It was more than 30 years ago when Mark Matusek first took a job coaching in youth soccer.
A young man in his early twenties gave it a shot despite not knowing anything about the sport.
“I originally turned it down because the only thing I knew about soccer was Pele,” Matusek said. “I was most interested in basketball and always wanted to coach. I thought it would eventually help me get a teaching job, so I did it.”
And the rest was history.
Two years later, Matusek was recommended by the youth soccer club he coached to start up Nanticoke Area’s program. A 1982 graduate from the high school, he accepted the position and stayed there for 29 years, along with getting a teaching job.
Last week, Matusek, 54, who is a math teacher at the school district’s Educational Complex, made it official that he would not be returning for his 30th season; it also marks the end for the longest-tenured boys soccer coach in Wyoming Valley Conference history.
But, he said, don’t say never.
“I decided to step down and retire for now,” he said. “Maybe down the road. I’m not saying I’ll never coach again. I’ll never say done forever. I always leave the door open.
“I don’t like to use the word retire. I still think about the kids that are coming back this year. It’s not like I’m burnt out. I’m not. It’s just that I thought that maybe someone newer or younger can come in and can infuse a different energy.”
Matusek, who will remain a teacher at the school, racked up 262 career wins, 28 ties and 232 losses in more than 500 games coached. What’s impressive about that number is that in the early part of his career, overtime periods were not sudden-victory as the whole period had to be concluded, which led to some losses that could have been wins.
His coaching career began with the same flow as the rest of his career would continue.
In 1989, the Trojans finished 0-15 and only had four players sign up that had previous experience.
By the time, that group were seniors, the team finished unbeaten in league play before falling to Bishop O’Reilly, 4-2 in the league championship. The team also ended up going to the District 2 title match before falling to Wyoming Valley West, 3-1.
“Those guys didn’t have the skill level, but just had the desire to win and they were tired of losing,” Matusek recalled. “From there, we had a long stretch of winning.”
That was the same process Matusek’s teams seemed to follow throughout his career.
In 2005, the Trojans finished winless in 17 matches. Just three years later, Matusek led Nanticoke to a 14-win campaign.
Perhaps his best coaching job came in 2016 when the team finished with just seven wins in the regular season, but managed to win two matches as the No. 9 seed in the District 2 Class 2A Tournament, including ousting top-seeded Blue Ridge to reach the semifinals before losing a one-goal game to Wyoming Seminary.
“He had years where he had light numbers or young kids but he was always very well prepared, and even in those years, he wasn’t getting blown out,” said Meyers coach Jack Nolan, who has been one of Matusek’s coaching rivals over the years. “Every time we played them it was always close games.
He always gave everyone fits and keeps the kids prepared and does a great job with that.”
Those years were an example of great coaching, but to Matusek, his most memorable season was in 2003.
That’s when the Trojans reached the District 2 Class 2A title game and lost 1-0 to Scranton Prep after beating unbeaten top-seeded Dallas in the semifinals. The team also qualified for the PIAA Championship tournament that season.
In the team’s state appearance that year, Matusek was handcuffed playing with just one sub against Eastern Lebanon. The Trojans were winning in the second half before eventually running out of gas and losing by one goal to the eventual state champion.
“That was the only loss I ever felt good about,” Matusek noted. “I read in the (Harrisburg) Patriot News after they won the state title that their coach said that we were the best team they played that year and it made me feel good about that loss.”
In his career, he’s made hundreds of players feel good about losses and make them more confident and prepared for life’s toughest tests. He coached two all-state players in Ed Lukowski III in 2015 and Luke Malishchak in 1999.
“I’ve had a lot of good kids over the years, a lot of good memories and it’s tough to step away. It’s not easy,” he said.
But he sure made plenty of wonderful memories along the way.