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It’s tough for anyone to predict where their career will take them throughout their life. Sometimes you take a position that looks like a temporary stop, but leads to a long career serving a community that has become as much a part of you, as you have of it.
That’s exactly what happened with new St. Catharine College Athletic Director Tom Bystrek, who has worked in the Washington County community since taking over the Washington County High School baseball head coaching position in 1974.
“I came almost 40 years ago with the thought that it would be a starting place for me to coach a year or two of baseball and go elsewhere probably, but here I am 40 years later and I love it,” Bystrek said. “The people are great, and the whole area is just a great place to be.”
Bystrek coached the Commanders for 27 seasons (through 2001), teaching U.S. history from the same classroom along the way. Bystrek also spent time as an assistant basketball and football coach, and started the volleyball program during his last three years at the school.
The former Commander baseball coach was also the sports writer for The Springfield Sun for 27 years (1981-2008), which he said he had fun doing throughout.
“We can’t claim dozens of state championships like Trinity or even Danville and Boyle County, but in every sport throughout the 27 years I was there, we were really competitive,” Bystrek said. “I think sports is a big part of Washington County. You look back to some of the major league players who have come from here. We still claim Phil Simms as one of our own. To be able to cover sports here for 27 years really was enjoyable.”
Bystrek admitted that it was difficult to write about the team he coached at times, but said he loved what he did because the other coaches, who also stayed at WCHS for many years, were so easy to work with.
“Jimmie Reed, Lee Glasscock, Whitey Simpson and Bill Newton come to mind as guys that were there forever. They got us in there and couldn’t get rid of us,” Bystrek said with a laugh.
Bystrek did eventually leave Washington County to take a position at Bethlehem in 2001, but it was only 30 days before St. Catharine College President Bill Huston called him with an opportunity he’d long been interested in. Bystrek was named the director of communications at SCC, and it wasn’t long before he added sports information director duties.
He moved away from the communications role in 2008, taking on the assistant athletic director position in its place. Bystrek’s most recent move was in June, after SCC Athletic Director Mike Doig stepped down in the spring. While he’s still officially the interim AD for a six-month period, all indications are that Bystrek is ready to take on the role for the long-term.
“My first reaction was, ‘I don’t think I want to do that.’ For whatever reason, I was comfortable with the assistant job, and I thought I would just continue that until retirement, whenever that might happen,” Bystrek said. “After a few days, I started thinking about things I’d like to see happen in the athletic program. With that in mind I thought, why shouldn’t I do it rather than bring someone else in who’s not familiar with the coaches, the programs, our plans and all that. I’d just as soon do it as trust it to someone else.”
The new AD said he’s excited about where the athletic programs at SCC are headed, noting the progress under Doig. Track and field, cross-country, tennis, swimming and bowling were all sports added while Doig was in charge of Patriot athletics. A track was added, the soccer field was refurbished and Lourdes Hall also saw improvements.
Bystrek said he wants to continue that trend, and has his sights on adding bass fishing, archery and rifle to the list of sports St. Catharine participates in. He also said there have been discussions about adding a wrestling team, and that the president has long-term hopes to introduce football.
“A kid may not even consider college, but if they can get a lot of it paid for with a scholarship for bass fishing, then that’s great,” he said.
The AD also said that the soccer field is currently seeing improvements, as lights were erected last week to allow the Patriots to host night games, and a press box is expected to be installed within the next month. Lights at the baseball and softball fields, as well as a softball press box are also high on Bystrek’s list of immediate objectives. However, he said completing the track to support all field events is priority No. 1.
While Bystrek is looking to keep improving facilities, he’s also looking to keep increasing the success the Patriots have on the field and court. St. Catharine is just five years into being a four-year athletics program, and Bystrek sees room to improve in the Mid-South Conference’s Presidents Cup, which awards points to schools based on how they perform in each sport.
“Because we’re newcomers, we’ve been toward the bottom of the 10-team league,” Bystrek said. “We’ve been seventh or eighth, holding our own, but I hope in the years I’m here that we can build it up to be with the ones who are at the top perennially.”
When Bystrek spoke about what makes St. Catharine great, he started with the coaching staff, which he said has done an excellent job recruiting players from all over the country—and even outside of the country—including roughly 15 players from California over the past couple of years.
“At our level, you have a lot of turnover. A lot of coaches come and go,” Bystrek said. “We have had next to none. It’s a place that people want to stay around.”
St. Catharine and Springfield being a place people want to stay is something Bystrek can certainly vouch for, as he steps into what he says will be his final role in a 40-year career in Washington County.