The Lebanon community doesn’t always accept those who are different than us. Gerry Yonchiuk was able to wiggle his way into our collective heart by positively affecting the lives of local young men.
Now the one-time outsider is leaving, having made Lebanon a better place to live.
On February 24th, the Central York school district approved the recommendation of Yonchiuk as its new head football coach. For the past 14 years, Yonchiuk was Lebanon High’s head man, guiding a Class AAAAAA program through the turbulent times associated with coaching in an inner-city setting.
Yonchiuk will be remembered as a many who accomplished as much off the field as he did on.
“Sometimes there’s more than what happens on the scoreboard,” said Yonchiuk. “You’re trying to build these guys into young men. It’s been a rollercoaster in terns of wins and loosses. But if you had an impact on young men’s lives, it’s been worth it.”
Yonchiuk wasn’t looking for a coaching position outside of Lebanon, the Central York job found him. Approaching retirement age, Yonchiuk saw his new job as a fresh opportunity.
“I got called by someone there,” said Yonchiuk, who also teaches physicial education at Lebanon High. “I was not looking to go anywhere. I have 36 years of coaching and teaching in. It’s an opportunity at the latter part of my career. It was a new challenge.
“I went into it with an open mind,” continued Yonchiuk. “I really thought I’d retire here. I was not looking to leave here at all. It was a very difficult decision. I’m very loyal to our kids and my coaching staff. Our students here understand and respect the decision I made. It wasn’t something I could turn down.”
Yonchiuk will depart the Cedars with more losses on his career coaching record than wins. Last season, Lebanon compiled a 7-4 mark while competing in Section Three of the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
Under the L-L’s new alignment, Lebanon will again play in Section Three in 2020, when the league goes to four sections. During Yonckhiuk’s tenure, the Cedars also competed in Section One and Section Two.
While Yonchiuk departs with few regrets, his biggest might be seven straight losses to rival Cedar Crest in the annual season-opening Cedar Bowl.
“It is a challenge,” said Yonchiuk of coaching at Lebanon. “Lebanon has always been a basketball community. I don’t know if the expectations are as high for football. Making football a priority at a young age is important.
“Football is hard. It’s a grind,” Yonchiuk continued. “You’re always trying to find ways to motivate and get kids here, getting them in the weight room and getting them stronger. But the kids are so great. It’s been my most enjoyable experience, and I’ve developed some great relationships. That’s what Lebanon is about. It’s very unique.”
Innovative and creative, Yonchiuk was known as a coach who got the most out of what he had. He always made it a priority to put his student-athletes in the best position to enjoy success.
Yonchiuk’s teams were not known for their defense, but they were always fun to watch.
“It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” said Yonchiuk. “Here it’s one of those things where you have to develop guys. You’ve got to stay the course. You’ve got to teach fundamentals. You’re always trying to make the product better. That can never stop. If I hadn’t stayed positive, I wouldn’t have lasted.”
In the mid 2000s, Yonchiuk came to Lebanon from Central Dauphin East. He replaced Bill Giovino as the Cedars’ head coach.
“When I came here, I was an outsider,” said Yonchiuk. “I was appreciative because people were open-minded about me coming in. I brought the new ‘L’ to Lebanon and it became the school district’s new logo. I figured, ‘I’m an outsider, what can I do to make a splash?’ I needed something.
“I never though the ‘L’ would stick,” added Yonchiuk. “I just took a chance. It’s been a great ride. Not everything was always perfect. But we never wavered from what we were doing.”
Yonchiuk certainly isn’t leaving the cupboard bare. The 2020 edition of the Cedars will be built around a strong and athletic senior class.
Yonchiuk said he has an interest in who will succeed him, but no say in the matter. The only individual on Lebanon’s current staff with past head coaching experience is defensive coordinator Frank Isenberg.
“I just hope they keep it internal,” said Yonchiuk, declining to name his prefernce for the Cedars’ new head coach. “This team coming back will be a joy to coach. I’m excited for the Lebanon Cedars, and I’m still working with them.
“I thoroughly enjoyed my opportunity at Lebanon,” Yonchiuk concluded. “I thoroughly enjoyed working with everyone in the program. I’m grateful. It doesn’t matter what we did or didn’t do on the field.”
And it may be that Yonchiuk’s life was touched as well.