Veteran Fitch coach Rich Kosta is well-versed on and off the track

Fitch High School boys' track and field coach Rich Kosta, a finalist for national coach of the year, lists coaching student-athletes that have attended every Ivy League and NESCAC college as one of his proudest achievements. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Fitch High School boys' track and field coach Rich Kosta, a finalist for national coach of the year, lists coaching student-athletes that have attended every Ivy League and NESCAC college as one of his proudest achievements. (Tim Martin/The Day)

Groton — It starts in a place not many other track stories begin: the library. That's where Rich Kosta, Fitch High School boys' track and field coach and also the school's librarian and media specialist, keeps his office.

The walls are dotted with pictures that tell their own tales. One is of Fitch graduate and former Yale University track captain James Shirvell. One features CJ Alumbres, the only Fitch freshman ever to win a state title, who is now competing at UCLA and finished second this season in the triple jump at the Pac-12 Conference championship.

One photo is of a grinning Tyler Latham, the Falcons' former Gatorade Connecticut Boys' Track Athlete of the Year, the day he set the school record in the 300-meter hurdles. Latham, who will graduate Saturday from Central Connecticut State University, is crouched in the picture, next to the finish line clock reading 38.63 seconds.

This is what brings Kosta the most pride in his now 41-year coaching career at Fitch and previously at St. Bernard School.

“I'm most proud of the kids, the kids that go through the program,” Kosta said from his office Friday morning. “I've had kids on the team go to every Ivy League college, every NESCAC college, every military academy. All that is what I'm pleased to say is a legacy.”

Kosta was readying his team for the Eastern Connecticut Conference championship Saturday at East Lyme High School, before the meet was postponed to Wednesday (2:30 p.m. field events, 3 p.m. track) due to the threat of inclement weather.

Kosta will also attend the National High School Athletic Coaches' Association convention in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, next month, where he is one of the ECC's four national coach of the year finalists, joining Norwich Free Academy's Kara Kochanski-Vendola (girls' track and field), Ledyard's Steve Bilheimer (wrestling) and Lyman Memorial's Marty Gomez (baseball). The winners will be announced June 27.

Kosta is 184-52 in outdoor track with five state championships (three at St. Bernard, two at Fitch) and six runner-up finishes (all at Fitch).

A Fitch graduate and Mystic resident who once ran for the legendary Johnny Kelley — 1957 Boston Marathon champion and former English teacher and coach at Fitch — Kosta, a month shy of his 65th birthday, also coaches the school's boys' cross country team and boys' and girls' indoor track teams.

The 6-foot-2 Kosta is on the quiet side (he's a librarian). He is also a former history teacher, meaning that his favorite reading material is historically centered (The Red Badge of Courage, Moby-Dick) and his go-to non-fiction author is Nathaniel Philbrick for his chronicles of maritime history.

He is the epitome of involvement; he serves as the meet director for the Class L outdoor track championship and CIAC steeplechase and is a member of the state's indoor and outdoor track committees, as well as serving annually as the meet director of the ECC cross country championship. Kosta is Fitch's former athletic director, a position he also held from his office in the school's media center.

“He does an awful lot of things,” East Lyme girls' track coach Carl Reichard said. “He is … I would describe him as a quiet, but very determined and hard-working person. He doesn't beat his own drum. He's a guy of great integrity. He has a lot of passion for the sport.”

“He certainly has tons of knowledge about track and field,” Latham said Friday. “I was a main event javelin thrower, who he also coached into being the 300 hurdle record-holder for Fitch. Not many coaches could do that. He really taught me that if I wanted to accomplish my goals, I had to be really motivated and stay motivated throughout the year and never settle.” 

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This is one of Kosta's favorite aspects of coaching. Tim King, for instance, the head football coach for the Valley Regional/Old Lyme cooperative team and also Valley's boys' track coach, will approach Kosta at a track meet, one of his athletes in tow, and introduce Kosta as his former coach.

“My first stud (athlete at St. Bernard) was Tim King,” Kosta said. “He would run through walls, literally. He was a hurdler. I'm proud to say I coached him.

“I was watching his state championship game (Valley defeated Ansonia for the Class S-Large title in 2014) and I said, 'He's gonna win. Those kids have been there at practice. He's gonna win.'”

King was one of the first among Kosta's highlights. There have been plenty more.

“We keep in touch because he did so much for me as an athlete, but also gave me advice on college and my future,” Latham said. “Without him as my coach, I would not be the athlete I grew to be.”

Kosta's assistant coaches are Fitch alum and distance great Wayne Jacob and another Fitch graduate in Sean Berg, both of whom coach the field events.

Kosta calls the outdoor track arena, with athletes dispatched to all corners of the property, “a three-ring circus.”

“It's great to have great assistant coaches. It's a three-ring circus at practice, too. We try to cover all the events every day,” Kosta said. “(At meets), they're not under your control. They're off by themselves. Sometimes you can't even get to them. They have a lot of autonomy, but it's orchestrated by us.”

Kosta is a first-time finalist for national coach of the year. He'll attend the convention in Sioux Falls, with wife Linda, daughter Beth — the 2004 ECC cross country champion and a member of the Fitch Athletic Hall of Fame — and son-in-law Sean O'Connell joining him for the awards announcement. Kosta and his family will then play the role of tourists in South Dakota.

Kosta said because he taught originally at St. Bernard, a private school, he has a few more years to go before retirement. Asked what he'll do when he retires, he says, “beef up the administration” portion of his track and field responsibilities.

Just like a track guy.

“I wasn't planning on coaching when I was in college. I had nothing to do with sports at all,” said Kosta, a former 800-meter runner for the Falcons. “When I got to St. Bernard, Doug Sharples (former legendary track and cross country coach) started taking me everywhere.

“… It's fun. It's fun with (the other longtime coaches in the ECC) and with the guys in the state. I wouldn't still do it if I didn't enjoy it.”

v.fulkerson@theday.com

 

Fitch High School's Rich Kosta, now in his 41st season as a track and field coach, holds a relay baton while watching his boys' team go through drills during a recent practice. Kosta is a finalist for national coach of the year honors. (Tim Martin/The Day)
Fitch High School's Rich Kosta, now in his 41st season as a track and field coach, holds a relay baton while watching his boys' team go through drills during a recent practice. Kosta is a finalist for national coach of the year honors. (Tim Martin/The Day)

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