New Faces at the Helm
Michael Cestone has loved golf all his life — so much so that he decided to dedicate himself to the sport.
A few years later, Cestone finds himself with another job, taking over for Mike Williams as head coach of the Abington Heights golf program.
“I want to make sure it’s fun for the kids,” Cestone said. “I hope they’re having a good time.”
Cestone is one of three new head coaches in charge of a fall sports program at Abington Heights. Comets graduate Mike Ludka takes over for Rob Ahrens in cross country, while Roger Jacobs has the reins of the girls soccer team, replacing E.T. Hunter.
While Ludka and Jacobs have coached at the high school level before, this season marks the first time Cestone has been a head coach; he has been a teacher of golf for the past five years.
“I have a golf academy, with simulators, and it’s turned into a full-time job,” Cestone said. “I had spent 30 years in another profession, but got certified [to teach golf] in 2010.”
He has had enough success in his venture that a friend got the wheels in motion for Cestone to seek the opening at Abington Heights.
“A friend of mine told me he heard about the position and told me I should send a resume`,” Cestone said. “Abington Heights called me in for an interview, then I had a second interview with the [school] board and then I had a third interview.”
Care to guess where Cestone was when he was told he had gotten the job?
“I was at a golf course. I was at an AJGA (American Junior Golf Association) tournament near Buffalo,” he said.
Although it is only his first year in charge, he faced something that many head coaches never have to worry about — coaching against his sons. Michael and Frank Cestone are sophomores at the Comets’ biggest rival, Scranton Prep.
The bottom line for coach Cestone is that his willingness to follow his heart has been the right decision for him. His desire to be in the golf world has opened new doors for him.
“It’s what I do. I’ve committed to golf,” Cestone said. “It’s my passion. I should have done it right after college. I know golf, and it’s great to be with these kids.”
Although Jacobs hasn’t been a high school coach for some time, he was just as eager to take over the Lady Comets, who have been an elite team for a long time. He has many ties to the school, including, of course, his daughter Amber, who was an all-state basketball player before going to Boston College and several WNBA teams during her sparkling playing career.
“I’m still involved with the Abington Youth Soccer League, so I know most of the girls,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs hasn’t coached a team for a while, but his job at Riverfront Sports, across the street from Scranton Memorial Stadium, has kept him in touch with today’s athletes and he expects to have a smooth re-entry back on the sidelines.
“I’ve trained players from a lot of different areas, being at Riverfront,” Jacobs said. “Kids have come to my camps when they were younger. I’ve been training kids the last eight years even though I didn’t coach any team.”
Jacobs, who coached the men’s soccer team at Baptist Bible College for 16 years, will now have the task of directing a girls’ team, but again, will lean on his time at Riverfront to handle every challenge.
“The soccer is the same, but how you motivate is different,” Jacobs said. “You have to take a different approach with them.”
Ludka will have both the boys and girls cross country teams under his guidance after taking five years off, but always knew he wanted to return to the sport at some point.
“I have two little girls at home,” Ludka said. “My wife and I talked about it and a position opened. The timing worked out well. What makes it easier is that I’m a teacher in the district and I know all of the kids already. That makes the transition easier.”
While he has been away from coaching, Ludka never stopped following the sport and essentially picked up from where he left off.
“Little has changed. Some of the coaches and the courses are new,” Ludka said.
He is looking forward to working with the kids, building bonds that stretch well beyond practices and meets.
“It’s a great competitive outlet for me,” Ludka said. “You can develop relationships that’s very different from the student-teacher one. You see a different side of the kids. [Cross country] kids like to work and they’re good in school because they have to be disciplined. They have to do a lot of work outside practice and they have to stay on top of their schoolwork.”
It is a formula that many area schools have been able to work to their advantage, as the likes of Scranton Prep, Elk Lake and Holy Cross have become constant factors in the state meet, setting a high bar for teams that want to defeat those schools.
Ludka, a 1993 graduate of Abington Heights, knows what it’s going to take for the Comets and Lady Comets to remain among the best programs in the Lackawanna League.
“There are great coaches who have the knowledge, and the ability [of the runners] has improved,” Ludka said. “The environment here helps. You can’t avoid the hills and it makes our kids tougher.”
Seeing outstanding individuals and teams shine on the state’s brightest stage gives them an attitude that Ludka believes helps all the teams in the league.
“They see these kids every week in our league, and they say, ‘If they can do it, so can I’,” Ludka said.
It is that attitude that has kept all three programs in the upper echelon in all three sports. All three programs have won championships over the years, and contended for titles just about every year.
All three coaches understand that, but they make sure their kids have fun as well as learn.