For nearly four decades they’ve been an unmistakable duo at Shoreham-Wading River. A generation of athletes have flourished under the tutelage of Paul Koretzki and Bob Szymanski, who have combined to coach more than 100 seasons between cross country, winter and spring track and field.
The success has been undeniable. And you can’t have one without the other.
“They’re kind of like Abbott and Costello,” said Mark Passamonte, the school’s director of athletics, referring to the famed comedy act of the 1940s and ’50s.
While Mr. Koretzki may best be known as the girls coach and Mr. Szymanski as the leader of the boys team, their roles have morphed in recent years, culminating in a combined effort this past fall with the girls cross country team that resulted in the greatest year in program history. The Wildcats, behind standout junior Katherine Lee, raced to the Class B state championship, the second in program history.
For their leadership, influence and commitment to student athletics and academics, Mr. Koretzki and Mr. Szymanski are the News-Review’s 2016 Sportspeople of the Year.
“They work together so well,” said senior Maria Smith, who finished 12th overall in November’s state championship race at Chenango Valley State Park. “They know what you need.”
Mr. Koretzki’s expertise lies in the distance workouts; Mr. Szymanski takes over for speed workouts. In a sense, they can play the part of good cop and bad cop — Mr. Koretzki serving the hard-line role while Mr. Szymanski lightens the mood with a joke.
Yes, Mr. Szymanski is known for his jokes. If a comedy club ever needed to fill a last-second opening, he could fill the time slot off the cuff. He’s as quick to tell a story about musician Bobby Darin as he is about any past race. He proudly wears his Yankees hat and is quick to lament the struggles of his Detroit Lions (this year, a playoff team!). He has nicknames for everyone.
Mr. Koretzki can be spotted at a meet with his signature ski cap. A master of the details, he has an inept ability in track and field to calculate precisely which events to place athletes in to score the maximum points. He’s a straight-shooter who doesn’t sugarcoat anything.
“I think their coaching style is because of their experience,” said Mr. Passamonte, whose daughter Maggie ran cross country this past fall. “It can be straight upfront in a respectful way to the kids.”
Former Shoreham runner Ryan Udvadia, who now competes for the University at Albany, said the coaches have a unique style.
“The way they go about coaching their athletes is sort of improper in a very good way,” he said. “They try to relate to the athletes and make them enjoy the sport, as difficult as that is sometimes. And they make the athletes want to be good.”
Mr. Udvadia is the school record holder for the 3,200-meter race, which he set in 2014 as a senior. As the team’s top runner for several years, he faced added pressure at meets and practices. But he could always count on Mr. Szymanski to lighten the mood.
“He says his jokes, he makes it fun,” Mr. Udvadia said. “I can’t think of one occasion he didn’t try to make it enjoyable.”
Both coaches have been instrumental in the annual community 5K races on July 4 and Thanksgiving, which raise money for local scholarships. Mr. Szymanski often fires the starting gun, with a joke to start off, of course.
“We started this race in 1776,” Mr. Szymanski said at the starting line of the July 4 race in 2014. He then quipped: “If anyone sets a world record, you get [coach] Roger [Sullivan’s] car!”
Mr. Koretzki leads the way with his minivan serving as the pace car. Anyone who’s competed for Mr. Koretzki knows the vehicle. When it’s parked in the southwest corner of the high school parking lot, that means work is in session. Athletes meet by the vehicle at the start of practice for a brief meeting before workouts are handed out.
“You can find trophies from like 15 years ago in that minivan,” Maria said.
Don’t let the colorful personalities fool you. When it comes to training, the coaches push their athletes to reach levels they never thought they could achieve. Whether an athlete is a state champion like Katherine Lee or a newcomer to the sport who may never score a point at competition, they all receive the same committed coaching.
“If you put in your time and 100 percent effort, coach Szymanski is going to give you the same effort,” Mr. Udvadia said. “He’s going to give it his all to try to bring you to your fullest potential.”
The girls cross country team entered this season with lofty expectations and a goal of winning the state title. In the immediate aftermath of November’s race, uncertainty filled the team as they waited for the official results. The initial reaction they heard was the team finished second, Maria said.
“We were all so upset,” she said. “And then Koretzki ran up to us and was like, ‘We won!’ I started crying I was so happy. You could just tell how proud they were.”
2015: James Suarez