The Herald, Sharon, Pa.


April 20, 2014

Hickory track coaches near finish line

Dzuricsko, Slezak to step down after season

HERMITAGE — While the Shenango Valley lionizes legendary gridiron greats and hardwood heroes, the sport of track & field at Hickory High has resonated its relevance throughout District 10 and commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

For the better part of the last 3 decades that was due, to a great extent, to the efforts of Barb Dzuricsko and Mark Slezak.

More than 200 dual-meet victories combined between the girls’ and boys’ programs, 9 district championships (7 girls, 2 boys), 2 statewide runners-up berths and another pair of 3rd-place finishes, culminating in the Lady Hornets’ 2012 PIAA Class AA championship.

Their collective resumé would be envied by any coach, regardless of sport. Which makes this recent revelation regrettable: Dzuricsko and Slezak simultaneously will step down at this season’s conclusion.

“When I walk into the gym at HHS, I am very proud to look up at the banners that hang on the walls celebrating our incredible success as a track program,” Slezak recently wrote.

Dzuricsko‘s duties began before she became a full-time Hermitage School District staff member. During the spring of 1981 — while completing her student-teaching requirements for an elementary education degree from then Slippery Rock State College — Dzuricsko joined Sally Ward’s track coaching staff.

“Working under my previous high school head coach was invaluable,” Dzuricsko recently wrote, “as I was given the framework to become a head coach, as well as learn all the structure that was needed to creat a successful program.”

Hired the next year as a teacher, Dzuricsko assumed the program’s head-coaching reins in the spring of 1982, and proudly pointed out,

”It took us three years to get our first athlete to the state track meet (1985) — and we haven’t stopped since.”

Twenty-three years with the Lady Hornets’ program produced 12 Mercer County and/or region crowns, a quartet of District 10 titles, and a 52-dual-meet win streak (160-34 overall, 82 percent). Assuming the responsibilities of the Hornets’ program from 2002-04, Dzuricsko amassed a 19-4 dual-meet mark (83 percent) and region championship.

“At the conclusion of the two-thousand-and-four season our track staff ‘retired,’” Dzuricsko recalled. “Our children were getting involved in school and community activities and we wanted to take the time to be with them.

“Then one fateful day in the (Hickory High) pressbox before a varsity football game in the fall of 2008,” Dzuricsko continued, “Mark Slezak turned around to me and said, ‘Hey, if you come back, I’ll come back.’ That evening, we assembled a staff to coach the track teams in the spring of 2008.”

By that time Dzuricsko had retired as a teacher, but was serving as Hickory High’s athletic director. Consequently, she and Slezak were named co-head coaches for the girls’ and boys’ programs.

“(The) next six years would produce some of the best stories, best athletes and best performances of our track program and coaching careers,” Dzuricsko related.

Five undefeated dual-meet seasons (4 girls’, 1 boys’), including respective 26-2-1 and 27-6-1 dual-meet marks, a handful of D-10 titles (3 girls’, 2 boys’), the Hornets’ 2011 3rd-place PIAA placement, coupled with Lady Hornets’ respective 3rd- and 2nd-place finishes in 2010 and 2011.

And on May 26th, 2012 at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, the PIAA Class AA girls’ championship.

“As I reminisce about the last thirty years,” Dzuricsko wrote, “what comes to mind most is the dedication of our coaches and athletes to produce, not only top-notch track and field athletes, but top-notch people. Working with all (skill) levels of athletes, we are so proud of those who achieved top success, but also those who learned what it took to work hard just to improve, to become better each day — in sports, in school and in life.”

“I feel it is time to step away,” wrote Slezak, who also served for decades as an assistant to cross country coach Tony Mastrian. “As my family grows, so do my responsibilties at home. It has been a great honor to coach and to see Hickory track and field grow to be a state-recognized program.”

“I have been blessed to work with so many great assistant coaches who have worked tirelessly for the program,” Dzuricsko wrote. “And Mark Slezak, who has been a great leader with me.

“I have been blessed to work with so many athletes who have worked outside their comfort zone to contribute to the team ... I have been blessed to have a supportive husband (Bill, who morphed from a basketball coach into a highly-respected track official, to one of Barb’s assistant coaches, directing the boys’ sprint-relay team to a state championship) ... I have been blessed to have two wonderful children (Billy, 22; Brianna, 16), who have shared me with lots of athletes ... and have supported me every minute.”

Dzuricsko also cited her Hickory spring sports coaching counterparts for their cooperation, and the school’s administration, specifically Principal Chris Gill — “an absolute intense track supporter!”  she noted.

“Being a track and field coach at Hickory High School has been one of the best experiences of my life and career,” Dzuricsko concluded. “I will never forget those great moments ... and, hopefully, making a difference in the lives of many student-athletes.”



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