September 23, 2018

They played alongside each other from third grade through high school.

Now, former Forest City soccer co-captains Matt Fitzsimmons and Steve Kulikowski have another memory they won’t soon forget after coaching against each other in last Saturday’s Lackawanna Soccer League game.

Fitzsimmons, in his 20th season as head coach at Western Wayne, saw his team get the better of Riverside, in Kulikowski’s rookie season, 7-2.

“I knew he probably had the better of me,” Kulikowski said. “Traditionally his team is pretty strong. I knew they’d be very well prepared and that he had a few years of experience on me. I was hopeful but somewhat realistic.”

It’s a nice story, but not the whole picture of two coaches whose lives have been intertwined for most of four decades.

Back in a time a few of us can remember when there were few cell phones and no instant messaging or email, Fitzsimmons kept a photograph of them from the 1991 season on his desk at the University of Pittsburgh, and while Kulikowski went on to Misericordia University, their friendship never waned.

“He was the friend I never had to worry that, if I needed something, it was a done deal.” Fitzsimmons said. “We had to do the

picture. We always reference that picture.”

That picture was one Fitzsimmons posted on Facebook of the two from ’91. Alongside it, a photo from before last weekend’s game.

“It’s kind of funny because I was anxious for the game just because it’s Steve,” Fitzsimmons said. “Once the game got going, it was just playing soccer as usual.”

But this is far from your usual friendship.

Friends since third grade, they were teammates in soccer and basketball in high school. Fitzsimmons was best man in Kulikowski’s wedding — he married Fitzsimmons’ cousin — and he is the godfather of one of Kulikowski’s two sons.

Even so, it didn’t seem like their paths would ever cross on the pitch — until Kulikowski’s boys signed up to play Triboro Youth Soccer.

“When you show up at one of the first meetings, you become a coach,” Kulikowski said. “You’re there, you’re a coach. You just go with it because you want to help out the youth and the community.”

Not knowing quite what to do, he turned to his best friend.

“I called Matt when I started eight years ago and asked what do you do with these kids, at the U8,

U10 level,” Kulikowski said. “He just stressed positioning, making good touches, basic fundamentals. Enjoy the sport and learn how to play it.

“I picked his brain eight years ago when I was getting started with rec stuff so I didn’t look like a complete fool.”

Six games into a coaching career he never expected, no one is thinking that. Kulikowski’s team is 2-4, which wouldn’t be earth shattering except that the Vikings hadn’t won a game since the 2013 season before a 2-1 win over rival Old Forge on Sept. 11.

“He’s always been a hard worker,” Fitzsimmons said. “No matter what he’s doing, he is giving it his best effort. He’s not letting them be satisfied with (two wins). He’s telling them to enjoy it and be proud of it, but let’s get more.”

Contact the writer: mmyers@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100, ext. 5437; @mmyersTT on Twitter

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