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The resignation of South Plainfield's Don Panzarella, who is state's winningest softball coach, has made Caldwell's Mike Teshkoyan, the man who is second on New Jersey's all-time list, even more appreciative of where he teaches and coaches. (Photo by Jeff Stiefbold & also courtesy of South Plainfield softball)

Caldwell’s Coach Feels Blessed
To Be No. 2 Behind Panzarella

By Steve Tober

Caldwell’s Mike Teshkoyan is next on the list, that being the all-time victories list among New Jersey’s high school softball coaches.

And, while he would like to someday reach the 848-win plateau that Don Panzarella did in 43 seasons at South Plainfield, he does not like the fact that the Middlesex County and statewide legendary coach is no longer directing the program at the school where the softball field is named in his honor.

It was announced in June that Panzarella had stepped down from his more than four-decade-role of successfully guiding softball players and championship teams at South Plainfield as he cited too many personal parent agendas and a lack of administrative support strongly contributing to his decision that rocked the state’s softball community.

And, the winningest coach in the Garden State is not the only high-profile coach who has decided to step aside due to outside pressure or influences. Early this past spring Chris Jackson, who had guided highly-ranked Notre Dame High School in Ewing, also resigned as he also talked about parents having an agenda.

Caldwell’s Teshkoyan, who has 746 victories in 38 seasons at the helm, feels bad about Panzarella stepping down, but that he understood why.

“I emailed Don and told him how I respected him so much for taking a stand based on his principles,” said the Chiefs’ longtime softball mentor. “He was an outstanding coach for such a long time, but no one is safe anymore when a coach can be at the whim of one parent, even if you’ve done things the right way throughout your career.

“Like Don we have the best interest of the kids at heart here at Caldwell, and we genuinely care about them.

“You definitely have to try and roll with the punches and be open-minded, but you also can’t succeed without the support of your players, your community and the school administration.”

It’s definitely an ultra-challenging terrain out there for high school coaches today as the resignations of both Notre Dame’s Jackson and South Plainfield’s Panzarella remind everyone.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ Missy Collazo is one of the other softball coaches who appreciates the greatness of the legendary South Plainfield coach while also making a very profound statement about being a coach today.  

“Coaching is very different than it used to be,” she said in an article following Panzarella’s resignation. “Parents are different, the players are different and obviously people in charge are different as well.”   

Caldwell’s Teshkoyan knows that he is very fortunate to have a supportive school administration behind him, including an athletic director who he knows will have his back no matter what.

“Our athletic director Dan Romano is the best in the business,” he said. “He is a former Caldwell athlete and coach and understands all that’s involved in coaching today.

“Rich Porfido before him was also very supportive of his coaches as was Ron San Filippo, who was a legendary AD at our school, and who hired me to coach three sports (varsity softball and soccer and jayvee girls basketball) back in the day.

“The Caldwells are great communities to coach in, and I am blessed to have been doing what I’ve been doing teaching and coaching for so many years here.”

However, Teshkoyan, 66, knows how fragile it all can be for a number of reasons. His beloved, late brother, Mark, who he coached alongside for 34 years in the softball and girls soccer programs at Caldwell, was a pillar of strength and commitment throughout his own life.

Mark, who had kidney disease and had to undergo dialysis on a daily basis for 33 years, passed away in January of 2021; however, his spirit certainly lives on at James Caldwell High School and with the Chiefs softball program that his brother continues to direct.

Teshkoyan is coming off a superb spring season when the Chiefs finished a solid 19-11 overall while reaching the semifinals of the North 2, Group 2 state tournament and also recording a .500 record in the ultra-tough Super Essex Conference-American Division with two games each against state powers such as Essex County Tournament and Non-Public, North A state sectional champion Mount St. Dominic, Group 1 state champ Cedar Grove and Group 4 powers Livingston and Columbia.

For his exemplary work in the 2024 spring campaign Teshkoyan was selected as Sideline Chatter’s Essex County Coach of the Year.

Still, with his continued success guiding Caldwell softball the challenges remain for Teshkoyan off the field as well after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2023. After a few rough months adjusting to a treatment regimen, he is doing very well these days and just returned from a bicycle trip in Idaho and will be headed to Greece for another part of his summer vacation before returning to Caldwell’s Grover Cleveland Middle School in September to begin his 44th year of teaching sixth grade history.

In addition to his nearly four decades as a varsity softball coach he also helps out with the girls soccer program at Caldwell he once ran as he serves as the Chiefs’ jayvee coach.

Through it all, he continues to do his best to enjoy each and every day while appreciating the family and friends who have been such positive influences on his continuing coaching life.  

“Watching how Mark went through all he did health-wise, and did it always with a smile and such a positive attitude has just helped me to further realize how lucky and blessed I am,” said Mike. “And, I plan on teaching and coaching as long as I am healthy enough to do so.

“Once a Chief, always a Chief!”      

Follow Steve Tober on 'X' (formerly Twitter) @Chattermeister

The softball field at South Plainfield HS is dedicated to former coach Don Panzarella who is No. 1 on New Jersey's all-time victories list ahead of Caldwell's longtime coach Mike Teshkoyan, who stands at No. 2 on the list. (Photos by Jeff Stiefbold and courtesy of Tapinto/South Plainfield)

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