BROOKVILLE, Pa. – Bob Tonkin is a veteran when it comes to the athletics industry.
(Pictured above: Bob Tonkin (right) with game director Norb Baschnagel at the Sportsmanship 1 All-Star Games held March 30, 2019. Photo courtesy Jared Bakaysa.)
Since the 1960’s, he’s been involved in coaching and eventually moved into an administration role later in his career. A career in sports was bound to happen as competition and athletics have been a major part of his life from the beginning.
“Growing up, all (that) my buddies and I did was play sports,” Tonkin explained. My love for sports and competition flourished from there, and I attribute a lot of it to the days competing with and against the neighborhood teams.”
Tonkin is a 1961 graduate of West Pittston High School, which has since closed and merged into Wyoming Area High School, where he enjoyed a standout football career. His play on the offensive line was so good that he was recruited by a collection of colleges to continue playing past his high school days. There were about 25 colleges that contacted him, but it was East Stroudsburg where he chose to continue his academic and athletic career.
In his senior year of high school, the West Pittston High grad decided that he wanted to become a teacher.
“Truthfully, I wanted to become a teacher and a coach and that was a huge reason I decided to go for education,” he said.
After four years at East Stroudsburg and becoming the starting center on the 1964 Pennsylvania State College Athletic Conference championship team, Tonkin wrapped up his undergraduate studies and finished with degrees in geography and social studies.
The former ESU standout reflected on this accomplishment as something that some predicted growing up he would never achieve.
“Growing up, not many people gave me and some of my buddies a chance to ever go to college. I think this influenced me over the years to not look at kids based on their last name or their situation, but for who they are as a person and their character.”
Fresh out of college, he accepted a teaching job at his alma mater West Pittston where he remained for a full school year before the school merged into Wyoming Area. It was there where he got his first coaching position on the football and track and field staff. He then moved on to Stroudsburg High School where he continued to coach football before another opportunity in teaching and coaching opened at Newport High where he coached football and track and field once again.
After spending his entire life in the eastern part of the state, his next move was to Redbank Valley High School where he coached football and continued as an educator for four years. His colors remained red as he moved from New Bethlehem to Emporium to coach the Red Raiders football program while also continuing to teach. Later in his coaching career, he joined the St. Marys Dutch football program before making his final stop at Brookville Area High School where he coached football, track, and football, and eventually became the district’s director of athletics.
Along the way, he had the honor of coaching in the Big 30 All-Star Football Game held annually in Bradford between Pennsylvania and New York. In addition, he was nearly a two-decade veteran in officiating high school hoops as he gave 18 years of service to PIAA basketball as a referee. At Brookville, Tonkin enjoyed 15 successful years and even racked up the Region III Athletic Director of the Year in the year 2000.
In 1986, Tonkin started a tenure serving on the PIAA District 9 Committee. It was through this that he got to make perhaps some of the biggest connections in the athletic administration industry. Although his time on the committee has ended, as well as a brief stint on the Junior High/Middle School Representative on the PIAA Board of Directors from 2008-2009, he still remains very active in positions with District 9 and the PIAA including being the D9 football and track and field chairman, the D9 Secretary/Treasurer, and as a PIAA Football and Track and Field Steering Committee member.
When speaking to the Brookville resident about what two causes he is most proud of during his time in athletics, he listed helping the PIAA expand from four classes to six classes and making a school district he was coaching to realize that not allowing married students to play high school sports was a poor decision. It was Tonkin who helped convince the school district to make the rule change about married students to positively impact the student-athlete experience for the future.
As for helping make the change from four to six classes in the PIAA, Tonkin was an author on the legislation that helped make the change just a few years ago while also incorporating more off time in a PIAA football season. Tonkin explained why he felt some of these changes were necessary when it comes to the future of the PIAA.
“Class AAAA schools had enrollments from 550 to 2,100, and I felt this was an uneven playing field. This imbalance created less opportunities while adding two classes added much more. As for the off weeks in a football season, teams in the PIAA were playing 16 weeks in a row in order to be crowned a state champion which is less than a college team would play to be crowned a national champion. These student-athletes needed a break, and I am happy with this small change, as well.”
In 2019, he racked up yet another accolade as his work was recognized and honored by the Clarion County YMCA as he was named YMCA Western PA Sportsperson of the Year. His consistent nature of putting the student-athletes first in District 9 and throughout the PIAA was rewarded as he joined an elite group who have also exhibited great sportsmanship over their respective careers in athletics.
When asking the long-time athletic administrator who has been some of the biggest influences on him, he quickly mentioned the college football coach who changed his life for the better. Jack Gregory was his college football coach in his days at East Stroudsburg and someone he credits immensely for showing him how to prepare not just for a game, but also how to be prepared as a professional and a person. In 2012, Tonkin and Coach Gregory were inducted into the East Stroudsburg University Athletic Hall of Fame as members of the 1964 football team that made history for the school while winning a PSCAC (now PSAC) conference title for the Warrior faithful.
He also thought back to his childhood friends for being some of the biggest influencers on him finding his passion for competition and athletics.
“I always kind of thought of the games I coached in or officiated as a continuation of the games we used to have when I was in elementary school,” Tonkin said. “My life was changed for the better from those games in the neighborhood.”
These days, Tonkin’s passion for athletics remains strong as does his love for his family. He is the proud father of three children. His son, Mike, lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and was an All-American runner at Edinboro University. His son, David, lives in Springfield, Missouri, and was an All-Metro cross-country and track and field runner at Virginia Tech. His daughter, Phyllis, lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, and is a former women’s basketball player for Virginia Tech who was named the most valuable women’s athlete in her senior year. Tonkin and his wife Patty, a former elementary school teacher in the Redbank Valley School District, reside in Brookville.
While sports the last year or so have looked different, one dedicated man behind the scenes has not. Due to this, PIAA’s District 9 will always be looked out for as long as Bob Tonkin has something to say about it.