Middle Township superintendent Dave Salvo had it right when he spoke last week about Tom Feraco returning as the Panthers boys basketball coach.
Salvo said Feraco was back where he belonged.
Feraco coached the Panthers from 1981-2016 before deciding to retire. He returned last week when the Middle Township Board of Education approved his return.
Longtime coaches, such as Feraco, should try to coach forever. And schools and their communities should relish every day these coaches are on the sidelines.
These longtime coaches are windows into their schools. They create school pride and influence countless lives.
And here’s the sad truth — there’s fewer and fewer of them left.
Coaches who spent 25 or 30 years at one school used to be common-place. No more. Ten years is a long time now. There are plenty of reasons why.
A high school football coach doesn’t just coach in the fall or a basketball coach in the winter anymore.
All sports programs run year-round. Family vacations are planned around summer workouts and team camps. That can get old quickly.
Then there are the parents.
Some hassle coaches about playing time. Some blame the coach when their son or daughter don’t have the high school career they envisioned. A few parents unhappy with the coach even head to the local school board to try to get the coach removed.
High school coaches are often treated like professional coaches with their every move being second-guessed in real time on Twitter or Facebook.
“You have to really, really enjoy what you’re doing,” said Mainland Regional baseball coach Billy Kern, who just finished his eighth season.
“You have to enjoy the kids. You have to have the right support from your athletic administration and your administration at school. You have to surround yourself with good people. It’s not an easy job, and I don’t think it’s the same job it was 10 or 15 years ago, but the game stays the same, and the kids are as good as they ever have been.”
Schools are just not the same when a longtime coach departs.
Can anyone imagine St. Augustine Prep without boys basketball coach Paul Rodio? How about St. Joseph without football coach Paul Sacco or Buena Regional without softball coach Pam Pickett?
All three of those coaches have been at it for more than 30 years. They haven’t lost their passion.
Pickett’s voice cracked with emotion after Buena lost to Cedar Grove 4-1 on the state Group I final earlier this month. Her empathy for her players was clearly evident.
It’s this connection with the student athletes that keeps coaches coming back.
“That’s the best time for coaches to be in the gym and help mold young kids into men,” Feraco said.
So, while spending more time with the family is attractive and that retirement home in Florida is a draw, coaches such as Rodio, Sacco and Pickett should put off retirement for as long as possible to stay on the sidelines or in the dugout.
It’s where they, like Feraco, belong.
And young coaches should take a look at these longtime coaches and think about trying to emulate them.
Coaching for more than 30 years is a daunting task.
High school sports and high schools in general need as many legendary coaches as they can get.
Michael McGarry’s Must Win column appears Fridays in The Press.