This is the second in a series of feature stories on the 2015 inductees into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame.
The 1979 NCAA national championship game jump-started the highly-acclaimed rivalry between Larry Bird and Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Bird and Johnson continued their rivalry all the way to the NBA ranks, with Johnson as a Los Angeles Laker and Bird as a member of the Boston Celtics.
Yet it was that championship game between Michigan State, which walked away champions that night, and Indiana State that started it all.
It also stuck in Tim Kolodziej’s mind as a means of motivation and as a teaching moment, a way to shape his game for his high school years and beyond.
Kolodziej, 51, has been using those lessons throughout his life, first as a member of the Shenango basketball team, then as a coach guiding the next generation to heights previously thought impossible.
It’s why, as a member of the 1980-81 Shenango High basketball team, Kolodziej modeled his game after the two legends as he helped the Wildcats win the Tri-County co-championship and the program earn its first WPIAL playoff bid in 14 years.
“I would try to emulate their all-around game,” Kolodziej said. “I loved to create on the offensive end, I’d rather set up a teammate than score on my own. The assists always stuck out more than the points.”
That mindset certainly aided himself and the Wildcats, as he was named a Tri-County all-star while averaging more than nine assists per game in his junior and senior years. It’s a part of why he will be inducted into the Lawrence County Historical Society Sports Hall of Fame on April 26. The social hour starts at 1:30 p.m., with dinner at 3. Tickets are available at the historical society annex from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays or online at www.lawrencehs.com.
“He was a great team-player,” former teammate Gene Matsook said of Kolodziej. “He wasn’t a guy that would force things, his assists were more important than his points. He made the best of his abilities every day. As he got older, he got better and better.”
His best statistical night, in a loss to cross-town rival Neshannock, was a 19-point, 18-rebound, 10-assist performance.
“It was interesting,” Kolodziej said. “Neshannock was coached by Jim Smiley, who was my coach in junior high. He was going to be the JV coach but went to Neshannock. It was unique going against him, but we lost that game. I’d give all of that back to win the game.”
Kolodziej took his talents to Penn State-Shenango, where he averaged 14 points and 10 assists and earned a spot on the Skyline all-conference team.
When he realized that he wouldn’t progress to the next level of competition, Kolodziej decided to give it back by joining Bill McNees’ Shenango boys basketball staff.
“At that point, I figured it’s not my role to play at the highest level,” Kolodziej said. “I wanted to stay around and I found my role was to help other people reach their highest level. I get a lot of satisfaction helping people achieve their goals. It wasn’t my role in life to play at the next level, but it’s great to help others.”
Kolodziej spent six seasons with the Wildcats before joining Matsook as an assistant coach at Freedom High, helping guide the Bulldogs to their first WPIAL playoff appearance in over a decade.
“He’s a great teacher of the game,” Matsook said. “It was nice to have him with me for awhile. When he was there, he was a great teacher of the game, he got the best out of kids. Timmy was just a tremendous all-around person and a great friend.”
He now serves as a youth basketball instructor and AAU coach at the Drill for Skill Academy under Blackhawk High coaching legend John Miller.
“I just love to study the game,” Kolodziej said. “I really never left the game. It’s a part of me, it’s who I am, it’s a platform where I can help influence others to a better way of life.”
Kolodziej transitioned his game on the court into the newsroom, serving as an editor at the New Castle News for 20 years before accepting a position with N2 Publishing as an area director earlier this year.
His biggest imprint comes in the form of crunchonline.com and ncbounce.com, websites dedicated to Lawrence County football and basketball, respectively. The websites were and still are innovations, using individualized information, photos and video to cover local sports.
Just as he did in high school, Kolodziej prefers to give the credit elsewhere.
“All I did was help to facilitate the final product,” Kolodziej said. “It was a blast to put these things together. My role was to facilitate and let the other guys run with it.”
Kolodziej lives in Beaver County with his wife, Sally, and children, Carly and David.
TOMORROW: Danny Young