Longtime Damascus High School girls' basketball coach Steve Pisarski had no plans to coach high school basketball when he graduated from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1988, and certainly not girls, for that matter. Rather he, like so many other people in this world, had grand hopes of making excessive amounts of money.
“When I was 22, 23-years old, my goal was to become rich, so I became a stockbroker,” Pisarski said. “I worked at Merrill Lynch, I really couldn't have asked for a better [opportunity]. But the idea of making all that money, and I could have if I'd stayed, didn't override the fact that I couldn't stand doing it.”
Then one day, as he begrudgingly put on his perfectly pressed suit and tie, a thought crept in from the back of Pisarski's mind: Deep down, he'd always wanted to coach basketball and be a teacher. So, back to the University of Maryland he went in 1991 to earn his teaching degree and embark on an entirely new career path.
The opportunity to teach and convey his passion for the sport that played such an important role in his own upbringing, the relationships he's built and maintained and the long-lasting impact he's had on his players' lives in and out of basketball, have filled a void that a bigger paycheck couldn't, he said.
On Jan. 10, before Damasucs's 54-31 victory against Gaithersburg, more than 12 of his former players came back from all over — some with children of their own — for a surprise pre-game ceremony to honor Pisarski for reaching the 350th win mark during a 22-point win against Montgomery 3A/2A Division foe Poolesville four days earlier, something he said he no idea was coming. The showing, which Pisarski said made the milestone even more special, was indicative of just how important a role he continues to play in many of his current and former players' lives, said Lindsey Zegowitz, the current Walter Johnson coach and former player and assistant to Pisarski at Damascus.
“He cares about his team, he cares about the people who play for him,” Zegowitz said. “When I got a varsity job, I went and called him every day with questions and he was so helpful. Even when I wasn't working with him he wanted to help out a former player.”
Pisarski's career win-loss record at Damascus as of Monday was 352-118 — he coached two years of varsity girls' basketball at his alma mater Springbrook from 1994-96. The Swarmin' Hornets have not dropped below 17 wins in a single season in more than 15 years. Four of his players have gone on to play Division I ball and a plethora more to Divisions II and III.
“It was a neat thing but I'm getting old, so I guess it's not that big of a deal, but you talk about 350 wins and that's really just a compliment to the many, many talented players who have come through [Damascus],” said Pisarski, who thanked his wife and three children for their support in letting him to do what he loves.
True, the players are the ones who have to execute the game plan — Pisarski said his main role is to put them in a position to be successful — but the best teams benefit from a symbiotic relationship between the coach and his team and that is exactly what Pisarski and the Swarmin' Hornets share. He said he pushes his players hard because he truly believes in them and they want to work for him, said senior guard Jenna Kaufman, whose three older sisters played for Pisarski — Julie and Jessie returned to honor their old coach. Guard Lauren Green added that Pisarski has a knack for communicating with his players and is always open to their thoughts and opinions.
“If someone else has an idea I think is good ... it's dumb if you're not willing to listen to your players,” Pisarski said.
Pisarski grew up in an apartment complex, playing basketball after school and in the summer is what kids there did, he said. A point guard, he went to college at Western Maryland (now McDaniel) to play basketball but transferred back to the University of Maryland after a year for financial reasons. He spent three years as an assistant coach with the McDaniel men's team before his stint at Springbrook, an admittedly tough adjustment but the start of something pretty amazing.
“I went back to what I always said I would do when I was a kid,” Pisarski said. “I started playing basketball when I was 4 [years old] and I never stopped, so it makes sense that I'm still doing it. That's why I probably never should have decided to be a stock broker. I'm far from rich but I have a much better quality of life every day. Sometimes it's OK not to be rich.”