Tom Kubuski never envisioned himself as a coach. His father, Ed, made the suggestion once Tom was hired by the Elyria Schools system. His dad knew a little bit about coaching — the gymnasium at Midview is named after him.
“I never, ever, ever, ever thought about coaching,” Kubuski said, recalling his graduation from Bowling Green State University in 1976. “Never, not once, and my dad told me, ‘Hey, just a heads-up, they have an awful lot of coaching positions over there in that district. They may want you to coach.’
“I can’t coach. I don’t know anything about coaching, but he said ‘sure, you do. You can coach.’”
Father knows best.
Kubuski, along with Lindsay Anderson Brown, Duane Hawkins, Jon Laird and Brianne McLaughlin, will be inducted into the Elyria Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night at the Spitzer Center on the campus of Lorain County Community College. Elyria High’s 1977 medley relay track team will also be enshrined.
Kubuski took his father’s advice and became one of Elyria West’s greatest coaches — in baseball and girls basketball. His baseball teams, including stints at Oberlin, North Ridgeville and Elyria Catholic, won 383 games over a 35-year career in education.
The 1992 West team remains the only Lorain County school to win a state baseball championship, and the 1986 team also qualified for the Final Four. In addition, there were 13 conference championships.
His basketball teams won 217 games, four conference titles and got to the regional final on a couple of occasions.
“The girls basketball job opened up,” Kubuski said. “They asked me at West. ‘This might be a good position for you.’ I was in special education. I didn’t even deal with girls. I decided to give it a try. One thing led to another and it started snowballing. Really took off.”
He finished with an amazing total of exactly 600 career wins at the high school level.
“In today’s society, we’d consider Mr. Kubuski old school,” said former player and assistant coach Kathy Majoras, a 1980 West grad. “How he ran his program, his practices, his games. Everything had to be just so very focused, but if it got too serious and maybe bring someone to the brink of tears, he’d make them look at him and wiggle his ears. How can you do anything but laugh?”
Kubuski was particularly overcome after his last game at West in the spring of 1996 after the decision had been made to consolidate the high schools into one at Elyria High. West had already been eliminated from the tournament but had a makeup conference game at the old South Amherst School where Firelands played its baseball games.
West won the game to clinch the Lorain County Conference title, but Kubuski knew it would be the last time he’d put on the Elyria West uniform, the last time he’d get on the bus back to the school.
“It was overwhelming for me,” he said. “It still is. To see that building and school taken away from you. I cannot explain that. I considered myself very loyal to that school and I thought we accomplished some things — not only in sports I coached but the other sports also. It was devastating. To see the final out and we won the conference with that game but not know what your future is after you’d been locked into it for 20 years, it was tough.”
“He put his heart and soul into West,” said friend Ken Oblak, a former boys basketball coach. “Closing was very, very impactful.”
“If you ask anyone who played for him, they’d run through a fence for him,” said former player Rich Dargo, a 1994 graduate.
Someone told Kubuski a little later “it was probably for the best” when talking about the consolidation.
“No, it was not the best,” Kubuski said. “Half these kids are not even going to play next year. You’re talking 80 kids in two programs — 40 of them aren’t going to play. No one looked at it from that angle.”
Kubuski returned to coach again at North Ridgeville, Oberlin and Elyria Catholic before retiring from teaching in 2011. He was able to coach his sons.
“All three of them,” he said. “They were looked upon as just another team member. Wasn’t about to show any partiality that way. The only thing I asked of them was don’t ever be the last one to cross the line. Don’t stop before you get to the line and do not call me ‘Dad.’”
The Elyria Catholic job opened after Ben, his oldest son, had enrolled. Kubuski left Oberlin.
“My senior year, I played shortstop,” Ben said. “My brother Paul was a sophomore and he pitched for us. Andrew was a freshman outfielder and probably the best of the three of us. He went on to play at Bowling Green. There were some games where all three of us were in the same dugout.”
Kubuski had a way of keeping his kids grounded. Ben hit a pair of home runs against Clearview, including a grand slam, and was interviewed by a couple of reporters.
“It was easily my best game,” said Ben, a 2007 EC grad. “I had never been interviewed before in the paper and he comes in and stands next to me and says, ‘He still has to take the garbage out when he gets home.’”
Paul said it was neat to hear all the stories about his dad.
“You don’t really realize how special it was until a couple years after,” he said. “Our whole lives he was coaching us on how to do it, why you do it, all those kinds of things. After you’re not playing anymore you think, ‘Wow, that was pretty cool.’
“What was really cool is that we all played different positions. It was cool how different all of us were.”
Andrew committed the ultimate no-no of calling “Coach” “Dad” in the dugout as a freshman.
“He gave his classic ‘huh?’” Andrew said. “I was like, uh-oh. I knew right then and there, it put me in my place. From that point on, he made it clear it was not ‘Dad’ when we were in the dugout. He did a great job of separating dad from coach.”
Andrew has followed his father’s footsteps into education and coaching. He’s an assistant baseball coach at Elyria High.
“He got into it and he likes it,” Kubuski said. “That’s good. He sees the game from a different angle.”
Kubuski’s dry humor was on display during his job as public-address announcer for Elyria West’s football games. While doing the normal updating of ball carrier, tackler and yardage, Kubuski would update fans on baseball scores, weather reports and various other subjects.
“When I look back on all this coaching — even though I did not like to lose — I always tried to find some way to get something out of it and humor was the way,” he said. “The kids knew that. We had so much fun at practice for both sports. Something goofy would happen and we’d stop and everybody would laugh. That was just me.”
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