MERIDEN — Jerry Melesko and Rob Jachym had never been formally introduced until they showed up for a photo shoot at the Record-Journal the other night.
Their paths, though, had intersected before.
“My grandkids went to your soccer camp,” Melesko remarked to Jachym. “Mike Ingeno.”
“Mike. Yeah, I remember Mike.”
“And Ashley Ingeno.”
“Ashley, yes. A very good player.”
A smile, a pause.
Rob Jachym: Jerry Melesko. Jerry Melesko: Rob Jachym. You’ll soon share the head table at the Meriden Sports Reunion as the 2018 Sportsmen of Distinction.
Rob Jachym is the selection from the Platt/Maloney Era. An All-American soccer player at Maloney in the early 1990s whose scoring records still stand, Jachym went on to an All-American career at the University of Hartford and was playing professionally in the MLS before the decade was out.
Jerry Melesko is the selection from the Meriden High Era. If a refresher course is needed for his athletic resume, it’s worth the review. A 1957 grad, Melesko was a halfback in football, an infielder in baseball and a guard in basketball.
Basketball was his main game and the one he played in college. For two years, Melesko was a guard for coach Bill Detrick at Central Connecticut State, further developing not only his ballhandling skills, but the proverbial eyes in the back of the head that would serve him well as a teacher.
As with past recipients, it’s what Jachym and Melesko have done beyond their playing days that sealed their recognition as Sportsmen of Distinction.
Jachym coaches soccer year round. Best known as the head man at Wethersfield High School, Jachym’s itinerary includes summer camps in his hometown and Saturday morning clinics with the Meriden Soccer Club.
Melesko also did a great deal of coaching, primarily at the various high schools where he taught. Melesko has also long been involved with the Meriden Boys & Girls Club. A member of the Board of Directors, he was inducted into the club’s Alumni Association’s Hall of Fame last year.
“The two inductees this year are a true example of what our committee views as important factors in the selection process: outstanding athletes and commitment to one’s community,” remarked Sports Reunion Chairman Patsy Papandrea. “Both are truly worthy of the Sportsmen of Distinction award.”
Melesko and Jachym are Sportsmen No. 77 and 78 in an event that dates back to 1982. They’ll be honored at the 37th annual Reunion on Tuesday night, April 10 at the Meriden Elks Club.
They won’t have far to drive. The 78-year-old Melesko is a lifelong resident of Meriden. Jachym, 43, lives in Middletown just over the Meriden line near Hunter Golf Club.
Melesko, a long-standing attendee of the event, knew he was on the short list of nominees, yet was still surprised by his selection — so much so that when Sports Reunion publicist John Young called to pass along the news, Melesko couldn’t come to the phone.
OK, there were extenuating circumstances. Dinner was on.
“Can I talk to Jerry?” Young asked Melesko’s wife of 54 years, Mary Beth.
“Well, he’s cutting up chicken.”
Being in the spotlight won’t be typical for Melesko. Even in his playing days at Central Connecticut, Melesko was the play-making guard, not the scorer getting the headlines. Now it’s his name in bold type.
“It’s awkward to be fussed over,” he said.
“It’s humbling and it’s exciting, also,” Melesko added. “The anticipation of it: What am I going to say? What am I going to do? How are they going to react to me?”
Ah, ever the teacher.
Melesko taught math, in order, at Maloney, Woodbury and Cheshire High schools. He coached at each stop: assistant for his former football coach Ed McGee at Maloney, assistant basketball at Woodbury and again at Cheshire. He also put in two years as freshman basketball coach at Platt under Rich Pasinski.
Melesko retired in 1996, though continued to teach part-time at Mercy High, Middlesex Community College and CCSU. It was a career that spanned well over 30 years.
What does Melesko take most pride in as an educator?
“My patience that I had. That’s why I lasted so long, I think. And I met some terrific kids and their families along the way, in coaching and in teaching.”
Though separated by a quarter century, Melesko and Jachym are both sons of Meriden. They are middle children — Melesko the third of five, Jachym the second of three — who grew up playing in the same city leagues and gyms, on many of the same city fields.
Jachym was a transplant. His father Tadeusz came over from Poland, joined his brother Joe in Meriden, worked for a year and, once a permanent visa was obtained, brought his family over. In 1980, the Jachyms left the house with the pear tree out front and the well in back, crossed the Atlantic and moved into a second-floor apartment across from St. Stan’s.
Jachym, 5-years old at the time, grew up an American boy, and soccer was his bridge. His first organized game was as a guest player in the Meriden Boys Club’s King Soccer League. He played half the game in net, half the game in the field and scored four goals.
“Hey, we want to sign you up,” the coach said afterward.
“Right away, soccer, for myself, for my family, right away, when you’re a good player, everyone’s friends with you,” Jachym recalled. “Everybody wanted to be my partner. It just made it easy for my parents.”
Jachym’s career traced a meteoric trajectory: All-American at Maloney, All-American at Hartford, third overall pick in the 1997 MLS Draft by the Columbus Crew. A year later, he was with the New England Revolution.
Jachym was star-struck. Here he was, alongside players he’d seen on TV.
It was probably too much, too soon. In hindsight, after thriving in the USL D-3 Pro League with the Western New England Pioneers from 1999 through 2004, Jachym figures he would have been served starting his pro career at that level rather than jumping directly up to the MLS.
Then again, Jachym jumped into the deep end even as a coach. He was hired at Wethersfield High in 2000. One of his players was Drew DiCicco, son of Tony DiCicco, who had just coached the U.S. women’s national team to victory in the World Cup.
As Jachym led his team through practices and games, the elder DiCicco would be in the bleachers. With Jachym’s permission, he’d occasionally talk to the team.
“For me, I’d just met him. I hadn’t worked his camps at that point — eventually I went to his club when he opened up Soccer Plus — but, yeah, it was very intimidating,” Jachym related. “He was a good player; I was watching him on TV. We were practicing on DiCicco Field, named after him. It was interesting, but it was great. He made it so comfortable.
“When he came over, I’d see how he’d talk to the kids. One thing I picked up: He remembered everybody’s name.”
Jachym proved his mettle right away at Wethersfield. His teams won three state championships in his first four years. The Eagles won another in 2010.
Wethersfield High is just the tip of Jachym’s coaching iceberg. What started as the Rob Jachym Revolutionary Soccer Camp in Meriden in 1998 has grown into a series of summer camps in multiple towns.
Married to his college sweetheart Christa and now the father of three children, Jachym also coaches premier teams out of Farmington Sports Arena in the fall, winter and spring, working around his job as a graphic designer at the University of Hartford.
The players Jachym coaches run the gamut in age and skill, from the U6 kids in the Saturday morning clinics at Meriden Soccer Club to the U-17 select team he’ll help coach this summer in a trip to Spain.
Jachym’s soccer world has indeed broadened far beyond his initial guest appearance in the King League. And yet it’s the high school memories that remain most vivid — not just in soccer, but in basketball, where he was All-Conference as a senior.
“I remember so many of my high school games, my high school goals … playing Platt.”
He zips through names of former teammates, even the one who brought him to his first King League game.
”It’s funny,” said Jachym, “It’s, what, 30 years later, and I’m being brought into another boys club of a sort.”
Tickets for the 2018 Meriden Sports Reunion are now available from committee members, at Alan's Cup’n Saucer or from Patsy Papandrea at 203-235-5413.