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Wanderlust to claim Ridgewood coach

Wayne Parzik is trading the sidelines of Ram Booster Stadium for the world. Well, at least Alaska, the Rocky Mountains and Europe to start.

The Ridgewood High School football coach who ended the Rams' four-year, 35-game losing streak in 1999 decided early this month to retire from coaching and teaching after nearly three decades.

Parzik, 62, and his wife, Joyce, a teacher at River Ridge High School who also is retiring this year, want to travel. Ridgewood has begun a search for a coach, the fifth coach in its 18-year history.

"My wife and I have come to that stage in life where we just want to be able to enjoy things," Parzik said Friday. "It was a hard decision for me. As a matter of fact it wasn't very long ago that I really thought I was going to be coming back for this upcoming season.

"But I reconsidered it. We have so many darn plans, and we haven't been able to do anything between coaching again and getting our children through school.

"We want to travel, we want to see the country and more of the world. That's really important to us."

Principal Art O'Donnell said the school is accepting coaching applications through Friday. Then a search committee will invite candidates in for interviews. O'Donnell said he hopes to select a coach by the first week of April.

"I think (Parzik) did an excellent job for Ridgewood High School," O'Donnell said. "He brought us respect, he brought out kids who played hard all the time, and he made sure to stay on the academics, also."

Ridgewood football has always been known more for its valleys than peaks, but when Parzik took over in 1998 the program was at a new low. The school was mired in an 0-20 losing skid so bad it earned its own nickname _ The Streak _ and had claimed two head coaches.

The surprise departure that summer of then-coach Mike Looney to Alaska left the school in a bind. Spring practice already had passed when Parzik, on crutches with a brand new knee, interviewed for the job. The former Ridgewood assistant coach got the job, then went 0-10 in his first year.

"To take over during the losing streak was tremendously hard, because every week in the papers they were hammering us," Parzik said. "When I took over at Ridgewood that first year we had 18 players, a center who was 145 pounds and a defensive end who was 150. We were really undermanned, and we took a pounding that year, too."

But then Parzik and the Rams made county history on Oct. 14, 1999, when Ridgewood defeated Wesley Chapel 34-21 to end The Streak at 35 games, four shy of the state record for consecutive losses. Ridgewood went 2-8 that season.

But it was the 2000 season Parzik always will remember. Ridgewood finished 4-6 _ the school's best record in six years _ but could have been 6-4 and earned the school's first-ever playoff berth but for a last-second kick by Palm Harbor University and an overtime loss to Zephyrhills.

The 2001 season was Parzik's hardest. Quarterback Jimmy Priest died on April 13 from injuries the 16-year-old suffered in a car crash. The Rams went 1-9 that season, thanks to injuries that left the school barely able to field a team. "That was an emotional low," Parzik said of the loss of Priest.

Parzik leaves with a 7-33 record, a lot of memories and very mixed feelings.

"I'll miss the kids, I'll miss being on the field," he said. "Anybody who's been coaching that long, you just don't walk away from it. It's a bittersweet thing. I won't miss the long, hard hours. But I will certainly miss that bond on the field with the kids.

"It's something you remember forever."