This is part of a series highlighting this year’s class of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame. The 13-member class will be inducted Nov. 7. Tickets are available at GBSHOF.com.
Barb Wachowiak knew she wanted a career in education and in sports after she finished a successful field hockey career at Ithaca College. She coached college field hockey, but coaching didn't have the same joy she found from playing field hockey.
Wachowiak tried her hand as an athletic trainer, but she didn’t find the right fit there, either. She thought about becoming a math teacher, but she wasn’t algebraically or scientifically inclined.
But Wachowiak knew she was good at sports. When she began teaching and coaching at the high school level, she found her passion. And she continued to stay involved in field hockey as an official.
Wachowiak is one of 13 inductees into the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame this year. The Hamburg resident was an All-American field hockey player at Ithaca College, where she helped the Bombers win the 1982 national championship. She also played softball, and she is enshrined in the Ithaca College Hall of Fame.
After she graduated from Ithaca in 1985, she has remained involved in field hockey. In 2016, she helped the United States' over-45 women’s national masters team win the bronze medal in the FIH Masters World Cup in Canberra, Australia. Two years later, she played for the over-55 national team in the World Cup Masters in Barcelona, Spain.
She still officiates high school, college and international levels of field hockey. She officiated the NCAA Division III Final Four from 1987 to 2014 and again in 2017. She also served on the NCAA's selection committee for officials for the Division I, II and III field hockey tournaments, and is a USA Field Hockey evaluator.
Yet her life became about teaching. In June, Wachowiak retired after more than 30 years of teaching, most recently as a physical education teacher at Hutchinson Central Technical High School.
“I teach for a living, so I relate my sporting experiences like being on teams or playing as individuals, to others,” Wachowiak said. “It’s really helped me be a better teacher, a better coach.”
She became a teacher at a time when Title IX, a 1972 federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity, was 15 years old, but still in its formative years in some school systems.
One of Wachowiak’s first memories of advocating for equity for women’s sports came during her first teaching job.
She went through the Hamburg High physical education equipment storage rooms in search of uniforms for the girls athletic teams and found frayed, outdated softball uniforms and numbers peeling off basketball jerseys. Then, she saw all the new equipment that was ready for the football team, and decided she needed to do something about it.
“When I first started (teaching), I was pretty headstrong because I wanted equity,” Wachowiak said. “I went to the athletic director and said, ‘This is not fair.’ I couldn’t tolerate it. I could not work in an environment like that.”
She became a staunch supporter of the girls that she taught and coached to receive the same opportunities as the boys.
She created learning environments for her students, whether she was teaching physical education or coaching; she coached basketball, softball and track at Hamburg, and coached bowling and tennis at Hutch-Tech. Wachowiak continued to campaign for the same standards for the girls whom she coached, and she encouraged the students whom she taught to embrace sports, not just as a competitive pursuit but as a lifetime pursuit.
In coaching and in teaching, she advocated for her students, sharing her love of teaching and of organized athletics with all students.
“Working in the city, we have a lot of diverse kids, and sports might be last on their list of priorities,” Wachowiak said. “But to give them the opportunity to play tennis, or to learn how to bowl, because they’re learning a sport, it does everybody good and it does my heart good to see these kids and these young women excel and have fun and learn and form a community. All that I wanted to instill in them, that’s what they’re getting, and that was my mission.”