It wasn’t a particularly good day for Mike Tkach.
After a difficult season, he was trying to decide whether he should try to come back for a 14th season as Milford High’s head football coach.
“It was a rough time for me there,” Tkach admitted.
And then the phone rang on that December evening. It was Middletown’s Mark Delpercio calling to see if Tkach was interested in being a head coach in the Blue-Gold All-Star Football Game.
“I said, ‘Mark, I’m actually stepping down tomorrow,’” Tkach said with a laugh. “I really believe in my heart that things happen for reasons. It was just unbelievable that the timing was the way it was.”
Even though he wasn’t going to officially be a high school coach anymore, Tkach gladly signed on to be the Gold head coach for the 60th annual Blue-Gold game.
This weekend the Blue and Gold squads opened camp for the game, which will be played on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Delaware Stadium in Newark.
It will be the seventh time that Tkach has coached in the contest and the second time he’s been the Gold head coach. As many times as he’s been involved, Tkach said he always looks forward to the experience.
“It’s kind of like the mob,” Tkach quipped. “Once you get in with this family, you aren’t getting out. I’ll always be involved (in the Blue-Gold game), one way or the other.”
Clearly this week will be a unique experience for Tkach, who coached Milford to the Division II state title in 2008. Not only might it be his last time on the sidelines as a head football coach but it will be the last time he coaches his son, Michael, who is Milford’s player representative in the game.
The elder Tkach said it’s been rewarding watching his son interact with his special-needs buddy, Justin Haggerty. The Hand-in-Hand program, which pairs special-needs children with game participants, is at the heart of the Blue-Gold game.
The contest benefits the Delaware Foundation Reaching Citizens with intellectual disABILITIES.
Tkach said he asked Mike the other day what he thought of spending time with Haggerty, a middle-school student who’s been in the Hand-in-Hand program before.
“He goes, ‘Dad, this is the greatest thing,’” said Tkach. “He goes, ‘I was scared because I wasn’t sure. I’d never dealt with a child like this. I didn’t know what to expect.’
“But he goes, ‘He (Haggerty) is awesome. I’ve learned so much from him that it’s affected me.’
“I hope,” said Tkach, “that they maintain a friendship for the rest of their lives.”
Tkach, who is still Milford’s athletic director, hasn’t closed the door on coaching football again somewhere in the future. But he said, whatever happens, nothing will top the emotion he feels just before the start of every Blue-Gold game.
That’s the moment when the buddies run out on the field to see their players just before kickoff.
“It’s hard to keep a dry eye,” said Tkach.
“I’ve always said this — I’ll probably never be in a position to be a financial donator. But I love working with kids and I love this organization (DFRC). It allows me to give back to a cause and also I get to do what I love to do, and that’s coach football.”
Fitzgerald on NFHS board
Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald, the Caesar Rodney School District superintendent, has always loved sports.
A former high school athlete himself, he’s been a coach, an athletic director and an official in his career.
So Fitzgerald is excited to have been named to the board of directors of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
“I’m thrilled,” he said. “It’s kind of like going full circle.”
Fitzgerald will serve a four-year term on the board, beginning in July. He’s believed to be only the third person from Delaware to serve on the NFHS board, joining current Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association executive director Kevin Charles and one of his predecessors, Dale Farmer.
All three men are from Kent County.
Fitzgerald isn’t sure what athletic issues he’ll end up dealing with. But he does want to see school-based sports remain a big part of the youth sports world overall.
“Certainly there are different issues that we deal with in Delaware,” said Fitzgerald. “I think it’s going to be fascinating what different issues other states are faced with and how they deal with the challenges. It’s a student-athlete organization and you want to maintain the student aspect of it.
“So many people, when they partcipate in sports these days, there’s so much of an investment that takes place that people are looking for a payoff at the end. Really, that’s not what high school athletics are about. It’s about creating a well-rounded student.”
Fitzgerald has a three-year-old grandson. In some ways, he’s joining the board to help make the high sports world a better place for when the youngster grows up.
“I’d like some of the rules or decisions to have a positive impact on his ability to participate when he’s a high school student,” said Fitzgerald. “That would be the neatest thing.”
No mercy (rule)
Until Polytech High stunned Caravel, 20-0, in the DIAA softball state finals a few weeks ago, not many people realized that the mercy rule isn’t used in the finals.
It’s the only high school softball game all season where the contest isn’t stopped if one team has a 10-run lead after five innings.
The state tournament committee did add the mercy rule for semifinal games a few years back but has opted not to use it for championship games.
Quite frankly, until this year’s game, there was no reason to think it would ever be an issue. Softball state finals are traditionally tightly-contested, low-scoring games.
Polytech coach Jenn Bradshaw felt like there wasn’t much she could do after the game unraveled.
“The first inning, going up 8-0, it still didn’t feel safe,” she said. “I’ve seen even larger deficits be overcome. There was a couple years ago, I think we went up like eight or nine against Delmar and then ended up having to battle back in the seventh to win by one run.
“This time of year, you don’t feel like any lead is safe. Then, once you get to a point later in the game and they were still hitting the ball, you really can’t tell them not to hit.”
Odds & ends
•Dover pro tennis player Madison Brengle posted her highest ranking on the WTA circuit last month when she reached No. 35 in the world. The 25-year-old is currently ranked No. 38.
•Delaware South opens play in the Carpenter Cup baseball tournament against Delaware County (Pa.) on Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Philadelphia’s Richie Ashburn Field. Lake Forest’s Corey Wyatt is the manager.
•Salesianum won the most state championships with six in the 2014-15 school year while Padua was second with four crowns.
All told, private schools won 16 state titles in the just-concluded school year, traditional public schools captured nine while charter/vo-tech schools took four.