At Aurora High School, football players do more than practice and play on Friday nights. They are student athletes who volunteer within the community.
Those things are important to varsity football head coach Bob Mihalik, who is in his 15th season at the helm of the gridders.
“We obviously stress ‘student’ before ‘athlete’ in Aurora,” he said. “Aurora is a top school district in the state, and our students are expected to perform very well in the class room. It takes a lot of intelligence and perseverance to earn an ‘A’ and our players spend a lot of time studying.
“What we’re here for is to get the students ready for the real world,” he said. “We tell them that football will end someday, but life will go on, and we’re here to help them succeed in life.”
Mihalik said the football staff hands out T-shirts to the top grade-point average achievers each grading period “to recognize their hard work. When we emphasize academics, that’s what their parents are doing, as well. So it starts to sink in.”
In addition, football players volunteer in the city. Mihalik said they planned to take part in the “Fill a Bag, Feed a Family” food drive in early May, in addition to reading to elementary school students while wearing football jerseys and putting on a youth football camp in the summer.
“Our players learn the importance of giving back, that’s for sure,” he said.
Every Thursday night during the football season, the team has a pre-game dinner for players, coaches and cheerleaders. Mihalik said Mazzulo’s Market, Doogan’s of Aurora and Station 43 Tavern / Restaurant are three of the biggest contributors, adding that many eateries have donated food.
“Our football mom’s club does a great job of planning those dinners each week,” he said. “Sometimes, the food is donated or given to us at a low cost, and sometimes it is homemade.”

Youth football merger
In February, a merger took place between the city’s youth tackle and flag football leagues, resulting in the current Aurora Youth Football Association.
“The last couple of years, with concussion scares [in pro football], more and more kids have chosen not to play or delay playing football,” Mihalik said.
Now, only flag football is offered to pre-kindergarten, kindergarten and grades 1-2 in Aurora.
Mihalik said grades 3 and 4 can play either one, and starting with grades 5 and 6, every youngster will be funneled into tackle football. Phil Quinn, who is in charge of the program, “has done a great job of combining the two leagues,” Mihalik said.
“We’re hoping to have 300 kids involved next fall. We’ll have clinics on how to block and tackle to promote safety.
“When you see the finished product on Friday nights in the fall, it starts a long time before that in our youth league,” he said. “Our varsity football program’s success took hold once the students went through the cycle of youth and middle school football.
“When these little kids start playing, it gives them a goal that they’ll want to play in that atmosphere on Friday nights — and also to behave the right way and do their best in school,” he said. “That will allow them to play on Friday nights.”
Mihalik said football is “an event” in Aurora on Friday nights.
“We are very fortunate,” he said. “You have little kids, elementary and middle school students there. Our student section is unbelievable. Parents still come back to support the program along with senior citizens and alumni. It’s a fun atmosphere to be a part of.”

Mihalik’s  other  job
When he isn’t coaching football, Mihalik is a work study coordinator at Aurora High School, a job he took over two years ago after Ken Mitroff retired. Mihalik teaches two classes at the high school called “connections for success” that are part of the work study program.
“They learn life and job skills in the work study class, then they take English, science, math and social studies, then they get jobs in the community in the afternoon,” he said.
In the afternoons, Mihalik checks out the job sites to make sure the students are working well. He also teaches a high school transition class for ninth-graders.
At Harmon Middle School, Mihalik teaches “connections eight,” a life skills class where students work on things like relationships, time management, goal setting, being proactive, being good communicators and taking responsibility for their actions.
Previously a high school English teacher for 24 years, including 11 years at Lakewood High School, Mihalik believes he can reach a lot of students.
“Sometimes, I miss discussing literature and helping students become better writers,” he said. “But now I’m helping students in a different way. It probably has more of an impact than the role I played as an English teacher.”

What others think
Board of Education President Gerald Kohanski believes Mihalik “represents everything that is right about high school athletics.
“This very unassuming man has built an outstanding football program over the past 15 years while instilling excellent sportsmanship and high values in the players he coaches,” Kohanski said.
“He is also an excellent educator and teacher who has helped many students. There is no one I respect more as a person. Aurora is very fortunate to have him coaching and teaching our children.”
Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli said most people don’t know that Mihalik is just as gifted as an educator and teacher as he is as a football coach.
“The same character traits and skills serve him well in both roles,” he said. “I love the saying: ‘Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.’
“With Bob, his students and his football players see his compassion and commitment to them as individuals, and this builds a deep trust. This trust enables Bob to push his students and players to levels that they would not ordinarily get to. “Another amazing quality is that when Bob is working with a student or athlete, you would not know if it is a division I prospect or a third-string player or the top student in his class or a student that may not graduate. His dedication to all students is truly extraordinary.”
Athletic Director Paul Powers said Aurora is “very fortunate to have Bob on our team. His football program serves as a role model on how young coaches should build a program. Under Bob’s leadership, he has built a program that is respected around the state.”

‘It’s not me alone’
Mihalik is quick to give credit to those around him for helping to make Aurora football what it is today — a program that has qualified for the state playoffs for the last 11 seasons.
The assistant coaches include defensive coordinator Brian Wervey, who Mihalik called “the head coach of the defense,” defensive backs / running backs coach John Calcei and offensive line coach Victor Ricketts along with junior varsity coaches Nick Kukarola (offense) and Jay Price (defense).
“They work seven days a week from August through the end of the season,” he said. “There is a lot of hard work and sacrifice that goes into it. Whenever I get a ‘coach of the year’ honor, it should be a ‘coaching staff of the year’ award. It’s not me alone, that’s for sure.”
In addition, Mihalik saluted the coaches’ wives including his wife, Debbie.
“We wouldn’t be able to do it without our wives,” he said. “Some of our coaches have younger kids. Our wives are so understanding.”
Mihalik’s son Matt, a 2013 Aurora graduate, was a wide receiver on the football team in addition to playing basketball and baseball. Today, he is a junior at Bowling Green State University where he is a student assistant on the football team. Daughter Meghan, an AHS junior, plays soccer and runs track.

Outstanding players
Mihalik said many of his former players have gone on to play at the college division II and III levels, “but a lot also have played in Division I.”
One that stands out to Mihalik is Adam Bellamy, an offensive and defensive lineman from the 2008 Aurora state championship team who went to Ohio State University.
“Adam was our first big Division I guy,” he said. “That put us on the map with recruiters.”
Another that stands out to Mihalik is Anthony Melchiori, who went on to become a punter for four years at Kent State University.
“Part of our job is to help match our players with schools where they can fit in socially, academically and can play football,” he said.
Mihalik said last year Aurora had 122 college visits from recruiters from the three divisions combined.
Mihalik said Aurora has had about a dozen players in Division I in the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences, “but I’m just as proud of the Division II and III players. They’re playing for the love of the game, not for full scholarships.”

Coaching background
Mihalik was a three-sport athlete at Eastlake North High School and played football at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pa. He was an assistant football coach for 11 years at Lakewood High School in addition to coaching freshman / junior varsity baseball.
His big break in coaching came when he was hired in Aurora 15 years ago for his first high school head coaching position.
“We’ve had support from the administration,” he said, citing former Superintendent Russ Bennett and current Superintendent Pat Ciccantelli. “Russ said you can have a strong academic program and an extra curricular program, too.
“Russ promoted extracurricular activities. Pat does, too. The Board of Education provides the opportunities, facilities and resources.
“There’s no doubt we have a great home field advantage,” he said of the 26-game home winning streak that ended in the first round of the playoffs last fall. “We know the fans have been the difference in many of our wins over the years.”
Email: mlesko@recorpdub.com
Phone: 330-541-9400 ext. 4187