Eric Falcione has been the face of the Baldwin boys volleyball program for two-and-a-half decades.
He was a volunteer assistant from 1993-95, served as a varsity assistant in 1996-97, and has been the Highlanders’ head coach for the last 20 years.
Falcione, 52, has decided it’s time to retire from the high school coaching ranks.
He actually started coaching at age 20 in 1986 for St. Elizabeth’s CYO team, and later that year at Carrick High School. His first head coaching assignment was at Oakland Catholic from 1987-88, followed by stints with the Elizabeth Forward girls team in 1990, and the Montour boys team from 1990-92.
Falcione, a 1984 Baldwin graduate who helped start the Keystone Oaks boys volleyball program in 1998, has enjoyed a distinguished and noteworthy career at his alma mater.
Falcione’s record at Baldwin stands at 147-79; his career record is 220-99. During his coaching tenure, Baldwin was a playoff qualifier 16 times, won three section titles (1996, 2005, 2006), one WPIAL championship (1996), and was a PIAA runner-up (1996). The Highlanders also placed second in the WPIAL in 1997, and third in 1991.
“After much thought and deliberation, I decided this season would be a good one to end my stint as the head coach after 22 seasons at Baldwin,” Falcione said. “For several years now it has become more and more difficult for me to fit coaching in with my business. I normally work at least an hour outside of Pittsburgh, which makes it difficult to be at a 3:30 practice and get enough work done prior to practice to be worthwhile. I could continue on, but I don’t feel that I could do so and give the attention and energy the players deserve to have.
“Another reason is that I wanted to finish my career on a high note. This season was certainly that. It was the most fun I have ever had with one entire team (that is saying a lot). Every player was amazing to work with. I also feel the team is in good standing. Our numbers are good, and the talent coming back should warrant another postseason appearance. I am comforted by the fact there are a few contenders for the position that will keep our traditions going for years and years to come.”
Volleyball isn’t just a sport to the affable Falcione, who has lived in Baldwin with his wife, Bonnie, for 24 years. It is more a lifestyle.
“Most people don’t realize at the time that they are experiencing the best years of their life,” Falcione said. “I am not one of those people. I knew from Day 1 that working at Baldwin High School as a coach would be a most rewarding experience. Not only with the players, but with all of the people at the school and in the district. People like Bill Veith, Don Yannessa, Cindy Leaf, Joe Murray, Tim Laughlin, Jeff Pfaff, Nancy Petrichko, Jay Saras, Brad Shulte and Randy Lutz; the highest quality of people that one could ever learn from or could ever want to work with.
“But just like in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy said she would miss the scarecrow the most, I will miss most working at a closer level with (coach) Rich Wright, and especially (athletic director) Vince Sortino. Both have been wonderful mentors and great friends. Rich, with his loyalty, endless energy, and love of coaching young people. Vince, as an older brother that likes to keep me in line and blame me for most things (wink). He has been so supportive of me and boys volleyball. He’s been a great boss.”
Chris Kelly is head coach of the Baldwin girls volleyball team. Kelly’s volleyball career began in the St. Elizabeth CYO program; Falcione was his first volleyball coach.
After he graduated from college, Kelly served as an assistant with Falcione at Baldwin for a few years, and later was head coach of the boys team at Peters Township for eight seasons.
“Eric loves the game of volleyball,” Kelly said. “He always wanted Baldwin to have a boys team ever since he was in high school, but unfortunately that didn’t happen for him. He was extremely proud when he became head coach for his alma mater. It’s tough to keep boys teams going these days, and we’ve seen a few schools lose their teams over the years. Eric never wanted to see that happen at Baldwin.”
“More than anything, Eric is invested in the lives of the kids he coaches. He doesn’t have kids of his own so his players are like his kids. He loves teaching the game and building relationships with the guys. I think that’s his lasting legacy as coach.”
The 2018 season was a special highlight in Falcione’s coaching career. Baldwin advanced to the WPIAL Class AAA quarterfinals and posted a 12-3 record.
The Highlanders were led by seniors Ben Remlinger and Mike Goga, who were WPIAL second- and third-team all-stars selections.
They also were first-team all-section selections, and were joined on the all-section squad by senior Dante Parente (second team), sophomore Zach Remlinger (second team), and juniors Russ Cyprowski (third team) and Colton Barr (third team).
Sophomores Mason Hoydick, Mark Campana and Ted Boehm also were integral contributors to the Highlanders’ success.
“The 2018 season was one for the ages,” Falcione said. “We didn’t win a championship, but it kind of felt like one. We knew we would be pretty solid before the season began. But after a few scrimmages, It looked like we were going to be something special.
“The wins started coming. But most importantly, I liked the way we were winning. Not only were we beating teams with our skills, we beat them with incredible desire and enthusiasm. We weren’t winning for the sake of winning. We were winning these games for each other. Coaches dream about their teams having this attitude and desire. It was a wonderful reality for me. I haven’t seen a team like this have so much fun playing together in my 32 years as a coach.”
Goga, a 6-foot-4 middle hitter and three-year starter, also was a basketball standout at Baldwin. Goga and Taylor Dadig were lauded as senior athletes of the year for 2017-18.
“Coach E has had an amazing career with so much success. He is one of the few coaches to win a WPIAL championship for a men’s sports team at Baldwin,” Goga said. “I was so lucky to have experienced playing under coach Falcione. His enthusiasm, love for the game of volleyball, and his will to win are truly remarkable. Also, his ability to have so much fun while also inspiring his players to play their absolute hardest is very special.
“Coach Falcione has been and continues to be an amazing role model for my teammates and me. I will cherish all of our memories together for the rest of my life.”
Falcione does not want to exit the volleyball landscape entirely.
“I don’t think that I will come back as a head coach again,” he said. “But I would love it if I could be a volunteer coach in the district some day; as long as I am needed.
“In the meantime, I have a few young relatives and children of friends that I would love to help coach from time to time. I don’t want to get too rusty.”
What advice would Baldwin’s veteran coach leave for his ex-players or any of the 2018 graduates?
“It would be to become a part of some young person’s life as a coach,” Falcione said. “You can absolutely make a positive difference in their lives. I guarantee it will be one of the most rewarding experiences in your life.
“It certainly was for me.”
Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.