Someone you should know: John “Coach K” Kaminsky
MILLERSPORT - “Coach K” hears about a basketball team with a lousy record, and he can immediately see himself coaching its struggling players. His vision doesn’t stop there, either. He can see division championships. He can see all-state players. Most importantly, Coach John Kaminsky can see changed lives.
At 73 years old, the Millersport man with 44 amazing years of coaching under his belt says he is looking to take on another basketball team.
“My plan is to coach until I’m 92,” he explains matter-of-factly. “Then, when the Lord calls me home, I’m going to be laid out in my OSU coaching shirt with a basketball under my arm. Two songs will be played: ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ and ‘The Old Rugged Cross.’ And there’ll be a sign up over-head that says, ‘Smile ... Coach K has finally made the Lord’s Hall of Fame.’”
Kaminsky makes no apologies for the three passions of his life: the Lord, his family, and basketball.
A flip through the pages of Kaminsky’s memoir - published by iUniverse in 2007 under the title “The Real Coach K” - lays out the story of extraordinary coaching stories, but doesn’t compare to hearing him animate the tales in person.
The son of a coal miner/police chief and a mother who cleaned houses, Kaminsky was born and raised in Republic, Pennsylvania. Faced with two options, coal mine or Army, he enlisted in the Army upon graduating in 1954. Kaminsky was stationed in Germany, where his years of shooting balls into make-shift hoops like bushel baskets paid off. He was made coach of his base’s basketball team.
Returning from his military years taller and stronger, Kaminsky scored a position on the Salem College men’s basketball team, where he still holds the record as leading re-bounder, set as a freshman. While there, he met his wife, Karen, and informed her on their first date he would marry her. The couple celebrated 51 years of marriage last month.
Kaminsky became “Coach K” in a series of successful coaching and teaching jobs in Oak Hill, Cambridge and Chillicothe, Ohio. He was coaching at his alma mater in Pennsylvania when he realized his wife and three kids - Becky, Jeff and Brett - were not happy. He put the word out that he wanted a coaching job in Ohio, and his friend called and told him about the Millersport varsity boys team, which had gone 0-19 the year before.
“Perfect,” Kaminsky decided, and packed his family up and arrived in Millersport in 1976.
In Millersport, Kaminsky coached seven years before accusations of running up a score in a 1983 Berne Union game led to a loss of tempers and an end to his coaching there. (“I got fired for winning, not losing, so it’s okay,” he says in hindsight). He went on to teach nine more years, and was named Coach of the Year in central Ohio that same year. Kaminsky took a job as men’s basketball coach at The Ohio State University’s Newark campus. He was there 25 years, retiring in 2007 as Athletic Director.
“We won the All Sports Award for Top Athletic Program of any regional campus in the State of Ohio my last four years there,” Kaminsky said. “In my heart, I knew I’d taken them as far as I could.”
Kaminsky took a break from basketball in 2007 to care for his wife during an illness.
“I didn’t make a million dollars, but I made a million dollars in memories,” he says in reflection.
Many of his memories are about the boys and men he coached. Some of his favorites, he said, are still his neighbors in Millersport ... Jeff Stought, long-time teacher and coach; Bob Weldon, insurance; Jim Whetstone, local physician. He’s had former players wake him up at 3 a.m. because they just needed someone to talk to.
“They’re my kids, and they know it,” he says.
They would all be familiar with Kaminsky’s famous game plan: “Rebound, run and have some fun!” They grew to expect their coach to warm up with them. He was known for bizarre incentives for wins. In 1980, he walked home from Liberty Union in 14 degrees when his team won 78- 77. He slept on the gym floor all night after his team beat Fairfield Union and walked home in the frosty morning.
When asked what has made him a good coach, Kaminsky is quick to respond: “fine young men.”
The John Kaminsky File
Name: John “Coach K” Kaminsky
Lake Area Resident Since: 1976
Claim to Fame: 44 years as coach and teacher
Advice to Players: “Rebound, run and have some fun!”
Advice to Other Coaches: “Don’t over-coach. Someone can learn my offense in half an hour. I just keep it simple and let the kids play.”