Randy Pawlyk... Whitman’s Secret Weapon

“Randy is very sharp in sports and in life. He doesn’t miss a thing.” Coach Tom Fitzpatrick.
“Randy is very sharp in sports and in life. He doesn’t miss a thing.” Coach Tom Fitzpatrick.
When Kieran Elmore is home for a visit, he knows exactly where to find Randy.
When Kieran Elmore is home for a visit, he knows exactly where to find Randy.
Randy, with Jaron Batts before a recent football game.
Randy, with Jaron Batts before a recent football game.
Randy, with coach Mike Moccia at last Spring’s Gold Key - Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.
Randy, with coach Mike Moccia at last Spring’s Gold Key - Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.
Randy, with Rose Pedretti after a basketball game last season.
Randy, with Rose Pedretti after a basketball game last season.
Danielle Muller- Walt Whitman Class of ’03 was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame last year and spent some time catching up with Randy at the Gold Key - Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.
Danielle Muller- Walt Whitman Class of ’03 was inducted into the Sports Hall of Fame last year and spent some time catching up with Randy at the Gold Key - Sports Hall of Fame Dinner.

You see him at almost every football, basketball, and lacrosse game, and practice too, no matter what the weather. Rain, snow, sleet, hail, he’s out there, bundled against the elements.  Randy Pawlyk, at 32 years of age, has learned to endure more than most of us will ever have to. Randy was born with cerebral palsy and has spent his life in a wheelchair. When you first meet Randy, you might be a little nervous. “When I first met Randy in 2001, I had some difficulty communicating with him,” said South Huntington Athletic Director Dr. Jim Wright. “But it didn’t take him long to make me feel comfortable, and we quickly developed a great relationship. He made it so I stopped looking at the wheelchair and focused on him.” 

“I didn’t know who Randy was at first,” said senior Jaron Batts, Whitman’s outstanding three-sport athlete. “When I was a sophomore, I looked up to our quarterback, Mitchell Bermudez, and saw that he was always spending time with Randy, so I thought that Randy must be a good guy. So I started talking and hanging out with Randy as well.”  

Once you spend time with Randy, it doesn’t take long to see that he is a special guy, and when it comes to sports, a very smart guy as well. He’s quick to point out a moment of laziness, and he’s just as quick to compliment a great play. “No matter what the score, whenever I came off the football field, Randy was there, telling me to keep my head up and never quit,” said Jaron. “It could be bitter cold out at practice, and there he is, and you say to yourself, Randy’s here; I have no excuse to not get out there and give my best.” 

Kieran Elmore knows what Randy brings to Whitman’s teams. “I miss Randy a lot,” said the offensive lineman, now in his sophomore year playing for the Bryant Bulldogs. “Whenever I came over to him from the playing field, he knew exactly what to say, and he was always right,” said Kieran. “I always incorporated the advice Randy gave me into my game because seeing how hard he works to get here everyday and the positive comments he always had for me made me a better player.” When Kieran recovered a fumble against Hills West, Randy’s old high school, and ran it in for a touchdown, the very first thing Kieran did was run the ball to the sideline to give to Randy. 

Kieran is one of many young men who learn from their previous Whitman classmates and pay it forward to the next group. “I saw what Randy meant to our team through Myles Jones and then, when it was my turn, I could see Jaron Batts was ready to run with it,” said Kieran. The relationship Randy shares with Whitman’s athletic teams works both ways. Randy is a tough guy and yet there are days when he experiences painful discomfort as well as disappointment, so when the teams rally around him at the beginning for each game and when they share big wins with him in the center of the celebration, it provides Randy with a source of comfort and joy that no medications could come close to replicating. “A kid who doesn’t talk to Randy, who doesn’t help him with his drink, or put his parka on when it’s raining out, doesn’t get it,” said Wright.

Randy works well with Whitman’s coaches and helps push our athletes, imploring them not to take anything for granted. “Randy looks at life a little differently than most,” said Varsity Head Football Coach Robin Rosa. “He doesn’t look at what’s wrong; he looks at all that is great with life and admires the kids and how they play the sport.” 

For Varsity Basketball Coach Tom “Coach Fitz” Fitzpatrick, Randy is a fixture at Whitman’s games and practices. “I’ve known Randy for a good 20 years, even back to when he was a student here at Stimson.  I’m now entering my sixteenth year coaching Whitman basketball, and I can honestly say he always has a smile and is an inspiration to myself, my coaching staff, and the team,” said Coach Fitz. “Randy is very sharp in sports and in life. He doesn’t miss a thing.” 

Whitman’s Varsity Lacrosse Coach Bob Howell loves what Randy brings to his team. “Randy is a very special young man. He is so positive and inspirational for the players,” said Howell. “He speaks to them in the locker room, and they listen and respect him.” The leaders in any sport, boys or girls, always seem to gravitate to Randy because they respect him as a member of their team family and what he adds to the mix. “Randy is a true leader in his own right,” said Howell. “Kids with leadership qualities recognize that.”

Varsity basketball player Rose Pedretti appreciates the support both she and the Lady Wildcats get from Randy. “When I see him on the sidelines, I know it’s not easy for him to get here, and when he does, he helps inspire the whole team to play better,” said Rose.  “There are things we all take for granted, and to get to know Randy and know his story with his high school friend David Kleet, it really opened my world.” 

After his parents moved, Randy went to high school in the Half Hollow Hills School District, and for years made his presence known on the athletic fields, dreaming of what it would feel like to run.  Randy met David Kleet, a Hills West student athlete, in 1997. David at first thought he had little in common with Randy. “My circle of friends were typically athletes, which obviously did not include Randy,” wrote David in a 2001 letter. “Later, I could come to understand what I was missing.” David and Randy became friends when Randy was appointed football team manager.  But it was a speech Randy gave before the first game of David’s senior year that made all the difference. Having suffered an ankle injury, David was feeling a little sorry for himself, something Randy’s speech in the locker room would all but fix in a few short moments. “Meeting Randy has been a turning point in my life,” Kleet went on to write. “He has taught me so much about courage, determination, spirit, and overcoming adversity. That individual I was reluctant to interact with 3 years ago has become somewhat of a hero for me. His example has helped me to become a more mature, understanding, and better person.” 

After graduating from high school, and for reasons unknown to most, Hills West decided Randy’s presence on the sideline was no longer welcome, and it wasn’t long before Randy’s athletic contacts landed him courtside at Walt Whitman High School. The inclusive culture at Whitman is unlike many school districts on the Island. Over the years and after hundreds of interviews, students have pointed out that it is precisely that diversity that makes the Whitman experience so real and so true. Whether it’s students with special needs or students of our minority population, respect and a true sense of a school community is a guiding principle. 

Each year, student athletes welcome Randy into their confidence. These students know about compassion, and they are leaders, many of whom come back to Whitman each year as alumni. When they do, their first stop is to visit with Randy. They know that the moments they spend with him are as priceless as the smile on his face when they leave. 

So if you see Randy tooling around one of Whitman’s sports events, there is no need to be nervous. Come up and say hello! Randy is smart, friendly, and the best inspirational and motivational volunteer coach any high school could ever want.