by Gib Snyder III
June 14, 2010
Coaching Their Schools
Jagoda has been the varsity coach at Dunkirk since 1994 while Gullo took over the Hillbillies in 2002. Both men are alums of their respective as well, Jagoda graduated in 1978 while Gullo earned his diploma in 1985.
For his part, Jagoda (255-139) has led the Marauders to three sectional titles (Class B-1, 2000; Class A, 2007 & 2008), a Class A Farwest Regional championship (2007) and has led his team to consecutive 12-0 seasons in CCAA Division 1 play, a feat not accomplished by any other school. Gullo (156-71) has had slightly more success than the man who coaches the Hillbillies’ arch-rival, winning a New York State Public High School Athletic Association Class B title in 2006 and earning a third trip in four years to the NYSPHSAA Final Four in 2009. Gullo also led Fredonia to a Class B Farwest title in 2005, as the Hillbillies reached the state title game. Also under Gullo, Fredonia has won two CCAA Division 1 league titles (’05 & ’07).
On the field, Jagoda was a pitcher and may not have even played high school baseball were it not for his former jayvee coach Bill Walters – the man who he would eventually replace.
“He played catch with me in the Middle School gym, and he really encouraged me to continue in baseball,” Jagoda said. “He had a more hands on approach to the game.”
Gullo helped his high school teams to back-to-back Section 6 titles in 1984 and 1985, with the ’85 team representing Chautauqua County in the NYSPHSAA Final Four for the first time. Gullo had fond memories of those teams.
“Our 25th reunion is coming up this summer and all the guys still talk about it,” Gullo said. “We had a good team because we had good players that all worked for the same goal. We competed with each other, instead of against each other.”
Gullo knew when his playing days were over, there was only one other way to stoke the flames of his competitive fire – coaching.
“Once I realized my baseball career was over,” Gullo said, “coaching was the next best thing to stay competitive.”
When Jagoda was young, coaching was not something he thought about doing.
“I never thought about it when I was playing in high school or as a college player,” Jagoda said. “But when I finally got into a school district, I got involved with Forestville varsity basketball.”
Before taking over as a middle school counselor in the Dunkirk City School District, Jagoda spent three years as a counselor in Forestville, biding his time until he could come back to his hometown district, where his first coaching job was not on the diamond, but the hardwood. Jagoda credited then Athletic Director John Bogardus for helping him obtain his first coaching position. But it is the baseball field where Jagoda will leave his mark.
Jagoda wasn’t nervous following in Walters’ footsteps. What he was nervous about was keeping up with the tradition of winning started by his varsity coach - Al Stuhlmiller, the man who the Marauders’ baseball field is named after – and carried on by Walters, who guided Dunkirk to their lone NYSPHSAA baseball title in 1988.
“I think the nervousness came from being able to uphold what they always did,” Jagoda said. “They kept a winning tradition in baseball. That’s where the nervousness came from.”
Jagoda, who had no varsity baseball coaching experience whatsoever, did have an idea of how he wanted to run his team.
“I wanted to come in with an iron fist,” Jagoda said of his philosophy, which may be one of the few regrets he has had in his 17 years coaching the Marauder baseball team.
“I think if I had to do it all over again, I would have come in with a different approach,” Jagoda said. “I thought I had to be a real hard guy and earn the respect of the kids by being a hard guy. I don’t know if I’d do it that way again.”
Like Jagoda, Gullo got his start at Forestville, coaching the varsity baseball teams in the early 1990s, and also like Jagoda, he eventually wound up working for his hometown district as he was hired in 1996 as an elementary physical education teacher.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Gullo said. “I coached for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s at Forestville High School. And my first couple of years I had no fear, I didn’t know what to expect and I had a lot to learn.”
Jagoda noted that winning was one of the best aspects of coaching, but he knows winning is not always the most important thing.
“Watching the kids grow and knowing that you, as a coach, had a little bit to do with it and organizing it and putting a product on the field that the community can be proud of and that the kids and their families can be proud of – that is really important to me. When they walk away (from the program), I hope they’ve learned some lessons in life and some lessons in humility.”
Gullo echoed Jagoda’s sentiments.
“Seeing the kids overachieve,” Gullo said of his favorite aspect of being a coach. “Seeing them reach their goals and just sitting back and watching their expressions, because the rest of their lives you know they’ll be talking about it. And just to be a part of it is very rewarding. Players win championships, coaches guide them, and I’ve had some great assistant coaches starting with Jake McCune, Joe Pucciarelli, Robert Brown, Greg Smith and Chuck Allesi. They’ve been there every step of the way.”
Both Jagoda and Gullo have had their share of great moments as coaches, and neither had to think too hard about what some of their fondest memories have been.
“There’s a lot of them,” Jagoda said. “There are some parts missing because we haven’t won a state championship yet, but there’s been some great memories. Being able to coach my boys (Frank Jr. and Joe) and having them come up in the ranks as difficult as it was for them to have to succeed day in and day out. They were under a microscope for everything they ever did. It made it difficult, but it also made it enjoyable, because it made them mentally tough.”
Other memories Jagoda touched on were winning the sectional titles in 2000, 2007 and 2008 and the Farwest Regional championship in 2007 – the latter years with teams made up players he had helped coach since they were in Little League, including his son, Joe.
Gullo, who has cached eight fewer seasons than Jagoda, is not short on his own lasting memories.
“Every year has been special,” Gullo said. “The 2005 season when we came out of nowhere and found ourselves in the state final, the 2006 season… that was our goal. We had to win a state championship and see those kids achieve it. The 2007 season was phenomenal. We lost Abe Rak to an injury and our boys, led by Tom Malikowski, Jeremy Napierala and andy Schober, won a league title. And the 2009 season with Corey King, Vinny Conti and Jeff Dimmer leading us to victory.”
“High school sports are the greatest,” Gullo continued. “It’s memories for the rest of your life, and if you give it everything you’ve got, you can be proud of your effort and you’ll appreciate your results.”
Over the course of our lives there are bound to be things that we’ve done or said or did not do or say, that we wish we could do over. Coaching is perhaps one of the greatest facilitators of second guesses and that is something that Jagoda and Gullo know a little about.
“If there’s one regret, if there’s one thing I live with every day, it’s when kids walk away from the program and they feel like they got short-changed,” Jagoda said. “I could bname some kids that feel that way and it bothers me each year that I coach, that some kids walk away and don’t feel like they got everything out of it. And I feel for them because they didn’t get what they thought they were going to be getting out of playing a varsity sport.”
“I wish I had a lot of do-overs,” Gullo said laughing. “We had some seasons that just didn’t work out the way we would have liked. I wish I had attacked them differently, because we had good players and we didn’t reach our goals.”
After Jagoda’s son, Joe, graduated, there was a lot of speculation that he might step down as head coach of the varsity baseball team, but those same speculators are probably glad he’s stuck around and he has no plans to step down anytime soon.
“I know everybody thought that I’d be done two years ago when Joey graduated,” Jagoda said. “Some of the losses get harder at the end of the season when you play so hard and your team does so well during the season. Some of those losses get real hard on you, but if the kids can handle it, I need to show them I can handle it, too. I don’t think there’s an end in sight, honestly. I haven’t thought about it recently.”
Gullo had a decidedly different outlook on his coaching career.
“It’s such a time commitment,” Gullo said of coaching. “I’ve missed more of my kids’ Little League games than my parents did for all of my siblings for 20 years. I’m going to go year by year. I want to see my kids play ball. It’s important for them to know I’m there watching them and supporting them.”