Salamanca’s Jankowski ready to step away as bowling, golf coach | Sports

SALAMANCA — As he nears retirement, Gene Jankowski said he’ll miss “the little things” about coaching the most.

The van rides to and from golf matches. The strike-filled finish to a big bowling round. The acknowledgment, or just catching up, during a classroom visit years later from past players from either sport.

Jankowski is set to retire at the end of this school year after more than two decades of teaching in the Salamanca school district, most of them marked by coaching. He arrived as a teacher in 2001 and took up coaching bowling a year later.

He just wrapped up his 14th season as golf coach this spring and the winter was his 20th bowling season with the Warriors.

Jankowski noted “there’s never a good time” to walk away, since he’d always be leaving some athletes behind. But he feels both programs are in good hands moving forward.

Each is a sport these athletes can carry on for many years after they leave high school. Surely, Jankowski will spend some time in retirement on the bowling lanes or on the golf course.

“They’re sports I like and certainly I’ve gotten better at since I’ve started coaching them,” Jankowski said of gravitating toward bowling and golf. “My philosophy for coaching … is because it’s a lifelong sport, if a kid’s struggling, I’ll say, ‘What did you do?’ I want them to understand what they did and to figure it out on their own, because I’m not going to be there every time.

“If they’re shooting a 10-pin and it goes in the gutter, I want them to understand what they did wrong, so they can figure it out on their own,” he continued. “When they’re playing on their own, they’re like, ‘Hey, I must be doing this because Coach taught me that.'”

On the same day he met with The Press for a career-spanning interview, Jankowski said he had just seen Brandon Milanowski and Justin Blakeslee, two SHS graduates who played both sports for him.

“You see these kids. They’re on the course, you see them at the lanes,” he said.

OVER 20 seasons, the Salamanca boys bowling team has had all winning campaigns and claimed five league titles since 2012-13, including winning the Section 6 Class D title in 2015. The girls have won three league titles (2006, 2009 and 2020) and Jankowski was just as proud to point out they’ve been a scholar-athlete team in at least 10 of his 20 seasons.

He made a lot of memories over those 20 years and admitted he understandably had trouble sorting them all out for his favorites.

“It’s the little stuff,” he said. “How do you put it in any type of order? Patrick Dry his senior year, the only bowler I’ve ever had that the last three balls he threw for me were all strikes. I remember Matt Bridges stopping back five or six years after he graduated and we talked for a half hour. Bryant Johnson and Matt James their senior year, during bowling season they’d stop in my room, every morning, we’d talk, sometimes we wouldn’t say anything, but that’s still there.”

Jankowski kept a list of all his team bowling MVPs over 20 years. Amanda Hill, who doubled with basketball, averaged a 161 in Jankowski’s first year (2002-03) and remains the highest average girls bowler he coached, followed by Kasey Tucker’s 159 in 2005-06. Xander Edstrom’s average of 202 in 2016-17 marks the highest boys’ number in 20 years, followed by Bryant Johnson’s 199 just three years earlier. This year, however, brought Jankowski’s first All-Sectional All-Star, junior Quinton Jones, who qualified for the state championships.

Another great memory came just last month, as the school board recognized retirees in the district, longtime assistant coach Skip Nary spoke up on Jankowski’s behalf and brought about a dozen past and present bowlers with him.

“He got up to recognize me, saying I’ve been there for 20 years and he said, ‘Hang on a minute, I’ve got some people that need to be in here for this,'” Jankowski recalled. “I was OK and calm and then you see all the past walk in with the present bowlers and there’s about a dozen kids there that took time out to come to a board meeting and stand in the hall for a half an hour to say, ‘ Thanks, Coach.'”

ONE YEAR, Jankowski said, he had a big influx of bowlers show up for tryouts. He now laughs at the reason why.

“I had to make cuts because we didn’t have the money to have 14 people bowl,” he said. “The one year we had so many kids try out and I was like, ‘alright,’ and then I realized after — and they didn’t say anything, which made it even funnier — they said let’s go try out for bowling, we ‘re not going to bowl on the team, but we can go and bowl three games for free and have the school pay for it. They all showed up and bowled and out the door they went and I never saw most of them again. That was pretty funny.”

The Allegany-Limestone boys presented the strongest rival in Jankowski’s tenure, winning 13 league titles in that time. Any win over the Gators meant something.

“There were years where they were phenomenal. We were good, but they were better and we knew that going in and we spoiled numerous chances for them for an undefeated season,” he said. “Now it’s our turn and we’re finally going to win the league, we end up 47-1 and our one loss was to Allegany. Andy (Spring, AL coach) didn’t say anything, and I said, ‘well it’s only fitting that you guys spoil our undefeated season.’ Oftentimes, whoever would win the league, the other team would beat them at sectionals.

“When we finally won it, I’ll never forget it, I got an email from Andy’s wife congratulating me and how happy she was for us and the boys and how you deserved this,” Janowski continued. “It was so nice that they recognized us as the rivals we are. I know most of those kids, I bowl with some of those kids in my men’s league. That really meant a lot.”

GOLF REQUIRES more of a hands-off approach. Coaches meet with the players before the match, but then let them off on their own while they wait or play with other coaches elsewhere on the course.

“We were playing at Franklinville a couple weeks ago and you get the kids started, you go out to the holes, any local rules that they need to know and then the kids go play,” he said. “If there’s any questions, they can call us. So we go out to No. 5 and we start playing, we get back to No. 1 and I’m on the tee box and it’s raised over the creek and I’m looking out at the entire course and I’m like, ‘I’m coaching a high school golf match right now, and I’m playing golf with the other coaches.’ I don’t see any of my kids anywhere on the course, I’m like how is it possible that this is coaching?”

Golf coaches work more with players during practice, though he noted some of the more experienced golfers don’t need as much as others.

“The neat thing about golf is you’re with the kids all the time,” Jankowski said. “The van rides there and back, dinner, the stories and the laughs and the camaraderie that makes that sport so much different. It’s tough to compare the two, pick one over the other, I love them both but for different reasons.”


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.