Stanley Waleski is a common household name in Avoca and throughout Greater Pittston.
A member of the Avoca Jolly Boys, director of the Avoca Basketball League, director and coordinator of the popular Stan Waleski Summer Basketball Camp, and known as a principal, teacher and coach in the Pittston Area School District, it seems like he’s done everything.
“It’s basically all the same because whether you’re teaching, coaching, or you’re the principal, it was working with people. I talk about being the educational leader, so when I was the principal I was the educational leader and I would always make the comparison with my teachers and kids to coaching. I would tell them that there were 800 players on a team instead of 15 and we had 80 assistants,” Waleski explained. “I used coaching analogies a lot with them and whether it was the kids, the parents, or it was the faculty and staff, I looked at it all the same.”
As March Madness has taken over at the start of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Waleski could be considered Greater Pittston’s go-to guy when it comes to all things basketball. His life seems to revolve around basketball. He started to play 51 years ago when he was in sixth grade, and he developed a passion for it. He’s coached multiple teams and won titles and now he runs basketball camps and clinics.
“I just enjoyed it very, very much. Whether I was playing, coaching, or teaching, I found out that I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it, so I was able to build on my strengths and enjoyed it,” he said.
When Waleski became principal of the Pittston Area Intermediate Center he thought his coaching days were over, but at the same time, at the community center in Avoca, then-Mayor James Haddock and Avoca Council wanted to expand their recreation program.
To keep his interest in coaching, he and Coach Charles LoBrutto started the Waleski camp in the summer to provide coaching to players locally at the Oblates and the YMCA. During the time the camp was starting, Haddock also wanted to expand the hours at the Avoca Community Center and Waleski volunteered to do a clinic on Saturday mornings. Expecting just a few kids to show up to the camp, he was pleasantly surprised.
“There were 40 some kids in the clinic and we decided we wanted them to play. So we put numbers on the back of the Joyce Insurance shirts, and the Doran’s Builders shirts, the O’Malley Funeral Home shirts, and numbers on the back of the camp shirts and we played them,” he recalled.
This “little” clinic he was running ended up turning into something much bigger. The Avoca Basketball League now has 450 kids and 75 coaches that participate each year. Waleski said he never thought it would grow like it did.
“I never thought it would be this big and it was interesting because each year, as our kids got older, the younger kids wanted to play, and we had to subdivide the league. And as we subdivided the divisions in the beginning we didn’t have a lot of girls, and we had our younger divisions playing co-ed. Now we have eight divisions, four male and four female.”
Waleski has worked with hundreds of kids, and each one has a special place in his heart. He said the best reward when working with the kids is to see them grow and mature as players and as people. Some players he coached earlier in his career, whether it be the players from Pittston Area or the Avoca League, are coaches for teams now.
“We had a real nice experience this past August because one
of the former players, Tom Brady, who’s a lawyer in San Diego, was just inducted into the Luzerne County Hall of Fame and he came in and all of sudden there’s 18 players at breakfast at Agolino’s,” Waleski said
Waleski has coached multiple camps and teams throughout his career, but his favorite camp is his own because of the objectives that they put forward: to provide quality coaching and play at a reasonable price so that people can come and play and build on their strengths.
The many teams that he has coached all had very different backgrounds and characteristics, but all still remain very close to him. He still knows and directs some of the kids that he coached throughout his career in the Avoca Basketball League and at Pittston Area.
He said he had the “work hard ethic” needed for coaching and thought that he would be coaching for a long time, but then he had to go back to school after 16 years of working and coaching to get his degree in elementary education. He then ended up getting certified in administration and was principal of the Pittston Area Intermediate Center for 14 years.
All throughout his career, three values were very prominent to him — respect, community service and leadership. He said these were embedded in him very early by the Jolly Boys.
The programs Waleski runs incorporate many of the values and lessons he learned from his former coach and mentor, the late Dr. Terry “Doc” McMahon, as well as the importance of community service and leadership that Anthony “Cooper” Blasckiewicz emphasized to him at an early age and throughout his career. Ray “Chick” McAndrew and the late Joe Joyce also were very positive mentors and role models to Waleski. All of these men stressed the Jolly Boy values of respect, leadership and community service, Waleski said.
“A Jolly Boy is someone who is a community service-minded person with ties to Avoca,” Waleski said of the organization. “It’s been 51 years and we’re still going strong. Those bonds go deep. They go very deep.”
With March Madness in full swing, it is fitting to get Walski’s take on the NCAA tournament.
“I think there are about 15 teams that could win it. I think it’s a dark horse (that will win) this year. I think it’s somebody like UCLA, but I think it really is a dark horse.”
Waleski said he admires Duke’s coach Mike Krzyzewski.
“I think he’s a great teacher. I think he’s a teacher, and I think that’s his strength.”