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Longtime Wahconah Coach John Kovacs Hangs Up His Whistle
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:08AM / Friday, July 30, 2021
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Longtime Wahconah Regional soccer coach John Kovacs speaks to his team in this file photo. The 1975 Wahconah gradudate started coaching at his alma mater in 1988.

DALTON, Mass. — For more than three decades, John Kovacs has been doing right by the Wahconah boys soccer program.
 
That includes his decision this summer to step down as the varsity head coach.
 
"For me, it was timing," Kovacs said on Thursday. "The passion is still there, but the energy … I'm not able to give what the kids need. I said to myself, 'The program is a great program. It needs new blood and new energy.'"
 
"I'm no longer a good fit, and I'm OK with that. I've been there so long, and it's wonderful. It just needs new blood."
 
"Wonderful" could be an understatement, if the measuring stick is success on the pitch.
 
Kovacs' teams won six Berkshire North titles and made seven appearances in the Western Massachusetts title game, winning four sectional crowns, in 1990, ‘93, ‘94 and 2006.
 
"I've known John for 40 years as a student, fellow coach, colleague, and administrator and during that entire time, he always remained true to himself and true to our school," Wahconah Principal Aaron Robb said. "He's a remarkable person and his presence on our sideline will be sorely missed."
 
A 1975 Wahconah graduate, Kovacs was a local sports legend before he picked up a whistle. He particularly made a mark in basketball and soccer with a high school career that earned him induction with the inaugural class of the Dalton CRA Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019.
 
He returned to his alma mater as a guidance counselor and took over the boys soccer program in 1988. After retiring as a guidance counsellor, Kovacs continued in the school community as a substitute teacher and, of course, a varsity coach.
 
During his time at the school, he also served as co-athletic director with another Wahconah legend, Robert "Boog" Powell, and filled that role on his own after Powell died in 2009.
 
Current Wahconah Athletic Director Jared Shannon announced Kovacs' retirement from coaching in a news release.
 
"In my 19 years in [the Central Berkshire Regional School District], coach Kovacs is truly one of the very best people I have worked with," Shannon said. "His deep passion for working with kids, making a positive impact and love of his job is admired and respected by those who worked with or played for him. He is a coaching legend at Wahconah and we appreciate all of the great things he has done."
 
Kovacs said Thursday that he appreciates the relationships he has built through soccer, whether it be with former players like his longtime friends Jimbo and Matt White or with former adversaries.
 
"I go back to when I was a player, and when I played at Wahconah, the biggest rivalry games were Monument and Pittsfield," Kovacs said. "They were awesome. Great battles. The coaches I played against were Al Belanger [Pittsfield] and Tom Kinne [Monument Mountain].
 
"Later on, fast forward to when I started coaching at Wahconah in '88, Tom Kinne was still coaching and Al Belanger was still coaching. These are great guys who are great people and great coaches, and here I am battling them now. That rivalry got carried over in a great way."
 
Kovacs also looks back fondly on the rivalry that formed with Francis Marinaro, who graduated from the former St. Joseph in Pittsfield in 1975, the same year Kovacs graduated from Wahconah. After "banging against" each other as players, each ended up coaching at his alma mater.
 
"All through the '90s, those great guys were still coaching, and I joined their ranks and Marinaro did, too," Kovacs said. "Great rivalries, great people. And the thing about Monument was they were in the same division as us, so a lot of times we battled a third time in Western Mass."
 
Kovacs said he had been thinking about leaving coaching for the last couple of years, but the added stress of coaching in the "Fall 2" season caused by the pandemic may have played into the timing of his final decision.
 
"I think everything about high school sports and high school life was changed and challenged," he said. "Kids were back in school, then bounced back home, then back in school. You can't play sports, then you can play sports. But, by the way, you have to wear a mask. It just creates a lot of tension, and it's just not the same.
 
"Then you're always waiting for the COVID bomb to hit. And it hit us. One of our players got it. Not his fault. It happens. And we had to quarantine for 11 days. And at the end of the season, we played four or five games in six days. It was crazy."
 
Of course, the only thing crazier would have been not playing.
 
"The good thing was everyone was all about having the kids play, and I agreed with that," Kovacs said. "It was draining for all of us, and, for me, it was especially draining."
 
He said he had positive conversations with the Wahconah players over the last couple of days, and they've been supportive of him in his decision.
 
"I have such a good relationship with them outside of coaching, so it was easy to mingle with them and talk," Kovacs said. "It went better than I thought it would. My emotions were under control. But it's something you love to do, and when you stop, you don't know how and when it's going to hit you."
 
But when it does, Kovacs will know he made the right call.
 
"I always told myself I wanted to go out at the right time, and I wanted to go out the right way," he said. "I didn't want to be dragged off. I didn't want anyone saying, 'Hey, Kovacs, it's about time.'
 
"Timing is an important thing in life, and this is the right time."
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