Galena grad, Pitt State LB Sarwinski isn’t ready to stop dressing up for game days, tackles high school officiating role

By MacMoore – Covered by KSHSAA

PJ Sarwinski wants to keep pushing back the day he stops dressing for games.

Sarwinski participated in Senior Day ceremonies last fall, but the extra year of eligibility offered to him due to the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the Pittsburg State linebacker to return for a sixth season.

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

Sarwinski, who earned a Division II All-American selection last year, knows it won’t be easy to replace a sport that has been such a big part of his life. However, he already has experience moving from another game. A few sports actually.

When he graduated from Galena High School in 2017, Sarwinski had to step away from basketball and baseball. Sarwinski said he wanted in college to focus on football and follow his school curriculum, which was full of high-level math lessons.

Giving up these two sports was not easy for him. But Sarwinski also found another way to keep adapting to these.

Sarwinski, who had worked as a referee and umpire in youth sports since his junior year of high school, decided to become a high school basketball and baseball official for KSHSAA. While also rising through the ranks of the football team, Sarwinski also spent the last six years officiating some college games, including those at the JUCO and NAIA level. Sarwinski was selected twice to be a KSHSAA State Baseball Umpire.

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

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

“I never thought about ‘Oh, this official is good or not good,'” he said. “When I was playing, I was just playing. If adversity hits, you have to face it and you have to react.

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

“The most important thing as an official is to be accessible,” he said. “Being someone people can come to, 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 get heated, especially counting the conversations officials have with fans, but his goals remain the same in those times.

“Sometimes you have difficult people in this career and I think that makes you a better person when you interact with those people,” he said. “It makes you look in the mirror and think about 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 finishing at Pitt State, but he is not planning any Friday night concerts. He sees his post-playing career for football continuing with a role on the sidelines.

“I think I want to coach football because of my knowledge of the game,” he said. “I think if I can pass that knowledge on to other kids along the way, I think that’s what’s important to me and what I want to do.”

Sarwinski, who has already earned a bachelor’s degree in math and a master’s degree in instructional leadership, plans to continue working on his education specialist degree for another year after completing his football eligibility this fall.

After that, he looks forward to becoming a high school teacher or administrator, which would follow in his father Beau’s footsteps. The elder Sarwinski is assistant manager, sporting director and football coach at Galena.

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