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Longtime Coach, Administrator and Official in District 9 and Driving Force Behind PIAA’s Move From Four Classes to Six, Bob Tonkin, Dies

CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Bob Tonkin was always looking out for the little guy.

He spent years as a coach, administrator and official. One of the projects close to his heart was expanding from four to six classes in the PIAA.

Tonkin drove across the state in 2015 to whip up the votes to help that measure pass. It was approved and implemented beginning in the 2016-17 season.

He felt small, rural schools like many of the ones in Clarion County didn’t get a fair shake at the state level.

And when Tonkin thought something was unfair, he did something about it.

“Class AAAA schools had enrollments from 550 to 2,100, and I felt this was an uneven playing field,” Tonkin said in a 2021 article on The imbalance created less opportunities, while adding two classes added much more.”

Tonkin died on Tuesday. He was 80.

(Pictured above, Bob Tonkin, right, poses with Norb Baschnagel at the Sportsmanship All-Star Games in 2019. Tonkin, the longtime coach, administrator and official in District 9, died on Tuesday at the age of 80.)

His contributions will be felt for decades to come.

“(Going from four to six classes) was his baby,” said Dave Katis, who worked with Tonkin as the athletic director at Clarion University. He’s now a sports management professor at PennWest Clarion. “He pointed back to a couple of those Karns City teams that had to play teams that were only a couple of players from being 3A as one of the driving reasons.

“I dealt with him for many years. He got us so many football games at the stadium so we could make scholarship money. Same thing with high school basketball playoffs. Always had Clarion’s best interest.”

Many who knew him well hit social media to post memories and thoughts about Tonkin when news of his death hit.

“Bob was a sweet friend with a wit that would match his sly smile and twinkle in his eye,” posted Kim Constantino on her Facebook page. “He loved to joke and I always walked away laughing. Bob had a big heart and will be surely missed.”

Katis said Tonkin’s sense of humor and ability to disarm anyone will be missed.

“He got me really good once,” Katis said. “After one of the really cold games at the stadium, the refs and him went up to the tavern after the game. I couldn’t go — I still had work at the stadium. The following Friday, I went to lunch at the tavern and the owner, Nancy, came over to me and said Mr. Tonkin and his friends were there last Friday and left the bill for me. So I paid the bill — it was like 90 bucks. That night we had another game at the stadium. He had a check made out for $100 to me. He just wanted to bust my stones. That’s the way he was.”

Tonkin was from the eastern side of the state before moving west where he made a huge impact on this area.

A 1961 graduate of West Pittston High School, which has since been merged into Wyoming Area High School, Tonkin was a standout on the football field as an offensive lineman. His play earned him a place at East Stroudsburg, where he played football while pursuing a degree in education.

Tonkin was the starting center on East Stroudsburg’s 1964 Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference title team. He earned degrees in geography and social studies.

His first teaching job came at a very familiar place when he was hired at his alma mater, West Pittston. One year later, the school closed and was absorbed by Wyoming Area.

Tonkin’s first coaching jobs came there on the school’s football and track and field staffs.

He moved on to Newport High School and coached football and track there before he made a major change.

Tonkin headed across the state to New Bethlehem, where he coached football at Redbank Valley. After leaving Newbie four years later, he landed in Emporium at Cameron County, then St. Marys and finally in Brookville, where he coached football and track and field before being named athletic director there.

Tonkin branched out into officiating and spent 18 years as a basketball referee while also serving as Brookville’s A.D. In 2000, he was named Region III Athletic Director of the Year.

In 1986, Tonkin began working on the PIAA District 9 committee. He remained active in D9 and in the PIAA, serving as secretary and treasurer, until his death. He was also the District 9 football chairman and the District 9 track and field chairman until 2023.

In 2019 he was honored by the Clarion County YMCA as the western Pennsylvania Sportsperson of the Year.

He is survived by is wife, Patty, sons Michael and David, and daughter Phyllis.