By Mike Pilosof
Photo by Brad Nading
Garden City, KS-Joe Slobko, the face of a program, and the man that brought Garden City Community College baseball to extraordinary heights in more than two decades in the dugout, passed away on May 5. He was 83.
“Joe will always be the face of Garden City Community College baseball,” Broncbuster Head Coach Chris Finnegan said. “He left a great legacy and will be missed tremendously.”
Slobko came to Garden City in 1976 as a 38-year old baseball guru from Las Animas, CO, who ironically at the time, considered coaching an afterthought. His initial calling was as a psychology professor, but as the college would soon find out, the Colorado-native was much more than a mental make-up instructor. He turned a teaching career into one of the most successful diamond tenures in school history, winning 48 games in just his second season.
“Garden City Community College baseball lost a great person,” assistant coach, Jay Gundy said. “He is the one that built the program. He used to always tell me: you know what I love about not coaching? I can come watch a game and leave whenever I want. Well, coach, now you don’t have to show up or leave. You can just look down upon us and smile. Rest in peace!”
In his first five seasons on the job, Slobko guided the Broncbusters to three Jayhawk West crowns and two regional titles. But his best year came in 1981 when Garden City posted a Jayhawk-Conference record 64 wins and was ranked as high as 13th in the nation. They followed that up with a 56-11 campaign in 1982. In all, the man who dawned the famous No. 13, won 782 games in 22 seasons, claimed five division championships and led the brown and gold to 18 consecutive winning seasons. He won nearly 70 percent of the games that he coached while his teams finished below .500 only four times. Garden City also had 14 players drafted during Slobko’s watch, and he even coached Dayton Moore, now the General Manger of the Kansas City Royals. He retired in 1997.
“My hope is to build our baseball program up to the same caliber as the football and basketball programs,” Slobko said when he was first hired.
Slobko was an early pioneer, and though he might not get the credit he deserves, he had a big hand in the construction of Williams Stadium. In 1984, he recruited a young man by the name of Lew Williams, who became an all-conference performer and went on to play at Texas Christian University. Over the years, he built a strong connection with Lew’s parents-Gary and Janet, and when the program was raising money to build a new stadium, the Williams wrote a sizable check. The new digs opened in 1989.
“I had a lot of interactions with Joe over the years,” Gundy explained. “We chatted when we’d see each other. He was a great guy and set the table for our success when I joined the program.”
Before crossing the border into the Sunflower state, Slobko earned 13 letters at Las Animas High School in football, basketball, baseball and wrestling. He was an all-conference quarterback an all-stater in hoops. He moved on to Northern Colorado where he earned a degree in physical education with minors in business and social studies. Then came his service in the United States army; spending the duration of his deployment in Korea. When he landed back in the states, he was working on an oil rig at 25.
“I thought to myself, is this what you want to do with the rest of your life?” Slobko told the Wichita Eagle back in 2017. “It just wasn’t for me.”
Slobko changed professions quickly, beginning his coaching career at tiny Snyder High School in Snyder, CO the following year where he was in charge of the 8-man football program as well as the baseball, basketball and track teams. After one season, he moved back to Las Animas, where he spent 11 years as the Head Baseball and Basketball Coach. There, he guided the Trojans to three Class AA state titles on the diamond (1968, 1972 and 1973), and was named Colorado Coach of the Year three times. In 1974, he was honored as one of the best prep skippers in the nation, finishing his career at Las Animas with a 150-50 overall record, which included nine conference championships.
In 2004, Slobko was inducted into the Broncbuster Athletics Hall of Fame. 13 years later, he was enshrined into the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame, leaving a legacy as the winningest coach in Garden City Community College history. His No. 13 was retired in 1998.
Slobko is survived by his three children: Benny Slobko, Mickey Slobko and Christy Duncan.