stepped back and focused on his duties, evidenced in coaches asking Sarkovics to lend a hand still in retirement.

“He would let you learn through trial and error,” Racey said. “In coaching you make some good decisions and you make some bad ones. He was always there to celebrate the good ones and offer constructive criticism for the bad ones. The positive spin he would put on something, you found comfort in that you did something good.”

Upon retiring from a full-time capacity, Sarkovics knew he did not want to wake up each day wondering what to do. So he returned to coaching after more than 15 years away from the sidelines. Not only is he helping a few Spartan programs, Sarkovics also coaches his grandson’s youth flag football and baseball teams.

Even though he is on the staff, Sarkovics still hangs back to offer advice to coaches when asked and loves having a continued impact on teenagers.

“He just cares about kids — men and women,” Licata said. “It’s just nice to have him around. I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m thankful to have him still with us.”

The question of how long Sarkovics will want to continue to coach is asked frequently, but there is no true timetable. Licata says Sarkovics is still a kid at heart, with an expansive sneaker and figurine collection.

But Sarkovics enjoys the feeling of purpose when he arrives at the school for practices or games, while also having the leeway to take off for a week if he needs to watch his grandchildren — his daughter Katie was inducted into the North Tonawanda athletic hall of fame this year — in New Jersey or see football games at Monmouth University, where his son-in-law Brian Gabriel is the offensive line coach.

Sarkovics knows there will be a time to finally face retirement in full, but what’s the rush?

“When I feel like I can’t help anymore, I’ll (quit),” Sarkovics said. “I don’t feel 73, but I am 73. … If you can think you can help somebody get better at what they’re doing, that’s what I like to do.”

Nick Sabato can be reached via email at or on Twitter @NickSabatoGNN.

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Travis Burnett

Travis Burnett

A pioneer in the flag football community, Travis helped co-found the Flag Football World Championship Tour, FlagSpin and USA Flag. Featuring 15+ years of content creation for the sport of flag football, creating and managing the largest flag football tournaments on the planet, coaching experience at the youth and adult level as well as an active player with National and World Championship level experience.

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