A pair of Tunkhannock coaches were inducted into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame at Wilkes-Barre Sunday night.
Christine (Button) Strumski, who helped introduce softball into the Tunkhannock Little League organization back in the 1970s and Jane Helman who took the Tunkhannock Area High School girls’ track team to never seen before heights, were honored as pioneers and motivators.
Strumski shared that when she entered the scene in 1975, it was a different time for young female athletes. “Girls were kind of second-class citizens when it came to athletic competition.”
She told the story of two girls from New Jersey who only wanted to play ball, and judges had ruled that the Little League organization had no right to keep girls from participating.
“And they didn’t,” she said.
She pointed out Scott Zaner and Bob Barkley in the audience who were active with the Tunkhannock Baseball Association, and remembered telling them, “It doesn’t take much, would be easy, and you know, would be a snap” to get a girls’ program implemented.
However, she also remembered, with a laugh, “What the Hell did we get ourselves into?”
But then she said, recalling Tunkhannock’s own Little League softball team going to the World Series last summer, “When I see the women here tonight with their amazing accomplishments, it makes my heart so full.”
She spoke briefly about leading her own softball girls to a state title in 1977, and said, “You know, it really does take a village to raise a child.”
Strumski acknowledged her own two daughters in the audience, one who came from Alaska and the other from Maryland.
She said that during the state title run, her youngest was two, “and I had the most supportive wonderful people you could imagine. They were so wonderful.”
Strumski noted there were 10 or 12 women who would gladly look after the youngest if needed during a game, “and I can’t tell them Thank You, enough.”
She quipped, “I think it took my youngest a while to figure out which was her mother, but we got through it.”
A biography fashioned for her induction noted how the state title was received in Tunkhannock, with fire trucks, the streets lined with people, and a huge celebration at the ballfield.
“These 12-year-old girls were truly humbled by the support that the community had provided them upon their return from their monumental victory,” Strumski said, adding , “Tunkhannock has always been, and will always be a supportive community to whatever the local kids are in.”
Strumski remained involved with the Tunkhannock Little League Association for 27 years serving in the capacities of president - administrator - umpire - and concession stand worker.
The Christine Strumski Softball field in Tunkhannock Township, and the District 15 9-10 year-old all-star consolation softball tournament are named in her honor.
She is the widow of David Strumski, and proud parent of Courtney Marchesani and Heather Soellner, and grandparent to Bailey, Wyatt, Luca, Jacob and Mia.
Helman received the award posthumously via a family friend and one-time assistant coach, Hollie D’Agata, who spoke on Helman’s behalf.
Helman was the girls track and field coach at Tunkhannock Area High School from 1979 to 2011, and had a substantial impact on just about everyone she encountered, D’Agata said.
She recalled that one of Coach Helman’s motivational phrases during a track meet was “Do it for donuts.”
If the team won, she’d have a big box of Gable’s Bakery donuts, D’Agata recalled, with a laugh, noting the menu item was not on most coaches’ training regimen.
It must have worked though as Helman coached 43 individual District 2 AAA champions and seven District 2 AAA Relay Champions. Between 1989 and 1992 the TAHS girls’ track team won four straight District 2 titles and finished fifth in the PIAA State Meet in 1992.
It was also during this run that her girls compiled a 69-0 dual meet record and a local newspaper chimed in line with the Hellman’s Mayonnaise commercial, that ‘Helman brings out the Best.’
D’Agata said that Helman was invested in track for all ages and her own kids got their first taste of track competition in the Walter Tewksbury Developmental Track Meets held during the summers.
(Incidentally, Tewksbury, a Tunkhannock dentist, who won five medals at the 1900 Olympics in Paris, France, was also posthumously voted into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame in the 1980s.)
D’Agata said that Helman, a reading teacher, was more than a coach, she was a gifted listener, who sometimes counseled her charges on problems they might be having at home.
Helman and Strumski were among a class of 15 which was enshrined into the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame at its annual induction dinner, and continued a long line of excellence and devotion to athletics, Jim Martin, president of the John Louis Popple chapter, said.
Joining the pair from Wyoming County were Frank Majikes, PIAA District 2 chairman; Olympic field hockey star Kelsey Kolojejchick; Bob Barbieri, the first football coach in Pittston Area history; wrestling icon Brooke Yeager; Misericordia University’s all-time great runner, Chris Wadas; former three-sport standout at Crestwood High School, Laura Whalen Slane; Berwick High School athletic director and former great quarterback, Bo Orlando; and former Wyoming Area and Brown University football standout Joseph Karcutskie.
Also, Morgan Alaina Craft, of Sullivan County, a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic skeet shooting team; and legendary Wyalusing Valley High School wrestling coach, Walter Fisk; and career minor league baseball player Ed ‘Shovels’ Kobesky.
The counties of Wyoming, Bradford, Sullivan and the northern part of Columbia are included in the Luzerne County Chapter of
the Pennsylvania Sports
Hall of Fame.