For Joe Maize, timing is everything.
And now seemed the perfect moment for the longtime Peters Township High School baseball coach to retire.
After 35 years as head coach and 422 victories, Maize submitted his retirement letter. During its June 25th regular meeting, the school board approved the request.
“The timing for me to step down is the right time,” Maize said. It’s perfect, 35 years is plenty. I have had fun. It’s been an absolute blast.”
Maize decided to go out on a high note because he said he had the most fun in his career coaching this year’s team.
This year’s team featured eight seniors: Dom Campagna, Joe Ehland, Dax Ploskina, Jackson McCloskey, Joe Pisarcik, Sam Quinn, Tom Colcombe and Mark Edeburn. The Indians posted a 13-7 overall record that featured a playoff appearance. They were section runners-up with a 9-3 record. And, Maize was voted Coach of the Year by his peers.
Maize noted that last detail, although an honor, had nothing to do with why his final season was spectacular.
“When I started working with our seniors I realized that I was working with a very special group of young men. The past summer I went to a game at The Miracle Field in USC and I saw them coaching, cheering and supporting the special needs kids who were enjoying the game of baseball. Throughout the rest of the school year these seniors were great leaders. They made all of our practices and games fun.”
For Maize, fun also includes spending time with his grandchildren. While on vacation at the family cabin in the Finger Lakes region of New York, Maize said he contemplated his decision talking to nobody except his wife, Kim, and sons, Ryan and Aaron. When he overheard a conversation between his grandson and wife, Maize knew he had made the right decision.
“Bryce told Kim, ‘I am glad pap is not going to be coaching the high school team any longer because now I have my own personal coach to help me get better.’ That put everything in perspective for me,” Maize said.
Maize always had the proper perspective, which is on display with the importance he places on family, whether his own or clan of coaches and players. The other involved timing and taking advantage of opportunities to benefit those he loved.
In 1978, Peters Township School District hired Maize to teach physical education and health at its middle school. Maize embarked on his coaching career, too. He served six seasons as the varsity softball coach before becoming the baseball head coach in 1985.
The following spring, Maize moved into the high school athletic office. While assisting athletic director Jerry DeBolt, he continued to teach three classes as well as driver’s education. On March 25, 1986, however, DeBolt died of a massive heart attack. So two weeks after marrying his high school sweetheart, Maize filled DeBolt’s position. For 20 years, he served a dual role as baseball coach and athletic director.
“It was a stressful spring,” Maize noted.
Time did not alleviate Maize’s stress.
While he thrived as a husband and a head coach, life became complicated when Maize was asked to take full reign as an administrator of the athletic department. Maize wanted to keep coaching, as he was almost at the top of his game, having finished runner-up in the state for the second year in a row.
On June 20, 2005, the Monday after he had just hung two PIAA silver medals around the necks of his sons after a loss to Lampeter-Strasburg, 8-7, at Blair County Ballpark in Altoona, he met with the school’s superintendent to discuss his job options, which did not include continuance of his coaching duties. Maize ended the interview with a handshake and he tendered his letter of resignation as AD.
“I never regretted it,” Maize said of the decision. “To me, putting those medals on my sons was the highlight.
“As a dad that is special. Why would I want to give up the greatest high school experience of my life as a dad and as a coach,” Maize asked.
Maize now gets to experience life through his son’s lives as parents. A Penn State graduate, Aaron, 30, works for Dick’s Sporting Goods. Ryan, 32, is a chiropractor. Aaron played third base for his father while Ryan, who is a member of the school’s Century Club with more than 100 wrestling wins, starred in the outfield.
Maize now enjoys summer nights relaxing outside instead of remaining hyped up making head coaching decisions. He noted the “unbelievable” sunrises over a calm Cayuga Lake, day’s busy itinerary of kayaking, hiking and paddle boarding ending with a campfire.
“While sitting on the dock in the early morning and watching the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, I have had time to reflect and think about all the great experiences that I have had while working in high school athletics,” he said.
The good times
As a baseball head coach, Maize accumulated a 422-241 record and .637 winning percentage. He led the Indians to eight section titles, 17 WPIAL and five PIAA playoff appearances with two district championships in 2007 and 2008 and two state runner-up titles in 2004 and 2005. He has coached more than 100 players that that went on to play in college. Eight signed Major League Baseball contracts and three – Chris Peters, Jordan Jankowski and Brian Simmons – played in the big leagues with the Pirates, Astros and White Sox, respectively.
Maize notes he did not do it alone and acknowledges his outstanding coaching staff for his success.
Rudy Pokorny and Jack Kerekes have been with the program for more than a quarter of a century. Andy Manion has served 15 years, and Jake Orend, three seasons. Jim Rider, a former head coach at Bethel Park, and Mike Dilucia, a former head coach at Baldwin and Canon-McMillan, have served as volunteers with the program.
“It was outstanding players and a committed, professional coaching staff that allowed us to enjoy success through the years,” Maize said. “I am proud of what we have accomplished as a coaching staff.
”These men love the game of baseball, enjoy teaching the game and working with our high school student-athletes. I believe our coaching staff has earned the respect of the other baseball coaches throughout the WPIAL. I believe our coaching staff is one that our school district can be proud of.”
Current AD, Brian Geyer said the school district plans to honor Maize during the 2019-2020 school year.
“The Peters Township School District is indebted to the service of Coach Joe Maize as an educator, coach and athletic administrator over the past 40-plus years,” Geyer said.
“We thank Coach Maize for the very positive impact he has had on the students of our school district. As a baseball coach over the past 35 seasons, (Maize’s) teams not only had numerous championships but (his) players respected the game and represented the community well.”
The golden rule
Respect is the golden rule by which Maize abides.
During his first few years of coaching he had a list of rules for his players, which he reviewed with them and their parents and discussed the consequences. Maize eventually edited the list to two guidelines.
“Respect and don’t do anything that would embarrass themselves, their parents, their school or our baseball program,” he said. “I believe those two simple things cover everything. We talked about respecting the game, the uniform and ball cap that they were wearing, their teammates, the opposing players and the umpires. Sportsmanship was a must in our program. Treat others the same as you want them to treat you.”
Maize learned the golden rule from his parents who also led him to embark on his love affair with baseball. As a youth in the 1960s, his father took him to Pirates games at Forbes Field.
Maize grew up playing baseball and basketball at Waynesburg High School, where his father taught and his mother was employed as a nurse. He lettered two years as an outfielder, setting defensive records and earning golden gloves while pursuing a degree and his teaching certification from Slippery Rock University.
“Baseball was always important to me, but I had a feeling I would stay in the field of education because both my parents were educators,” said the son of Jim and Mid Maize.
“My father and mother have been my role models. They taught me to treat other people the same way that you would want them to treat you. I have lived by that and I try to emphasize that to our baseball players that I have coached.”
Maize continued to gravitate toward educators who enhanced his career.
Ironically, before he and Jerry Malarkey, who also earned his 400th career victory at Upper St. Clair this spring, became friendly rivals, Maize tapped Malarkey’s father, Pat, for guidance when he was athletic director at South Fayette. Maize also relied upon advice from Manny Pihakis, who served as AD at Canon-McMillan.
“Those were special guys and they gave me all their time when I had a question,” Maize said. “That meant a lot to me.”
It would mean much to Maize if the Peters Township baseball program is considered equal to some of the great sports programs in the region.
Maize said he has great respect for the football programs under former Washington High School coach Guy Montecalvo and Jim Render at Upper St. Clair. He has also gained insight from the basketball programs of Chartiers Valley’s Tim McConnell, Wash High’s Ron Faust and Canon-McMillan’s Rick Bell — in addition to Chris Mary’s Big Macs’ wrestling teams.
Although rivals, Malarkey’s USC baseball teams have provided plenty of inspiration as well, Maize said.
“What those coaches have done is amazing and I hope when people think about Peters Township baseball they compare us to those athletic programs in the WPIAL that are well respected and who have been successful on a continuous basis,” he said.
Maize has reached the pinnacle of his career and made his own mark on the number of players and people he has encountered. None of them call him “Joe.” They call him “Coach Maize” or just “Coach.”
“That’s the greatest satisfaction I receive when I run into one of my former players who has returned to live in the township,” he said.
Maize added how some of them introduce their sons to him and say how they hope he can play for me when he gets older.”
Alas, that is no longer a reality, but Maize said he has no regrets. He said he feels the time is right to retire from a career that has allowed him to be one of the luckiest men on the planet.
“Baseball is a great game and it teaches so many different things,” said Maize. “The game has taught me to cherish the relationships and friendships that I have developed with my staff, opposing coaches, media members and most importantly, the players. Throughout my career, I have been blessed with quality kids. To be involved in high school athletics for as long as I have been and to be able to go to work every day and have fun. I couldn’t have asked for a better career.”