Denise Gorski retires after four decades as face of Boardman High School sports
By Tom Williams | firstname.lastname@example.org
In June 2013, Denise Gorski retired after 36 years of teaching physical education and adapted physical education at Boardman High School.
Her curtain call was to be one final season as head coach of the Spartans girls track and field team.
But retirement never kicked in. Boardman needed an interim athletic director and that became Gorski’s second act.
In December 2013, interim was removed from her title when Dave Smercansky retired.
Gorski credits the support of her husband, Dan, for taking on a new challenge that added to her 42-year legacy at Boardman.
“He said, ‘You should do it, you’ve always wanted to do it, you owe it to yourself to try,’” Gorski said. “Dan has been extremely supportive or I wouldn’t have been able to [become AD].
“And I said, ‘what if I like it,’” she said. “He said we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
Gorski enjoyed her new role so much that she continued on for five years. Her real retirement begins Monday when Marco Marinucci takes over as Boardman’s athletic director.
Gorski said monitoring 24 Ohio High School Athletic Association sports has been enjoyable, but it’s time for golf and travel.
“I thought teaching/coaching was a lot of hours in the day,” Gorski said. “Athletic director — it’s a lot more.
“But it’s been very rewarding — I love the job of supporting every single sport. I wanted to be at everything I could possible be at,” she said.
Gorski enjoyed when students would ask if she would be at their athletic events.
“I loved conversing with the athletes, seeing them at school, talking to them about their performances.”
Denise Roepke grew up in Cuyahoga Falls where she played volleyball, basketball and softball.
“We didn’t have track,” Gorski said of the sport where she would make her mark.
At Kent State University, she tried out for the women’s basketball team but was cut. Her roommate at KSU was Boardman’s Laura Davis and that provided her an introduction to the Mahoning Valley.
Her teaching career began at Boardman in September 1977 and she’s been involved in Boardman athletics ever since, first as an assistant coach for basketball and track (for Brenda Owen).
In 1979, she also was the varsity basketball coach for one season (her assistant was Ron Moschella) and began a seven-year stint as varsity girls golf coach.
She gave up basketball to focus on track.
“At that time, indoor [track] was becoming huge,” she said.
“I just fell in love with the sport,” said Gorski, adding that Owen, Jim Fox and Jerry Martin (boys varsity coach) “got me very interested.”
In 1981, right after she married Dan, she was named varsity head coach for track and field.
Over the next 32 seasons under her guidance, Boardman athletes and relay teams qualified for the Division I state meet 53 times and 26 earned All-Ohio honors for a top eight-or-better finish.
“Early on, you had to be in the top six,” she said.
In 1987 and 1988, Laurie Gomez was state champion in the 1600. She also won the 3200 in 1988.
In 1998, Adriane Blewitt was state runner-up in discus. Three years later, Amber Bland was high jump state champion.
Gorski’s athletes who finished third or fourth at state were Heather Nordgren, Brittany Durkin, Sarah Grabert, Jessie Moore, Monica Cuevas, Liz Linsley and Alison Brager.
“A lot of them were two- or three-sport athletes,” she said.
Their success helped fueled Gorski’s passion to improve as a coach.
“Those girls who were very talented motivated me to want to be a better coach for them,” she said. “At the same time, those kids with [fewer skills] were just as important to me to see that they excel.”
Track and field athletes compete as individuals but Gorski said her goal was to make her squads “team-oriented and that’s what I always wanted to do.”
Gomez’s success earned her and her coach an invitation to Colorado Springs, Colo., to the U.S. Olympics Training Center. Another trip came later with Blewitt to the training center at Chula Vista, Calif.
“Those [week-long] experiences really helped me learn a lot more about coaching,” Gorski said, adding that her colleagues also made her better. She cited Dave Pavlansky, who was an instructor for United States Association of Track and Field Coaches when he was the Boardman boys varsity track coach.
”He really helped me a lot. You think you know everything about the sport but ...,” she said.
During Gorski’s tenure as athletic director, Boardman left the Stark County-based Federal League after 11 seasons and joined the All-American Conference. The new football stadium opened in 2015.
“I was fortunate to start when we were coming back home,” Gorski said. “The key thing was to get the crowds back.
“And I understand why the crowds weren’t coming — the travel,” she said. “The Federal League was a great athletic league to be a part of, great competition. But it was time to come back home and get our student-base, our fan-base back to the games.”
The 2014 track season was her final one.
“People ask me, ‘Do you miss coaching?’” she said. “And I’ve said I’ve never had a chance to miss it because I was so busy for the next five years.
“Now is the time that I’ll probably [find out],” she said.
In May, Dan surprised Denise by inviting many of her former athletes for a party. Some were among the first athletes she coached. They traveled from Florida, North Carolina and New York. They also marched in the Boardman Memorial Day parade wearing Gorski Girls t-shirts.
“It was very humbling for me to see so many come,” she said. “But that’s the mutual respect we all have for each other. They’re like adopted daughters to me.”
She cites the three A’s — the arts, academics and athletics — as something she treasures about her school.
The Gorskis love golf and sightseeing trips to Ireland and Alaska are goals.
“It’s been a great place to work and live,” Gorski said. “Boardman has so much to offer — a wonderful place to live, to work, a great place to coach.
“And it’s my home.”