AV ALUMS: Where are they now?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Mark Slezak, a 1987 Westminster College alumnus joined his co-head coach in earning the 2012 Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association's Women's Coach of the Year award after leading the Hickory High girls track team to the Class "AA" state title.

A long-time friend of Westminster's Audio Visual Department, Slezak graduated in 1987 with a double-major in Telecommunications and Elementary Education. He is a coach and teacher for the Hermitage school system and Hickory athletics, and resides in Hermitage with his wife, Connie, and three children Kaitlyn, Drew and Ellie.

"Mark has been a tremendous friend, both personally and to the Audio Visual department here at Westminster," gushed Gary Swanson, Director of Westminster College AV Services. "He is one of only 5 individuals that have earned "honorary AV alum" status over the last 22 years, is a tremendous teacher, coach, and father, and has a well-honed wit with spectacular timing. I really can't say enough about Mark. He was my best man in my wedding 9 years ago, and I still believe he is as good as they come on all levels."

Slezak was heavily involved as a Westminster undergrad, broadcasting several seasons of Titan football, basketball, and a handful of other sports while also serving as a newscaster and on-air talent for then "Hit Radio 89," the college's radio station. On top of his teaching and coaching - which has spanned boys and girls basketball, cross country and track at Hermitage - he continues to broadcast football and basketball for WLLF and WPIC in Mercer County. He was the inaugural winner of the AV Service and Support Award in 2007. Despite a hectic schedule, he was kind enough to find time to meet up with AV and answer some questions recently.

So what have you been up to since graduation?
I have been happily married to my wife Connie for nearly 18 years.  I have lived my entire life in Hermitage, PA.  I have three children Kaitlyn 14, Drew 12, Ellie 9.  I started coaching in 1984 upon graduating from Hickory High School, gradually working my way up the coaching ladder even as a student at Westminster. 

What did you find you immediately took away from Westminster College upon graduating?
I really began to learn the value of time: how to take full advantage of the time in the day to attend classes, to study, to coach, and to enjoy life as well.

Is it true that you have been the "AV Guy" for your building in the Hermitage schools?
With a Telecom degree from WC it was a natural fit to take on the role of AV guy at the Delahunty Middle School and Ionta Elementary Schools in Hermitage.  I really enjoy being able to help out my fellow teachers with any AV needs.

How does it feel to be named "Coach of the year" in Pennsylvania?
I am Co-Head Coach of the Hickory boys and girls track and field teams with Barb Dzuricsko. Barb and I share the distinction of being the Pennsylvania Track and Field Coaches Association's Women's Coach of the Year. This is truly an award that I am pleased and honored to share with Barb. She has been an amazing mentor and friend to me throughout my coaching career.  We are truly a coaching "team." We are also blessed at Hickory to have a supportive administration, great facilities, and dedicated, hardworking, topflight assistant coaches.

What would you say are major components of your coaching/teaching philosophies?
One of the things I constantly harp on is taking advantage of opportunities.  This is what makes you better: each play, each day, each game. What are you doing with your opportunities?  What are you doing to get better? I like to tell my athletes, "Somebody, somewhere, is working and their goal is to beat you! Are you ready for the challenge?"

What strikes you the most about this past track season, and the successes it has experienced?
Barb and I have coached together for 25 years and honestly this past track season was truly magical.   We knew we would be strong. We returned all of the girls who had scored to help us finish 2nd at the state meet in the previous season.  These girls were extremely dedicated and driven to succeed.  They all wanted to win, and they all put in the work to get it done. No one took anything for granted. The coaches, the athletes, everyone worked very hard and we took full advantage of our "opportunity."

What advice can you offer to current AV staff members as students in terms of their futures and careers?
I think it's really important to learn from everyone in your life. Pay attention to the successes and failures that you will see around you.  Model what works, avoid what doesn't, and when your opportunity comes along, be ready.

Can you name some of the influential people from WC that impacted you?
There were several people at Westminster who influenced me.  I was a Telecommunications major and Dr. David Barner really allowed me to get fully involved in my major from day 1 on campus.  I had the opportunity to start broadcasting sports and doing radio shifts right away. That was great for confidence. I remember a lot of great discussions with Dar Huey in Educational Psychology class.  The discussions continued throughout the years and he was the one who helped me get my schedule worked out so I could complete an Elementary Education degree which allowed me to get fully into coaching as well. Gary Swanson was also a great influence on me.  As a classmate and friend, He always was able to keep life in great perspective. He has always be able to listen without judging, but also able to guide people in the right direction. To this day I greatly appreciate that!

Is it true that you are surrounded by Westminster connections?
Paul Sanders, my former high school track coach and a current assistant at Westminster is a starter and official at a lot of our home events. He was a great runner for the Titans. Bill Dzuricsko, who played basketball and baseball at Westminster, is a sprint coach in our program, as well as a track official. Amy Carroll Zolnier, another Titan runner and AV alum ('07) has been a long time timer for us too! Tony Mastrian, another mentor of mine, coaches Hickory Cross Country and has taken many grad courses at WC. I would also mention that my wife Connie has earned her masters from WC. She is the rock that keeps our family firmly grounded!

Can you talk about the relationships you have built coaching and teaching, and the impact that they continue to have?
As a coach and teacher and lifelong member of the Hermitage community, I have come across a lot of people.  It drives my youngest daughter crazy when I whisper in her ear, "I taught that person in 6th grade", or, "I coached him/her", but honestly I love it!  Treat everyone well, respect everyone, and when you need them, you hope they will do the same for you.

Relationships and camaraderie are a core focus of the AV department, supported by its ongoing communication with AV Alumni regarding information about their lives and families, AV news, and new staff members. Look for more installments of "Where Are They Now" on the AV website and Facebook pages.

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Mark Slezak and Hornet runner Morgan Richards show off one of her 11 state medals.

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Hickory's 2012 girls team captured the class AA title for PA.

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Mark and co-head coach Barb Dzuricsko get a congratulatory ice bath!

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Mark has been a teacher and coach with Hermitage Schools for 28 years.

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The Slezak family.