BRICK – Pete Panuska graced the track and the field as a Green Dragon in the 1980s. A hall of famer for the school district, he was known then as Pete the Jet, the Golden Flash and the Golden Bullet. Now he’s the Brick Township High School athletics director.
Panuska started work February. He replaces former Brick athlete Rick Handchen, who retired to move to North Carolina where he coaches boys golf at the Covenant Day School.
“There are a lot of things I have to learn,” Panuska said. “It’s a process. My administrative office (Panuska was previously a Brick assistant principal) was next to Rick’s. He mentored me a little bit and that was a good thing. I was an administrator for 10 years (Panuska was also a Brick Memorial assistant principal). I have always said how much I have enjoyed working with the kids. My passion has always been sports.
“I know I will have to put in a lot more hours, but this is where we stand and I am excited. I will do my best. I am sure I will make mistakes as I go along, but as long as I don’t make the same mistakes twice I think I will be OK.”
Panuska, 53, will also supervise Brick’s physical education department and all of its after school activities.
“It’s new and I like adventure,” he said. “There are so many secondary things to learn. I have a basic knowledge of all of the sports, but I also have to learn the cutoff dates for the Ocean County, Shore Conference and state tournaments, how to keep track of the referees and do the scheduling. I have to learn the names of the people who assign the referees to work the games and their e-mail addresses.”
Panuska said he has also received help from Brick Memorial athletics director Ed Sarluca and other athletics administrators.
“Ed has been reaching out to me,” Panuska said. “I went to the Shore Conference and Ocean County athletics directors meetings with Rick and the administrators said, ‘We will help you as best as we can. We were once in your shoes.’ ”
Panuska referred to now working with 35 to 40 coaches, including volunteers, in the program, with facilities are limited in terms of space.
“We have a small backyard,” Panuska said. “We use the Brick Recreation Department’s fields for practices and games for boys and girls lacrosse. There is minimal space for track and field. Our lacrosse teams will probably play twilight games. We also use the fields at the Drum Point School Sports Complex.
The former University of Tennessee football player said winning is important at the high school level.
“When I was in high school,” the 1982 Brick graduate said, “it was very important for us to win. The goal in all sports is to hopefully win the championship. At the recreation level, you learn the sport. I may be asked, ‘How come my kid is not playing?’ Some kids may have the opportunity to play sports in college. The coaches realize they are here to coach and win. They are told to do their best to get their athletes into college when that time comes.”
Panuska did plenty of winning as a Green Dragon.
He starred at running back and defensive back and handled the kickoff, punting, extra points and field goal duties in 1981 when Brick won the Shore Conference Class A South and NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV titles at 11-0. The Green Dragons were ranked the top team in the state from start to finish by The Star-Ledger.
His 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash earned him the nicknames Pete the Jet, the Golden Flash and the Golden Bullet.
As a junior, Panuska blazed to Shore Conference championships in the 100 and 200-meter dashes during the spring track and field season. There also was a second-place finish in the long jump during the spring of his junior year.
Panuska’s No. 21 football jersey was retired as he was an all-state all-groups selection by The Star-Ledger.
“It’s nice,” said Panuska, also a member of the Jersey Shore Sports Hall of Fame. “My jersey and 10 to 12 other retired jerseys are part of a big football display in front of the main office. I see a lot of our kids looking at it. I want them to know that with hard work and God’s gift of speed it is there for them to take. I would not be where I am if it was not for the rest of our team–the offense line and the quarterback that we had.
“I had speed. I don’t know where it came from. Perhaps it was God’s gift. Perhaps it was hereditary. I came in with a cycle of kids who worked hard and were athletic. We respected everyone and did well in school. We all valued Brick Township High School in every which way. We all looked out for one another. I count my blessings that I had friends like that. I still call them friends – good friends.”
In his college career, the Volunteers won the Sugar Bowl during Panuska’s junior season and were ranked fourth in the nation by the Associated Press. He competed in five bowl games and was red shirted during his freshman season.
Also a member of the Brick High School Wall of Fame, Panuska returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Maryland in the Sun Bowl in 1984. It stands as a Sun Bowl record.
“It was a deep kick in the middle of the field and my teammates set up a nice wall,” he said. “It was a return left and I was not touched until the very end of the run when someone kicked my feet. A Mack truck could have run through that lane. I took advantage of my speed. It was a straight out 100-yard run with a little turn. Everyone held their block.
“My claim to fame is that the record can be tied, but not be broken. It is something that is going to stay down there so that is a good thing.”
Panuska wound up with a degree in hotel and restaurant management. After working at a Hyatt Regency in Tennessee, Panuska became an assistant coach under then-Brick mentor Warren Wolf, who coached the speedster as a Green Dragon.
Panuska received a special education teacher certification from Georgian Court College and a masters degree in administration and supervision from New Jersey City University. Panuska, who also taught at the Veterans Memorial Middle School in Brick, also coached the Green Dragons in cross country and track and field.
“I am following in the steps of Harold Handchen (Rick’s late father), Jim Rochford and others,” Panuska said. “I will do my best. My thanks go to (Brick Township School District interim superintendent of chools) Tom Gialanella, who was defensive backs coach at Brick, for giving me this opportunity. I also want to thank the board of education and the central administration for giving me this opportunity.
“I want to be in this position for a good 10 years or so. I hope to make a difference one way or the other, but it is going to take time.”