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Royalton-Hartland's field hockey coach planning to step down at end of season After 15 years, Jablonski grooming successor on the job

This time John Jablonski says he really means it.

When Royalton-Hartland's current field hockey season is over -- he's hanging up his coaching whistle.

He's going to spend his additional free time with his family. He's going to follow the field hockey and track careers of some of the former players he once coached, the ones who are currently student-athletes in college, before they graduate and get on with their lives.

Heck, the 54-year-old is finally going to have some my time after coaching a plethora of sports during his 29 years as an art teacher with the school district. He will continue to teach.

He was supposed to be enjoying some free time this fall, but anyone familiar with Roy-Hart athletics knows that's not the case.

He's still roaming the sidelines, even though this spring he seemed pretty firm in his decision that he's done coaching the field hockey program.

So what changed his mind?

He's repaying a debt to an old mentor and friend of his while making sure the future of the program is in good hands.

Jablonski is coaching again but he's not alone. He's the co-coach with former player Colleen Albee. Albee's father, former Roy-Hart football, girls basketball and girls track coach Bill Donovan, was a mentor to Jablonski during his early years as a coach.

Albee and junior varsity coach Jessica Bell are first-time coaches. Although both grew up playing the game, playing the game is different than coaching.

That's where Jablonski comes into the picture.

A coach has to worry about strategy and about how to get a team to work together by taking advantage of each others' strengths while not straying from the team concept when things aren't going too well.

It's something Albee and Bell really didn't have to concern themselves with during their playing days.

Jablonski is at practices and games. Instead of letting the rookies learn how to coach on the fly in a Niagara-Orleans League filled with crafty veteran skippers -- including Barker coach Jude Otto and Akron's Mary Borden -- Jablonski is trying to help them avoid some of the potholes he first encountered while coaching in a league that perennially produces a Section VI champion or finalist.

He's there to answer the new coaches' questions regarding game strategy (or counterstrategy) along with what drills to work on in practices. If a strategy doesn't work in a game, he helps them figure out why.

He's basically doing what coaches do. He's serving as a guide, a mentor -- helping the apprentice master the skills necessary to attain future success.

"It's been a great experience to have him as a coach/mentor," said Albee, who initially tried to persuade Jablonski to return by serving as junior varsity coach before he came up with the co-coach scenario. "I'm a guidance counselor [at Roy-Hart] so I know how it is to help kids make good choices, and I kind of see that in what John is doing for us, allowing us to make mistakes during the game but also having those conversations about why and what we could've done differently and those things.

"He knows the game. We can't quite find the words how he watches the game as he's coaching. When the timeout comes, he can tell every girl just by watching the entire field what they need to do or what they've done wrong or what they've done a great job on. It's almost like he's on top of the stands looking down. He has a great way with it. We're just kind of stepping back, watching him learning some of his coaching techniques that hopefully we'll be able to utilize and use for ourselves."

Albee played three seasons at Roy-Hart before graduating in 1991. She played her college field hockey at Cortland State and Oswego State.

This isn't the first time Jablonski has been persuaded to lend a helping hand to the district's sports program.

Jablonski, who has coached baseball, basketball and football for the district, initially took the field hockey job in 1994 as a favor to former Athletic Director Larry Lutz after the then-coach stepped down. Jablonski said Lutz asked him to fill in for a couple of weeks until a replacement could be found. Jablonski's only background in the sport was having a daughter who played at nearby Medina High School.

A couple of weeks turned into 15 seasons -- with this final one being tacked on for being a class act.

"John really helped us out big time," first-year Roy-Hart Athletic Director Brad Halgash said. "He was nice enough to help transition the two [coaches] into the position. . . . I can't say enough about him, how once again he stepped up to the plate and helped out the community and the kids."

Albee is already ahead of Jablonski's learning curve.

Albee earned her first career coaching triumph (the wins and losses will count toward her record, not Jablonski's) in her third game. Jablonski needed three years to earn his first field hockey win.

"She's a great person who will make a great coach," said Jablonski, who taught Albee during her high school days. "She has a strong interest in the program. I'm leaving it in good hands."

e-mail: mrodriguez@buffnews.com

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