Galena grad, Pitt State LB Sarwinski not ready to quit suiting up for game days, tackles role as high school official


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By Mac Moore – KSHSAA Covered

PJ Sarwinski wants to keep pushing off the day when he’ll stop suiting up for games.

Sarwinski participated in senior day ceremonies last fall, but the extra year of eligibility offered to him because of the COVID-19 pandemic lured the Pittsburg State linebacker into returning for a sixth season.

“I never thought coming to Pitt State that I’d be here for six years,” Sarwinski said. “For this last semester, the biggest thing for me is I just want to enjoy it. I love the game of football and football’s just given me so much in my life.”

Sarwinski, who earned a Division II All-American selection last year, knows it will not be easy replacing a sport that has been such a big part of his life. However, he does already have experience moving on from another game. A couple sports actually.

When he graduated from Galena High School in 2017, Sarwinski had to walk away from basketball and baseball. Sarwinski said he wanted his focus in college to be on football and keeping up with his academic schedule, which was packed with high-level math courses.

Giving up those two sports was not easy for him. But Sarwinski found another way to keep suiting up in those as well.

Sarwinski, who had worked as an referee and umpire in youth sports since his freshman year of high school, decided to become a high school basketball and baseball official for KSHSAA. While he was also working his way up the football team’s depth chart, Sarwinski also spent the last six years working his way up to refereeing some college games, including ones at the JUCO and NAIA level. Sarwinski has been selected twice to be a KSHSAA State Baseball umpire.

“I think the biggest thing for me was to just give back to the game,” he said. “I think it’s another avenue for me to stay with the game and be involved with it.”

Sarwinski said his mind was always focused on playing the game when he was growing up, so he never really put thought into the officiating aspect until he became one.

“I never thought about ‘Oh, this official is good or not good,'” he said. “When I played, I just played. If adversity strikes, you gotta face it and you have to respond.”

Now that he wearing the ref’s uniform instead of the player’s, Sarwinski said he’s focused on being professional and approachable in this role.

“The most important thing as an official is to be approachable,” he said. “To be a person that people can come up, talk to, ask questions and be open to answering those questions. Give back to them and help them understand the game better.”

Sarwinski said sometimes those disagreements over calls can become heated, particularly when counting the conversations officials have with fans, but his goals remain the same in those moments.

“Sometimes you have some challenging people in this career and I think it makes you a better person when you interact with those people,” he said. “It makes you look at yourself in the mirror and reflect on who you want to be.

“At the end of the day, you’re doing it for the kids and you’re doing it for yourself to become a better person.”

Sarwinski plans to continue his work as an official after he finishes up at Pitt State, but he’s not planning taking any Friday night gigs. He sees his post-playing career for football continuing with a role on the sideline.

“I think I want to coach football because of how much knowledge I have in the game,” he said. “I think if I can give that knowledge to some other kids along the way, I think that’s what’s important to me and what I want to do.”

Sarwinski, who already completed a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in educational leadership, plans to continue working on his Educational Specialist degree for another year after he completes his football eligibility this fall.

After that, he looks forward to becoming a teacher or administrator at the high school level, which would be following in the footsteps of his father Beau. The elder Sarwinski serves as Galena’s assistant principal, athletic director and football coach.

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Derek Nester
Derek Nester
Derek Nester was born and raised in Blue Rapids and graduated from Valley Heights High School in 2000. He attended Cowley College in Arkansas City and Johnson County Community College in Overland Park studying Journalism & Media Communications. In 2002 Derek joined Taylor Communications, Inc. in Salina, Kansas working in digital media for 550 AM KFRM and 100.9 FM KCLY. Following that stop, he joined Dierking Communications, Inc. stations KNDY AM & FM as a board operator and fill-in sports play-by-play announcer. Starting in 2005 Derek joined the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network as a Studio Coordinator at 101 The Fox in Kansas City, a role he would serve for 15 years culminating in the Super Bowl LIV Championship game broadcast. In 2021 he moved to Audacy, formerly known as Entercom Communications, Inc. and 106.5 The Wolf and 610 Sports Radio, the new flagship stations of the Kansas City Chiefs Radio Network, the largest radio network in the NFL. Through all of this, Derek continues to serve as the Digital Media Director for Sunflower State Radio, the digital and social media operations of Dierking Communications, Inc. and the 6 radio stations it owns and operates across Kansas.

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