Twist of fate led Tatrn to hall of fame coaching career
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When Rick Tatrn returned from the University of Kansas and secured a physical education job at Deer Lakes in 1969, he joined the school's varsity football coaching staff as an assistant.
Tatrn, a talented tight end/linebacker at East Deer-Frazer and a scholarship player for two years at Kansas, envisioned himself as an eventual candidate for the head coach position.
He applied for the job multiple times but never was awarded it.
“Eventually, I just ran out of gas trying to chase it,” Tatrn said.
Dreams of a prolonged football life faded for the 1965 East Deer-Frazer graduate. Fortunately for Tatrn, volleyball — a sport he had never played competitively — delivered enough joy during the next several decades.
A man in charge of Deer Lakes boys volleyball since 1971, Tatrn has guided the team to two PIAA championships, four WPIAL titles and 11 section banners. His longevity and loyalty is unparalleled in the state, which partially explains why the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association inducted him into its Hall of Fame in December 2011.
Tatrn adds another distinction this spring. Because of his coaching achievements, he is a member of the Alle-Kiski Valley Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2013.
When he took over the team, Tatrn had no volleyball experience and had no plans to build a hall of fame legacy. Only after some begging from two Deer Lakes juniors — one of whom was Tatrn's cousin — did Tatrn agree to take the job.
Joe Tatrn and Joe Guiciardi approached Rick Tatrn while he was selling tickets for a girls basketball game during the 1970-71 season and asked for him to help the team, which desperately needed a coach to replace Dave Stuckley.
“I said, ‘You'd better keep looking,' ” Tatrn said. “I didn't want to bother with it. I had my desires on football and maybe a little basketball.
“Then they conned me into doing it, so I said, ‘Well, I guess I'll do it for two years.' I figured they'd graduate, and I'd move on. … Then it became a challenge, and I enjoyed what I was doing, and I was successful. I just wanted to stay with it.”
In June of 1976, Tatrn drove to Denver for a week-long international coaching clinic where he met experts from the college and national levels. Then in July, he attended the Summer Olympics in Montreal and acquired tickets to as many volleyball events — men's and women's — as possible.
“I saw as much as I could, and I took mental notes,” he said.
Tatrn, who took three players with him to Montreal for the Olympics, made a habit of taking his Lancers to top-level events around the country. He appreciated the way parents and school administrators supported his efforts to introduce players to exceptional volleyball.
In time, he surrounded himself with former players: Guiciardi joined him as an assistant in 1997; 1978 graduate Terry Gaston and 1998 graduate B.J. Reiher joined the staff a few years later.
“I have to give them a lot of credit for what they've done for me since 1997 or 2000 or whenever,” Tatrn said. “I think without B.J., for one thing, I don't know how long I'd have stuck around here.”
Tatrn doesn't count the years — including the many falls he spent as a girls volleyball coach at Deer Lakes and Pine-Richland. The wins and losses, the titles, specific figures do not matter to him.
“I've stopped putting a number on things,” Tatrn said. “It's not important. What is important to me is who's playing volleyball this year, what kids are going to come back, what kind of interest we have coming up, what kind of enthusiasm we have coming up. That, to me, is more important than getting the resume going for the next job.”
Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.
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