When talking about Gross Catholic High School, the name Mike Filipowicz is almost synonymous with the school.
Known simply as “Flip” to the Gross and baseball communities, he graduated from Gross in 1973 and has been the head baseball coach going on 31 years.
The goal of a high school coach is to be prepare their athletes to be the best they can be on the playing field and also in life. Filipowicz has been successful at doing both.
“He is the first one to get on his athletes and the first one to hug them,” Gross Catholic Athletic Director Mike Dempsey said. “You don’t know many coaches who love their athletes as much as he does and cares for them like he does.”
His plan was to retire after this high school and American Legion seasons, but with the coronavirus pandemic canceling the spring sport season and putting the Legion summer season in jeopardy, Filipowicz said he has been rethinking those plans.
“Do I want look back and realize that my last year I didn’t coach at all?” he asked. “You never think something like this could happen and I don’t know if I want to finish this way.”
That Gross Catholic baseball and his alma mater mean to so much to him make Filipowicz an icon among the Cougar faithful.
As he was about to enter his 31st season this month, Filipowicz was pointing to one last run at a state title, just as the Cougars did in winning Class B titles in 2009 and 2010.
A regular in the post-season, Filipowicz crossed the 1,000-win mark in 2013 with a Legion victory. As expected to those who know him, he credited his staff and players in reaching the milestone.
And it’s those relationships he reflects upon.
“I have had so many good memories and so many good relationships,” Filipowicz said.
Disappointed like many there’s no spring baseball season, Filipowicz said he fully supports the decision.
“With what is going on in the world and in the United States, I think without question we have done the right thing,” Filipowicz said. “I really think it has to be done the right way to make sure we have done everything in our power to stay safe.
“I don’t know to what extent will end this. But I really think we have done the right thing. I hate to see it and it is very disappointing with our 11 seniors that they won’t get the chance to finish.
“For me, when it comes to finishing my career the way I want to, I have a choice,” Filipowicz said. “But for them, this is it and I am really hoping we get some sort of a season for Legion for them to hold onto.
“We can’t take the risk with any kids or anybody’s health, that’s first and foremost so I agree fully and 100 percent with what has been done.”
Whether it is current players, former players or the elementary students he has taught in the Papillion La Vista Community Schools, Dempsey said it’s clear Filipowicz has made an impression on youth for decades.
“I’ll watch after a lot of games and (Flip) stands there for a half an hour and gives his kids life lessons about baseball and life,” Dempsey said. “We have been pretty blessed to have him.”
Filipowicz knows how those lessons — baseball and life — have been important in building strong relationships.
“I don’t like to individualize, but just looking back at the memories I got to experience as a coach, they are honestly immeasurable,” he said.
“Its been an honor to share memories and moments with players and coaches for all these years.”
Another role Filipowicz holds at Gross is maintaining the baseball field — something he has done since day one at Gross.
“Since I have been there in 1985, our [school] maintenance has never been responsible for the baseball fields and it has always fallen to the coaches,” Filipowicz said.
“I have always placed it upon myself to make sure those things are kept up.
“Herb (Povondra) and I the last 20 years have been together and he would take care of everything on the field like fertilizing and such and everything inside the fences. Outside the fences and the areas around it I take care of.”
Those maintenance duties, he said, usually run from the middle of March to almost Thanksgiving.
Despite the spring season shut down, a ball diamond along 42nd Street needs to be ready for the cry of “play ball” if the Legion season is a go.
“I am keeping the fields ready just in case the word comes down that we are playing this summer,” Filipowicz said.