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Alle-Kiski volleyball players following in fathers' footsteps

| Sunday, April 21, 2013, 12:21 a.m.
St. Joseph boys volleyball coach Paul Tomlinson speaks to his son Reid (far right) in a game earlier this season at West Shamokin High School.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
St. Joseph boys volleyball coach Paul Tomlinson speaks to his son Reid (far right) in a game earlier this season at West Shamokin High School.
St. Joseph boys volleyball coach Paul Tomlinson watches his son Reid return a ball during a game earlier this season at West Shamokin High School.
Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
St. Joseph boys volleyball coach Paul Tomlinson watches his son Reid return a ball during a game earlier this season at West Shamokin High School.

Most of the volleyball Reid Tomlinson witnessed his father play more than a decade ago now blurs together in his memory.

But the first time Paul Tomlinson invited Reid, then about 8 years old, down to the court in Cranberry to pass remains vivid in the son's mind.

“I thought that was the greatest thing in the world,” Reid Tomlinson said.

The connection created by volleyball might've faded between Reid and Paul Tomlinson if not for the father's efforts to create and coach multiple volleyball programs, including the boys team at St. Joseph, where Reid now is a senior.

“I'm really glad he did that … it's something that we've been able to bond over,” Reid Tomlinson said. “It means as much to him as it does to me.”

Father/coach and son/player with a shared passion for volleyball: It's a scenario that exists at several high schools around the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Even after he brought an adolescent Reid to his adult league games, Paul Tomlinson, a 1985 Penn Hills graduate who played the sport through high school, hardly expected his son to ultimately favor volleyball over his other activities.

“I figured he'd be a baseball player,” Paul Tomlinson said. “He seemed to like that the best. I didn't know if we'd ever get an opportunity for him (to play volleyball) since we live in the South Butler School District (home to Knoch High School). But it worked out.”

A partially torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder ended Reid Tomlinson's opportunity to play baseball after his freshman year. Fortunately for him, as a sophomore, St. Joseph fielded its first WPIAL-sanctioned boys volleyball team.

The core of St. Joseph boys volleyball consisted of Reid and his classmates from the start. This season, the Spartans' roster only lists seniors. While Paul Tomlinson is pleased that he created an opportunity for his son to play, he hopes future St. Joseph students also get the chance.

“I wanted to build a program for the kids and then keep it going from there,” the coach said.

As Mike J. Larko can attest, a boys volleyball program on the brink of non-existence is nothing new.

Larko provided what Plum desperately needed in 1974 — a coach. He held the position through 1992, later served as an assistant and then started a second stint in charge that ended in 2011.

A season ago, Mike W. Larko replaced his father as the man in charge of the Mustangs.

The 2007 Plum graduate, who played under his father for one season, started volleyball in seventh grade but also excelled in soccer and baseball at that age.

Like Tomlinson, the elder Larko wondered which sport would become his son's favorite.

The son settled on volleyball for practical reasons, but he became passionate.

“It was one of those things where I got burned out and wanted to try something new,” the younger Larko said. “It's just a different atmosphere. We're not viewed as a major sport, at least for boys. So it's much more of a community.”

Kinship rekindled 1972 Deer Lakes graduate Joe Guiciardi's enthusiasm for the sport and helped set a young Zach Guiciardi on the path toward volleyball.

Away from the game for two decades, Joe Guiciardi joined Rick Tatrn's staff as an assistant at Deer Lakes in 1997.

“When I walked in back in 1997, it was like I went back in time,” Joe Guiciardi said. “Those guys were just like my guys; I could relate to them.”

Players and coaches passed through the Guiciardi family's house with regularity during the years that followed. Without his father's urging, Zach Guiciardi, now a senior setter for Deer Lakes, embraced the sport well before he had the chance to begin organized volleyball in seventh grade.

“He played, so I played, and I loved it,” Zach Guiciardi said.

Zach Guiciardi is not sure how volleyball will factor into his life following graduation; his immediate plan is to attend Community College of Allegheny County, where his father teaches. But both he and his father doubt he'll part ways with volleyball for good.

“I don't know what it is about this sport,” Joe Guiciardi said, “but it gets in your blood.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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