By Steve Sears
When you speak with Ryan Tatarka, you can hear and even feel the passion in his voice. A former successful Hackettstown Tiger athlete, he just completed his first full season as head coach of the three school tri-op team in the Morris County Scholastic Ice Hockey League.
The MOHOHA (Mount Olive, Hopatcong, Hackettstown Ice Hockey) team this season finished with a record of 17 – 5 – 3.
“I was a part of the program last year. We just played our divisional schedule due to COVID, and we ended up in the Haas Cup final last year, but lost in overtime (3 -2 to Mountain Lakes),” Tatarka explains. “Then this year, the same results (versus West Morris Central, 2 – 1), but we had a little bit more of a successful season in terms of just getting our name out there, kind of making sure that people are aware that we even have a program at this point. It was definitely a step in the right direction. We’re looking forward to continued success hopefully, and sustained success is most important.”
Tatarka, a 28-year-old Byram resident, played hockey during his freshman season at Hackettstown, and then moved on to play spring hockey for Pope John of Sparta while simultaneously playing baseball for the Tigers. Tatarka has coached baseball for the past seven years and football for the last five at Hackettstown, and heading into this season, dealing with three schools and their administrations, preparation was for him a must. “The number one thing is communication.” He says. “And I think that in terms of my expectation for the season, I feel like it was fairly successful because the kids had a really good experience. The kids worked really hard, improved, and became a little bit more accountable. I think that wins and losses are a great metric to define success, but I feel, as a program, we feel like what we do outside of the games are going to speak more loudly, and then the games are going to happen the way that they happen, essentially. So, if we do what we’re supposed to do, we feel like it’s kind of bouncing our way more often than not.”
Tony Villante was Tatarka’s gridiron coach at Hackettstown, Gary Poyer his baseball coach. Both inspired him, and he also credits being an assistant coach for current Hackettstown football coach, Carl “C.J.” Robinson, as being key in in developing his own coaching skills. “He is by far probably the person that I learned the most from,” Tatarka says of Robinson. “He leads by example, is extremely detail oriented; he’s not necessarily result oriented. He does the little things right. He has a program that’s not just about the sport he coaches; it’s about the kids, and the kids’ experience.”
And, at age 28 and just 10 years the senior of many of his players, Tatarka sees that as an asset. “Absolutely,” he says. “I think that me being on the younger end, the kids kind of gravitate towards me. The verbiage is a lot of the same, the way that we speak and the way we carry ourselves. And the implementation of technology is something that we’ve had to rely on due to COVID, and I think that it’s allowed me to foster that relationship. And I think that the kids understand that I’m 28 years old, some of them are 18 years old. We’re not that much of a difference, but they also understand that I’m there for them, and that I’m willing to do the things that any adult would be willing to do for them.”
Whether players or fans, Tatarka admires the youths in his program, and the fact that coming from different schools doesn’t hinder their comradery. “My goal is to create that unity between these three schools because, when you go to our games and you talk to these kids or you talk to the kids in the stands, they don’t care where each other are from,” Tatarka states. “They’re happy to support their teammates, their neighbors, whoever it may be. And I think that’s something that we want to do as a program, is to get people to notice that we may be three programs or three different schools from three different counties, but we’re a group of kids that are working hard to accomplish our goals.”
Tatarka, who teaches 8th grade science in the Chatham Township school system, credits his wife and fellow educator, Victoria, with her support. “I don’t get to where I want to be if I don’t have the support from her,” he says with great admiration. “I coach three sports; it’s a lot of time away from home. She absolutely is 100% supportive of me, and I don’t get to do the things I want to do if I don’t have her support, which is great to have.”