By JAMAL THALJI, Times Staff Writer
NEW PORT RICHEY -- It was the job almost no one else desired, the challenge few wanted to accept, the program most everybody else wanted nothing to do with.
But when Ridgewood football needed a savior in its darkest hour back in 1998, he was there. When the Rams were searching for a glimmer of hope, a sign of a better future (never mind an actual win), he was there. When the players had been written off by nearly everyone else, when they most needed someone to believe in them, he was there.
But not anymore.
Wayne Parzik retired this month after three decades in coaching and four seasons leading the Rams that were at times rewarding, difficult and trying -- often all at once.
How should history judge Parzik? By his 7-33 overall record? I doubt that's fair. To be fair, he has to be judged by the standards of west Pasco County football -- which has always suffered in comparison to the talent, success and history of the east side -- by the (very, very modest) standards of Ridgewood football and by the adversity he first faced four years ago.
No, to be fairly judged, look at what Parzik did. He undertook a task almost no one else wanted. He restored Ridgewood to a competitive state. He believed in the program and its players when no one else did. He restored the program's facilities and equipment. He undertook the hard, hard work of rebuilding a team that had fallen far below even its usual standards of woe.
But most importantly, he brought about the county's most important football accomplishment this side of Pasco's 1992 state championship:
He ended The Streak.
The Streak, for those born after 1999, is -- or rather, was -- the school's four-year, 35-game losing streak. It was the longest in the state at the time, four losses shy of the longest in state history.
The Streak is a monicker I came up with for a column I wrote Sept. 4, 1998. Parzik hated the name immediately, and told me as much every time it saw print again.
Of course, when I first came up with it, I also predicted The Streak would end against Gulf that season. But the Bucs held on for a 13-6 win in overtime, one of those legendary almost-wins the Rams would experience again and again.
Parzik would say it was the kids who ended The Streak on Oct. 14, 1999 (at 10:15 p.m. to be precise) when Ridgewood defeated then first-year Wesley Chapel 34-21 at Dade City's W.F. Edwards Stadium. Or rather Pat Mansfield did, running for a touchdown, catching a touchdown and throwing for a touchdown while rushing for 107 yards and intercepting two passes.
But it was Parzik who set the stage for ending The Streak, who dreamed of its demise and planned its funeral, who guided the school to its first win in four years, who restored the Rams to some respectability.
Parzik was desperate to turn the program around, to end The Streak, when virtually every other local coach wasn't.
One of the very few who wanted the job was John Castelamare, under whom The Streak began in 1996's 0-10 season. He was let go after that, but wanted another shot. Parzik coached under Castelamare in 1995, then returned in 1997 as an assistant for new coach Mike Looney under whom The Streak went to 0-20.
When Looney abruptly resigned June 10, 1998, to pursue a teaching career in Alaska, it was Parzik who came to the rescue. Looney's tenure had been rough, sandblasting every mark Castelamare left on the program and instilling his own, tough-minded regime. Players stayed away in droves and Looney left before bringing his plan to fruition, doing so at the worst possible time, after spring football. The Streak never loomed larger than it did that summer.
Enter Parzik. He hated The Streak. Hated that three seniors classes had gone through Ridgewood without winning a game. Hated what it was doing to the school, to the players, to the program.
It was his fourth head coaching job, but this one, which he knew would be his last, he wanted badly.
On crutches with a brand new knee, he went to work anyway. He repainted the locker room and weight room, ordered new helmets and jerseys. He tried to change the look of the program, and then he set about changing the feel of it, too, instilling discipline and offseason workouts. He wanted to hammer home the kind of work ethic that would be needed to end The Streak.
Sure, every new coach does all that. But who wanted to do it at Ridgewood? Who wanted to tackle The Streak? Parzik was eager to take it on.
Maybe sportswriters, other coaches and just about everybody else would have settled simply for ending The Streak but Parzik was never satisfied with just that. He dreamed big, set high standards and accepted nothing less from his players. He wanted a .500 record -- at a minimum. He wanted a winning record, the playoffs, success in all its forms.
It wasn't realistic, sure, but that wasn't the point. Parzik wanted to change the expectations of his program and the mind-set of his players. He didn't want them to be consumed by the losing streak, he wanted them thinking positively, thinking ahead to a better future, thinking about anything but The Streak.
He hated negativity. For four years, he stuck up for his players when no one else did. I know, because he left my ears ringing every time.
Amazingly, Ridgewood almost realized Parzik's grand ambitions in 2000. The Rams ended a 23-game, home losing streak (again to Wesley Chapel) that 4-6 season. But the Rams would have gone 6-4 if not for a holding penalty in double overtime against Zephyrhills and a field goal by Palm Harbor University that didn't seem to fly off the tee until after the clock read 00:00.
The 2001 campaign ended badly at 1-9, but no coach could have changed that. Quarterback Jimmy Priest died in an offseason car accident. The team suffered through injury after injury. Parzik saw one of his most talented cores fall prey to anemic turnout and almost no depth.
He thought about coming back to try and right the ship one more time, but decided he and his wife, Joyce, should retire and enjoy traveling the world.
I write this now because I don't think Parzik was quite appreciated for all he did in his short tenure, especially against the adversity he first faced. It was easy -- too easy some Friday nights -- for many in the county to mock the condition Ridgewood was in just two years ago.
I should know. Many nights, I found it quite easy myself.
Oh, things were hardly rosy when Parzik was on the sideline. He took a lot of critical shots from all quarters and at times for good reason. There were too many Friday nights when the staff seemed disorganized, the assistants bickered and the players argued, when the Rams stumbled off the field dazed and confused after their latest massive breakdown. Yes, every high school team suffers through that, but when you've got The Streak riding your back, it hurts even more.
In the end, Parzik should be properly credited with the job he did: He took on a team no one else wanted, proudly wore colors everyone else mocked, coached players no one else cared for, and rescued the team when no one else believed it possible.
In the end, Parzik was a true believer. He believed in the Rams when no else did. Ridgewood should be grateful it had one believer in a sea of doubters then.
Especially this one.
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