Tom Juhas was born to be a coach.
He just didn’t know it.
Juhas, who is stepping down as Northeast High School baseball coach at the end of the school year, has been coaching ever since he became a teacher in 1997. But when he first grabbed a hat and a uniform, he had no idea what he was getting into.
“I didn’t have anything figured out, I was 27 years old and I was hired as a math teacher at Olney,” said Juhas, who has been the Northeast baseball coach for the past five years. “When I was in college, I was working 50 hours a week, so after I started teaching, I wanted to do something. I just wanted to be around the game. Then I found out we get paid for this.
“I was at Olney and I was the JV coach under Barry Strube. He was great. He let me do my thing and he did his. I just gave it a shot because I loved baseball and I loved teaching. Turns out I really loved coaching.”
Juhas got into coaching to help kids, certainly not glory. And that’s likely why he spent the bulk of his career coaching at the junior varsity level.
He spent the first four years at Olney before he got a job at Washington, where he coached the junior varsity teams for Eagles coaches Moxie Bilkins, Calvin Jones and finally Ken Geiser.
Then in 2014, he decided to leave Washington and come to Northeast. After taking one year off, he finally made the varsity team and was named the coach of the Vikings.
“It’s a completely different mindset, coaching junior varsity and varsity,” said Juhas, who twice made the Public League semifinals, twice made the quarterfinals and made it to the second round the other season. “When you’re coaching JV, you just want the kids to go out, play around, have fun, and you try to teach them the game the best you can. Varsity, it’s so much more competitive. I loved doing both.
“Varsity, you find yourself really wanting to win. You want to win in JV, but you’re also trying to teach. You’re trying to maybe get one or two guys who can move up during the year and the rest of the guys, you’re just making them learn the game and have fun. I had fun everywhere I went.”
Juhas was a baseball player himself when he was in high school at Kensington. It’s one of the reasons he decided to get into coaching.
“Olney needed a guy and I was a guy,” Juhas said. “I’m definitely not the best baseball mind out there. I wasn’t a great player when I played in high school. I knew the game a little and I liked teaching, so I figured why not coach? But I loved it more than I expected.
“Coaching is fun because you’re working with these guys and it’s different than being in school. You can teach life lessons, you can teach them, but it’s not the same as teaching them in school. Kids, good kids, are different in school than on the field and I’ve had nothing but good kids. It’s the same everywhere I went. Olney, Washington and Northeast. I’ve been really lucky to have the kids I’ve had.”
Juhas might be a math wiz, but he’s a much different person in the classroom than he is in baseball.
“You get a different relationship with players than you do students,” Juhas said. “You see them interact differently. They feel they can be more themselves when they’re playing sports as opposed to being in school. You get to direct these kids. I love it. You go out and have fun. You get to teach them, but it’s in a different way.”
That’s one of the reasons Juhas made it his mission to make baseball, both games and practice, fun.
And at Northeast, he credits his assistant coach Jack Kapp as a reason he was able to have fun while winning a lot of games.
“When I got the job, I was told that Jack was with the program and I was asked if I would keep him on,” Juhas said. “I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ I love having him. He was so important. He was great at some of the things I wasn’t great at. He did so much for the kids, the team and me.
“He kept the stats. He took great pictures. He’s a great baseball player, he understands the outfield, he knows mechanics. He’s great with the kids. He really works. I can’t tell you how important he was to everything we did.”
Juhas will always be there for his players, but next year, he won’t be the guy calling the shots.
If the Vikings ever need help, he’ll gladly step in and help. But he’s looking forward to spending time with his family, which includes his wife, Danielle, his son Thomas, daughter Catherine, and of course, Catherine’s son and Juhas’ best friend Smalls.
“I’ll probably be getting Smalls out a little bit and taking him and Charlie dog out every chance we get,” Juhas said. “Spring time is perfect weather. We’ll go to Pennypack. You want to climb a bridge? Go ahead!
“I love spending time with him. We’ll probably check out some games. I’ll play with him and the best part about being a grandparent, you can be the fun one. He knows that’s me.”
Still, he’ll miss it.
As much as he’s looking forward to spending time at home, he’ll always love coaching.
“It’s the kids, that’s what I loved about coaching,” Juhas said. “Everywhere I was at, I loved it. It’s been great being around these people. But they’ll be fine. They’ll get a great coach and I’ll be watching.”