Andy Olesky was lost.
Not so in a physical sense, but certainly in an emotional one.
We all get to that point – lost, off the grid, wandering, meandering, trying to find our way, wondering where we fit in, running in place, or even in quicksand – at least once in our lives. Most of us visit that place several times, enough so that there is a reserved parking spot with our name on it waiting when we get there.
And this was Olesky’s turn, at just 19 years old.
As he put it in a recent interview, "I had no direction in my life."
If you think you’ve heard the name, you’re right. A 2001 graduate of Manchester High School, the 6-foot-3 Olesky was a standout player on standout basketball and football teams there. Fittingly so, he was a center in both sports. You build football teams up the middle, and, to a great extent, basketball teams as well, and as such Olesky was a key ingredient in the Panthers’ success.
But as good as he was athletically, Olesky had no desire to continue his career in college. Like many of our Suburbanite area graduates, he simply went off to a local college – in his case, eight miles up the road to the University of Akron – to pursue his life’s dream.
Except that he didn’t have a dream.
Or the grades to go with it.
Or even a plan on how he might acquire both.
"I had a .7 GPA (grade-point average). I was on academic probation," he said.
Anyone who knows Olesky knows that wasn’t him. Again, the football and basketball coaches at Manchester, Jim France and Gene Schindewolf, wouldn’t have played him at center if he weren’t smart. He was a solid B student in high school.
Plus his mother, Joette Olesky, taught science and math at Manchester Middle School for 25 years. So, growing up for Olesky, there was a focus in that family, that home, on education. And on stability, too. His dad, Stanley, spent 37 years – his entire working life – at Firestone.
The problem was, quite simply, that for the first time in his life, Olesky lacked somewhere to be, something to do, every day. Playing sports had been an anchor in life, but with that not the case anymore, he had been cast adrift.
What about following his mom’s lead and going into teaching, and include with that some coaching, giving him that much-needed sports fix?
No. no really.
"Coaching was not on my mind then," he said.
But as fate would have it, that would soon change.
"My mom came home one day and said A.J. Hite (then an assistant boys basketball coach at Manchester High) had contacted her,’’ Olesky said. ‘’He said they needed a seventh-grade basketball coach at the middle school and he wanted to know if I would be interested in it."
In a word, no.
"I told her that I was too young to be a coach," Olesky said.
"But my mom was really excited."
Moms are the smartest people in most households – and the most persuasive and most loved and most respected – so they win nearly all the arguments with family members.
"The next thing you know," Olesky said, "I’m coaching."
Begrudgingly so, and probably only because of the loved he has for his mother. Whatever the case, once again – still, always – Mom was right.
"It was a life-changing experience. It really was," Olesky said.
He loved coaching. He loved being back at Manchester. He loved being back in sports.
And his parents loved it, for it got their son back on track – academically and otherwise.
"Once I started coaching, I was on the dean’s list at Akron for every semester until I graduated," said Olesky, who earned a bachelor of science degree in 2007.
And did we mention that it was in education, which, in following his mother’s career path, meant Olesky also got the professional part of his life figured out.
While Olesky attended Akron, he coached at Manchester, working his way up the ladder the following year to eighth-grade coach for three seasons and then to junior varsity coach for two years. After that, he went to Waterloo High School in Portage County as an assistant for two seasons to John Herchek, who, like Schindewolf, coached a lot of years and won a lot of games.
That experience of coaching under two men who have combined to win well over 800 games, helped him land him a big break with the head coaching job at Garrettsville Garfield High in northern Portage County in 2011, and a teaching job in the district in fifth-grade reading and social studies.
Every assistant in every sport at every level aspires to be a head coach, so at 28, Andy Olesky had taken a quantum leap forward.
But it was not a dream situation in every way.
In the three seasons prior to his arrival, the G-Men had won three games – combined.
But it wasn’t just recently that the G-Men had struggled. Rather, this type of thing had been going on a good while. In two consecutive seasons in the late 1980s, they finished 17-3. Nearly two decades before that, in 1970, Garfield made it to the district title game.
Other than that, though, there hadn’t been a lot of success in the program.
But Olesky was undaunted.
"I was waiting for the right job, and this was it," he said.
He liked the people who hired him, and those who are at the school now.
And he has given them those administrators, the players and the fans there the turnaround they wanted. His first team tripled the number of combined wins the previous three seasons, going 6-15.
"We didn’t win many games that year, but we had a foundation. There was something to build on," Olesky said.
His next team, in the 2012-13 season, increased the victories total to nine, and it was eight the following year – "We hit some speed bumps," he said – before a fall back to just two wins.
"In the long run, that two-win year was good for us," he said. "We needed that one final setback to get past in order to propel us to what we did the next two seasons."
The G-Men were 16-10 overall – and 13-9 (second place) in the Portage Trail Conference’s County Division – in 2015-16 and got to the district title game.
"That kind of set the table," Olesky said. "It played a role in this past season’s success."
The G-Men went 18-9 and won the district title for the first time in school history by defeating Leavittsburg LaBrae, which was 24-0 and finished the regular season as the Associated Press Division III poll state champions. It likely was the biggest victory in school history.
Garrettsville lost its next game, in the regional semifinals, to Cleveland Villa Angela-St. Joseph, but there’s no shame in that since the Vikings eventually won their seventh state title.
Some coaches go to a struggling small-school, build it into a big winner and then quickly depart for a larger venue. But Olesky, now 33 and an appealing candidate for some program in a need of a fix, said he’s not going anywhere.
"I’ve stepped into a great situation," he said. "I love it there."
So does one of his mentors, Herchek, who has switched roles and now serves as Olesky’s assistant.
Olesky started a youth basketball camp the first summer he was there and just 25 kids attended. By last summer’s camp, that number had soared to 85. And after the run to the regional, even more are expected this year.
"That’s the real cool part, the growth," he said.
Indeed. In the Garrettsville basketball program and also in its head coach, Andy Olesky.
Both now have direction.
And that direction is up.