The wins, the losses and the banners that will hang in Wahconah Regional High School's new gymnasium all matter. For John Kovacs, what has always mattered more are relationships.
"I've been thinking about this for a couple of days now and it's starting to hit me more. I go back to the rivalries. When I was a player, the big games were with Monument and Pittsfield, and the coaches were Tom Kinne and Al Belanger. Our coach was Larry Moore, who had a great career at Wahconah," Kovacs said. "Fast forward to when I started coaching in 1988, guess who's coaching Monument? Tom Kinne. Guess who's coaching Pittsfield High? Al Belanger. Throw into the [mix] Fran Marinaro, I graduated the same year. He graduated from St. Joe and I graduated from Wahconah in '75. So we played against each other back then. He coached St. Joe in the '90s.
"You throw in all these people, and here I am as a former player coaching against those guys — great guys, great people and great coaches."
Kovacs, who spent 33 years as the Wahconah boys soccer coach, will not be on the sidelines when practice for the fall season begins next month. Wahconah Athletic Director Jared Shannon released a statement Thursday afternoon announcing Kovacs' retirement as a coach.
"He has coached soccer at Wahconah for more than half of the school's existence," said Shannon. "He was a great player in our program. He coached for 33 years. He won a lot of games. Quite honestly, I've known him for the latter part of his career and he is genuinely one of the best people I've ever worked with."
In 33 years of coaching, countless numbers of student-athletes cycled through Wahconah. Kovacs was starting to see second-generation players coming through. He said it was the relationships with all of his players that he'll remember fondly.
"There are so many layers of kids, that you form bonds with," Kovacs said. "That is one of the big pieces of coaching, for me anyway that has gotten better and stronger, the bonds. I can see some of these players years later and we hug each other, start talking and laughing. You know each other so well because you fought hard and you worked hard."
Kovacs, who played at Wahconah, replaced Terry Goodrich as head coach back in 1988. In those 33 years, Kovacs' soccer teams hung four Western Massachusetts and six Berkshire North championship banners on the walls in Ed Ladley Gymnasium at the old high school. Those banners will rise again in the new Ladley Gym when the new high school opens for business this fall.
Under Kovacs' watch, Wahconah was 4 for 7 in Western Massachusetts boys soccer championship games. Playing in what was Division II then, he led the Warriors to titles in 1990, 1993, 1994 and 2006.
In 2006, Wahconah was the No. 4 seed. The Warriors beat fifth-seeded Belchertown 2-1 in overtime in the quarterfinals, knocked off No. 8 Mount Greylock 1-0 in the semifinals and beat seventh-seeded Southwick 1-0 in the championship game. Wahconah's run that year came to an end when Central Massachusetts champion Leicester beat the Warriors 2-0 in the state semifinals.
Kovacs was a multi-sport athlete at Wahconah. He went to work at the high school as a guidance counselor. He was also co-athletic director with the late Boog Powell, and after Powell's passing in 2009, took the reins as AD.
"John Kovacs, and the Kovacs family name, have been synonymous with soccer and also all of athletics here at Wahconah," said Wahconah football coach Gary Campbell Jr., who also graduated from Wahconah. "If you think about John Kovacs, I think about athletic director, I think about baseball, I think about basketball — what an unbelievable basketball player. I just think he's true-blue, all-in Wahconah. Whatever you needed, John Kovacs would help you in any way he could to become successful, as a student, as an athlete and as a colleague."
Shannon said the goal is to hire someone as quickly as possible, before the practice season begins on Aug. 23. It's the process that Wahconah has long used to find coaches.
"We're going to post the job Friday," Shannon said. "Then, let that marinate for a week or so. In our school, we'll put together a committee comprised of certainly myself, our school administration and a couple of faculty or community members."