After 43 seasons and 703 wins, Cardinal Newman's Jack Kokinda retires
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
by Matt Porter
In 1969, Jack Kokinda was a restless 23-year-old looking for a job.
Sam Budnyk, a friend of Kokinda's older brother, Pete, at Hammond (Ind.) High School, was athletic director at Cardinal Newman and had an opening. Kokinda moved from Indiana to West Palm Beach.
"I was going to come down, stay one year, live on the beach and live a different existence," Kokinda said.
But Kokinda's world fell into place. He met his wife, Diane. After 43 years as a Cardinal Newman coach and teacher, he's happy to retire. The school on Wednesday announced Kokinda's decision.
"I've got a family, a wife that loves me - I think, being a coach's wife," said Kokinda, 65. "Four grandkids with another one expected in August. Maybe it's time to turn the page and do something different."
In 43 years as Newman's baseball coach, Kokinda won 703 games, more than any coach in any sport in Palm Beach County history. He leaves with a record of 703-518-6 and with 17 district titles. He also spent 36 years as an assistant football coach, including 34 under Budnyk, who retired from coaching in 2004.
Budnyk, who remembers going to Kokinda's Little League games and letting the youngster tag along afterward, hired him fresh out of Butler University.
"I was happy to get him because I knew the family," said Budnyk, now 78. "He had a great work ethic, seriousness of purpose, he was intense. He was very businesslike, even as a young guy."
Budnyk put Kokinda in charge of coaching linemen, kickers and punters. He intended for Kokinda to also coach golf, but when the baseball coach quit, Kokinda asked for that job, instead.
"I wasn't much of a golfer," Kokinda said. "I'm still not much of a golfer."
He was a quite a baseball coach. He won his first district title in 1972, won three in the '80s, five in the '90s and seven since 2000, including six in a row from 2006-11.
"He provided the stability," Budnyk said. "He worked them hard. You knew they were going to be prepared, they're well-schooled in fundamentals and they're going to do what it takes to win."
Kokinda's best year was 1993, when the Crusaders were a regional champion and state runner-up, the best finish in program history.
In the Class 2A regional final, they shocked nationally ranked Miami-Westminster Christian and future superstar Alex Rodriguez, who made a throwing error that allowed the winning run to score. Newman, which lost in the state title game, had Kokinda's son, Steve, as its starting shortstop. Steve played three seasons in the minors. His other son, Chris, played at Florida and spent five years in the minors.
In 2003, Kokinda was inducted into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Sports Hall of Fame and Palm Beach County Sports Hall of Fame.
Kokinda took a leave of absence during the 2012 season because of health problems. He said he's feeling better but wants to leave the program in younger hands.
"You reach a point in your life where you'd like to do some other things," Kokinda said. "I have no regrets. I've been blessed to do something like this for two-thirds of my life."
"His lessons transcend baseball," said Newman interim baseball coach Daniel Prieto, who played for Kokinda and graduated from Newman in 2004. "He's a man of honor, a man of principle. He tries to impart to all his players that hard work and hustle will take you far."
In 2006, Kokinda won his 600th game, becoming the seventh baseball coach in the state to reach that milestone. He gave his players a commemorative T-shirt, as he did after win No. 400 (in 1993) and 500 (1999). Newman parents presented him with a blue and gold rake, in honor of his hours spent grooming his home field.
Last April 15, Kokinda won his 700th game. The Crusaders finished the season 10-18, losing in the Class 3A regional quarterfinals to Coconut Creek-North Broward.
"I'll miss the players and the camaraderie and relationships," Kokinda said. "I've been very blessed. I've been surrounded, obviously, by good players, a good supporting cast and coaches. You don't do it alone. It's always been that way."