New hall of famer Emminger has coached for decades
As a student at Kittanning High School in the mid-1960s, Tom Emminger earned notoriety as a sports star. Classmates named him “most athletic” in the yearbook.
His lasting legacy in the Kittanning area, however, centers not on what he did on the basketball court and baseball diamond as a young man but what he contributed as a coach in those sports during the years that followed his graduation.
Emminger, 67, enters the Armstrong County Sports Hall of Fame later this month with a resume that includes more than four decades' worth of experience on various sidelines. Hired in 2000 as Kittanning's varsity softball coach, he remains in charge of the Wildcats. But the bulk of his coaching time involved teaching younger athletes.
“I always wanted to put something back into the game once I got out of it,” said Emminger, who earned two letters in football and three letters each in baseball and basketball at Kittanning.
After graduation, Emminger joined the Army and headed to Vietnam. Upon his return in 1967, he heard from a friend about the need for an assistant boys basketball coach at St. Mary's, an elementary school in Kittanning. He jumped at the chance and later began to work with the girls team, too. Third-graders through eighth-graders alike received his tutelage.
Around the same time, he coached Little League baseball and softball, too. From those modest roles, Emminger moved up to Kittanning's most visible positions. After serving as a volunteer and then as an assistant, he succeeded John Odrechowski as the girls basketball coach in 1997. He held that position for four years.
Then came the softball varsity job in 2000.
As he moves closer to his 50th year of coaching, Emminger believes he has just a season or two left in him.
“I never thought about (stopping) until this year,” Emminger said. “I'm actually probably getting out after this year or next year. It's time to have somebody else take over.
“I'm on the move to Ohio all the time,” he added. He regularly visits his grandchildren in Boardman.
Emminger experienced enough during the past several decades to step away satisfied and without regret. He chuckled as he noted that he has witnessed Kate Costanzo, a 1998 Kittanning graduate, transform from up-and-coming player to an accomplished coach at Allegheny College.
First, in youth-level sports, he coached his son, also named Tom. Then, at the youth and high school levels, he coached his daughter, Lori, who graduated in 2000.
“All fathers that have kids playing for them are always kind of tough on them, so Johnny would get me aside and say, ‘I'll take care of her. You take care of the rest of them,' ” Emminger said. “I'd go off to another part of practice.”
Years of coaching also allowed Emminger to see the evolution of girls sports. He believes the level of seriousness applied to female athletes increased beginning the mid-1980s.
“You could see the girls getting stronger and taller and faster,” Emminger said. “Right now, these athletes are super. The girls play like men. There's nothing soft about softball, believe me, because these girls can play ball. So you have to have the mindset where you teach them like it's baseball. You put the same functions, the same fundamentals in with baseball that you do with softball.”