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Foltman retires as educator, wrestling coach

By TODD SLISS
SCARSDALE INQUIRER/JIM MACLEAN

Barney Foltman to retire after 33 years of teaching and coaching.

 

If Barney Foltman walks around the house screaming about things like cement mixers, cradles, sprawls, whizzers and high crotches next winter, hopefully his wife will understand.

In addition to his previously announced retirement after 33 years teaching physical education at Scarsdale Middle School — 38 years overall — three-sport coach Foltman has also retired as wrestling coach, a position he held since coming to Scarsdale.

Foltman, a 1976 Rye High School graduate who lives in Rye, will continue at Scarsdale next school year with the girls swim and dive and girls golf teams, while also running the half-day sports camp for the Scarsdale Recreation Department over the summer.

Yes, Foltman has had a lot on his plate professionally for almost four decades in the teaching/coaching business. Retiring from teaching and wrestling were two separate decisions, and neither came easily.

“I feel like it’s time to maybe move on,” Foltman said. “I’d like to spend a little more time at home. This will give me a little more flexibility to do that. I’d like to maybe eventually try another challenge, maybe something a little different than I’m doing now.”

Teaching P.E. and coaching nonstop can be physically and mentally exhausting, especially with a demanding sport like wrestling during a long winter season. “Right now I don’t want to give up everything all at once,” Foltman said. “I want to see what not working is going to be like.”

Foltman turns 60 this month. “I feel like you’ve got to listen to your body and I feel a little tired this year,” he said. “Although it is the sport I’m probably known best for I just feel like at this point the demands of wrestling, which are so great, are too great for me. I’m willing to pass the torch.”

Through the end of this school year Foltman will share the distinction of being a current head coach of three varsity sports at once with cross-country/track and field coach Rich Clark and tennis/gymnastics coach Jennifer Roane.

“Juggling home, school and coaching is a lot,” Foltman said. “I get up early and I don’t get home until very late. Then when I do get home I have to do paperwork or input data into the computer. It takes a long time. Being the head coach you get to experience all the thrills of being a head coach, but you also have to field a lot of phone calls and questions and handle any problems.”

Problems are something Foltman hasn’t had much of in his tenure at Scarsdale.

“Barney has been an incredible asset since I’ve been here,” third-year director of athletics, physical education and health Ray Pappalardi said. “He understands the community, he understands kids and he gets a lot out of the program. The good news is he’s still going to be around. He’s not going away for good and we’re going to see if we can get him mentoring some of our new coaches.”

Brian Roemer has been an assistant coach under Foltman for 20 years. They have seen a lot of ups and downs over the years, constantly rebuilding the program and helping wrestlers peak at the end of each season and their careers, as well.

“It’s such a demanding and physical sport,” Roemer said. “Barney is an unbelievable teacher, before you even get into coaching. Teaching and coaching go hand in hand, but he’s very skilled at keeping kids around and that’s the hard part. You can be the best on the team or you can be someone who is not so athletic and never starts a varsity match and he treats everyone the same. That’s what I’ve learned from him.”

Foltman was always a hands-on coach, and with wrestling that means getting on the mat with the wrestlers. The assistant coaches filled that role as the years went on, especially the last couple of winters.

“I think that’s what I’m here for now,” Roemer said. “We always joke because if he gets a little frustrated with somebody he’ll still get down on the mat and it’s fun to see.”

Noted Foltman, “It’s not easy to wrestle when you’re 60.”

Foltman believes the program will be in good hands with Roemer, longtime volunteer turned paid assistant Jeremy Szerlip, youth coach Tony Iasiello and whoever gets either brought in or promoted to be the head coach.

“We already told him he’s not allowed to just disappear,” Roemer said. “Honestly it’s been a part of him for so long it will be hard for him not to be there because he really does enjoy being there every day.”

Prior to coaching at Scarsdale, Foltman coached at Mamaroneck and Lexington School for the Deaf. Over his 38 years of coaching at three schools, Foltman has broken the 300-win barrier in dual meets, including dual meets tournaments.

Over that time, the sport has also evolved. There have been changes in weight brackets and scoring, also to the philosophy of cutting weight. It’s also a lot more technical and tactical when it comes to scrambling and counter-wrestling. There are also more in-season tournaments and opportunities to wrestle year-round.

“When I took over, the program wasn’t very good,” Foltman said. “They hadn’t had a champ here in over 20 years.”

At that time the team was based in the old gym at the high school, but Foltman quickly moved the Raiders to the middle school, where the team had more space and could leave the mats down during the season. That was until a wrestling room was built along with the new gym for the 2003-04 school year.

Scarsdale saw great strides in the early 1990s and in 1993 Andrew Mosblech became Foltman’s first Section 1 champ. Jose Moreira won in 1996, Shintaro Higashi and Jacob Berkowitz were each two-time champions — Berkowitz a state finalist in 2012 — while Michael DaBramo was a state wild card who went on to earn All-State honors three winters ago.

Those were just some of the headline-making highlights.

“It hasn’t always been about winning or losing,” Foltman said. “I’ve really loved the kids I’ve coached. I think the sport gives them a great opportunity to explore a lot of life’s issues. Watching the kids develop and watching them get those breakthrough wins has been a thrill. I got as much of a thrill out of watching somebody win their first match or maybe win a tournament as I have watching somebody win a section championship. All the kids are important to me. It’s not just the ones who were the big winners.”

Berkowitz not only went on to wrestle Division I at Northwestern, but competed in the NCAA tournament as a senior in 2017. Foltman was right there in St. Louis to watch him wrestle a pair of NCAA matches. As if Foltman hadn’t had a big enough impact, that further showed Berkowitz how much that player-coach relationship means.

It started with a fun, pressure-free environment and Berkowitz turned his sights to wrestling in college over playing football in college after his sophomore year. The move paid dividends.

“I’m forever thankful to him for introducing me to wrestling, teaching me how to be a leader and supporting me through my career and beyond,” Berkowitz said. “Coach Foltman will always be a man that I look up to as a role model and as someone I want to emulate. I don’t know where I would be without him.”

It’s hard for Berkowitz to think of anyone else leading the way at Scarsdale, but he’s confident the impact Foltman had on his returning wrestlers and assistant coaches over the years will lead to a lasting legacy.

“While I know Scarsdale wrestling will be in great hands going forward, I believe that future generations in the program are going to miss out on a one-of-a-kind coach,” Berkowitz said.

Mikey Hodges, a 2013 graduate wrestled four years for Foltman and returned as a volunteer assistant this past winter.

“While wrestling for Coach Foltman, he taught me many valuable lessons that helped me grow as an individual,” Hodges said. “Foltman was always there to coach me through some great victories as well as keep my head up after a few heartbreaking defeats.”

Having the chance to get continued mentorship from Foltman beyond his competitive years was a privilege for Hodges. “Coach Foltman taught me how to instill confidence and positivity into our young athletes, just like he did with me when I was wrestling for him,” he said. “Coach Foltman truly was one of the best coaches I’ve had and played a huge role in making me the person I am today.”

Jon Keltz recently finished up his senior year under Foltman, whom he described as “supportive and caring.”

“He always had the wrestlers’ best interests in mind and never let us lose sight of what wrestling was about — having fun,” Keltz said. “He also made all his wrestlers feel important.”

Prior to divisionals, Foltman was recalling some of the great moments from program history to his wrestlers to pump them up. Keltz was impressed with the detail attached to those moments.

“Coach explained how when he reflects on these past experiences how his heart rate shoots up and how he feels as though he’s right there in the moment,” Keltz said. “He inspired us to pull the best out of ourselves to create these moments that’ll last a lifetime. When Seth [Schulman] and I won divisionals that next day I hope we delivered performances that will stick with him.”

Edgemont coach Pete Jacobson appreciates Foltman’s contributions to area wrestling, and he has seen it first-hand both from his wrestling days at Edgemont and his coaching days there.

“Over the years he’s had some great teams and some great wrestlers come through Scarsdale wrestling, which is a testament to his ability to develop his kids,” Jacobson said.

What stands out for Jacobson is Foltman was All-State in football and All-League in track for Rye, in addition to being in school plays. Wrestling is something that came later on, and Jacobson has enjoyed having a worthy adversary in the annual Bronx River Cup match between the Raiders and Panthers. “His presence will definitely be missed in the Section 1 wrestling community,” Jacobson said.

Beyond the mat

Foltman was an assistant coach for girls swim and dive in the fall from 1989 to 1996, taking over as head coach for the 1996-97 season. He has coached many state-qualifying swimmers and divers, most notably three-time state butterfly champion Bridget O’Connor, a 2004 graduate.

“Swimming really is a great team sport,” Foltman said. “The kids who are fighting for fourth and fifth places are just as valuable as the kids scoring the big points for us. It all comes into play and that was evident this year.”

The Raiders will return state-qualifying divers Samantha Ho, Katelin Du and Maddie Seltzer, plus top swimmers like Joy Jiang, Megan Lee, Anya Pabby and Maggie Brew. All three relays made states last year and Scarsdale placed fourth in the state. “We had a very talented group of kids. I’d like to see them through,” Foltman said.

In the spring, Foltman was a longtime junior varsity girls lacrosse coach under Penny Sallinger and later Leigh Ann Boscarino. After coaching one year of modified track and field, Foltman became the first and thus far only girls golf coach in program history in the spring of 2007.

“It’s been exciting to watch the program develop,” Foltman said. “I love golf. It’s a great game. To be involved in a sport where the venue is just for the girls has given them an opportunity to hone their skills. We’ve been fortunate enough to have girls who are developmental, as well as kids who are really established players. They all have enjoyed it.”

Foltman has worked with beginners up through All-State golfers, having many qualifiers over the years. In that inaugural season, then-freshman Rachel Whitney qualified for states, a major boost for the young program. This spring the team returns two-time qualifier Kaitlyn Lee.

Last spring the team had a banner year, winning the league title for the first time, taking runner-up in the Section 1 team championship and going 13-2.

“It’s great to have him there to coach two sports that can be very difficult — swimming, where people have other private coaches; coaching golf, where people have other private coaches,” Pappalardi said. “It’s a very difficult line to walk where you can coach kids, you can give feedback, you can have that relationship with them, but you’re not overstepping when they don’t need to be coached.”

Foltman was pleased to see Pappalardi wants him to remain active in his retirement.

“I think he values me as a part of the staff here that I’ve done a good job and I feel like I have a good reputation both with the kids and the parents,” Foltman said. “As far as wrestling goes he knows I’m around to mentor whomever. We have some quality guys who are right in the wings who I feel would fit in perfectly to take the program to another place.”

With all the coaching changes that have taken place in Scarsdale over the last nearly two years, Foltman is a survivor who just wants what is best for the overall athletic department going forward.

“All I hope is that they get coaches in the program to a place that can really help the kids,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. It’s not about the coaches. It’s about the kids. We want the kids to have a great experience in whatever sport they choose and feel good about their participation. I think that’s what the athletic department is trying to work for.”

His final piece of advice to any coach: “It’s important for a coach not to coach the sport, but to coach the kid first. A lot of coaches miss that point. They feel the sport is more important than the player. I’ve always felt my passion has been for the player as a person and then the sport. When you use that equation you get a better person and you’ve gotten a better athlete as well.”

Let’s get physical(ly educated)

Foltman is the last link to the old guard of the SMS PE department as he spent half his career with an “old school” PE approach and half his career in a more modern, cutting edge environment. When he came on for the 1986-87 school year, after five years at Lexington School for the Deaf — he is certified in deaf education — the staff included Sallinger, Harry Isokane, Paul Celentano and Debbie Eurie.

“It was a very traditional program,” Foltman said. “The staff was completely different. I was the young guy, but we had people that did a traditional command style approach. We didn’t have any real team teaching opportunities like we do now. It was early 1980s phys ed.”

Over the past decade-plus, Foltman has collaborated with Bob Keith, Kevin Roemer, Cheryl Orlandi, CeCe Berger and Melissa Zeiler.

“We’re doing some extraordinary things here,” Foltman said. “They’re at the forefront of what physical education classes in the United States are doing. We have things like a superior three-year fitness program with a facility that matches the curriculum so the kids can really investigate and develop good philosophy and application of physical fitness.”

Foltman called his current colleagues “hard-working, dynamic, creative teachers.” The energy in the department is evident on a daily basis. “I feel like we’ve all had an opportunity to help to develop the program,” Foltman said.

One of the centerpieces of the program are the indoor and outdoor ropes courses. It’s experiential learning on both individual and team-building levels and it progresses each year the kids are in middle school.

“I know other schools have these programs, but I don’t think they’ve really wired it together the way we have so that it has a little more profound meaning for our students other than, ‘I’m just going to climb a wall,’” Foltman said. “There’s a purpose behind it, a reason behind it. The kids get to explore lots of different emotions and use their physical skills to support each other emotionally, physically and socially. It’s important and not many people think that happens in phys ed.”

Another focal point is taking team sports concepts and giving the students more of a leadership role, a chance to participate on the managerial side of things. “We’ve taken a lot of pretty cool things and really embellished them, made them a little more meaningful for our kids,” Foltman said.

While Foltman is spending time with his family, getting in some rounds of golf and spending time on his boat, he will be succeeded in the classroom by Quaker Ridge Elementary School PE teacher Matt Brown. He’s got big sneakers to fill.

“With Barney, the kids were always first and foremost and he worked with kids year-round,” Keith said. “His whole career has been about providing the best possible experience for his students and athletes. He always strived to do that. That’s what made Barney very special.”

Keith and Foltman taught together for 21 years. Foltman was many things to Keith, including mentor, co-worker, friend, “like a brother.”

“We shared good times and bad time with our families,” Keith said. “We’ve been there for each other professionally and personally. That’s what makes our department very special. We do support each other.”

Keith isn’t looking forward to losing his longtime lunch date. And the laughter. “He has a great sense of humor,” Keith said. “Barney has made me laugh every day we were together. He keeps life in perspective. He keeps it light. You can be having a bad day or a tough time and Barney will crack a joke and you say to yourself, ‘I needed that.’”

The last day of school will be a teary one at Scarsdale Middle School, and that’s no rubble.

“The last of a breed, that’s for sure,” Keith said, adding, “There’s going to be an empty feeling come September.”


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April 27, 2018

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