Gerstell Academy AD Cap Poklemba steps down from his administrative role to focus on family and baseball
When Cap Poklemba was hired as the Athletic Director at Gerstell Academy in 2004, just five years removed from his own high school graduation, there was literally nothing to direct, only building to be done.
At that time the Finksburg, Maryland private school had no athletic teams and its athletic facilities were limited to seven irrigated grass fields with no gymnasium. The school’s Physical Education classes and recreational athletic activities took place in a small activity barn.
However, the school’s President at the time, Dr. Fred Smith, had a vision, a vision which he entrusted to Poklemba, a recently minted Temple University graduate who was also pursuing a career as a professional football player.
This week, as Poklemba completes his final days in the position by representing Gerstell at the annual Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) AD Workshop, the Falcons’ athletic program is thriving.
The school now has programs on the varsity, junior varsity and middle school levels in cross country, soccer, basketball, wrestling, baseball and lacrosse, with an eye on future programs in volleyball, tennis, softball and football. Gerstell’s boys teams gained admittance into the prestigious MIAA in 2011 and, just last month, Gerstell’s girls teams were accepted as members of the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland (IAAM). In addition, Poklemba served on the planning group which designed the school’s 14,000 square foot, state-of-the-art Paterakis Athletic Center, which houses the campus’ main gymnasium, a weight room, wrestling room, locker rooms and a dance room, as well as offices, meeting rooms and classrooms. Immediately following the completion of the Athletic Center, ground was broken on the Venice K. Paterakis Stadium Complex which includes a synthetic turf field, Olympic grade track and seating for 1000. In addition, a baseball field was added on the south end of campus in 2013.
“Dr. Smith believed in me and my ability to build and grow the athletic department at Gerstell,” said Poklemba of the school’s founder and President Emeritus. “His unyielding support since he hired me in 2004 has been the single biggest reason that I have been able to succeed in this position while growing our athletic program.”
Not only have the Gerstell athletic teams come to life on Poklemba’s watch, they have thrived. Since entering the MIAA, the school has won three soccer championships and two lacrosse championships and competed in eight other finals. The school’s baseball program, which Poklemba will continue to coach, gained varsity status in 2015 and reached the MIAA C C Conference finals this spring.
“One of the biggest accomplishments of our school was being accepted into the MIAA in 2011,” said Poklemba. “More recently, our girls programs were accepted into the IAAM. The addition of our teams to two of the best athletic leagues in the country has been huge for our school.”
In many aspects, you could say Poklemba was born for this job. He graduated from McDonogh School where his father, Al, had a highly successful 18-year stint (1976-1994) as a baseball coach and teacher. He coached the JV for 12 years and won more than 90 games in six years as the varsity head coach, reaching the Maryland Scholastic Association (MSA) finals in 1992 and the MIAA finals in 1994. Al Poklemba then spent three years as the athletic director at The Bullis School in Potomac and 12 years as the athletic director at Glenelg Country School.
During his time at Glenelg Country, the elder Poklemba accomplished a task very similar to the one achieved, by his son at Gerstell. He helped shepherd the school’s athletic teams from the middle school level into varsity programs, helped the school gain entry into the MIAA and IAAM, assisted with the planning for and management of state-of-the-art athletic facilities and founded a baseball team, which he coached.
Having a front seat view of his father’s work, pointed Cap Poklemba towards his own career journey.
“My dad was by far the biggest influence on my career as an AD and coach. From the time I was a little boy, following my dad around every baseball and soccer practice that he coached at McDonogh, I knew that eventually I would follow in his footsteps as a coach and educator,” said Poklemba. “I learned everything that I have known as a coach/AD from him and he was (and still is) the first phone call I make when I have a question about what to do or how to do it right.
“Glenelg Country, in my dad’s early years as AD and Gerstell now, are very similar situations. We were both working with small numbers and limited facilities while trying to grow and compete at a high level in the MIAA. My dad and I both started baseball programs from the ground up at Glenelg and Gerstell, respectively.”
Although he understands he had an influence on his son, Al Poklemba believes his son has built on anything he may have learned from him.
“Cap has had a lot of good mentors over his career in athletics as a student, player, teacher and ultimately an administrator at Gerstell,” said Al Poklemba, who returned to McDonogh in 2011 and coached the Eagles’ varsity baseball team through 2016 and remains on the school’s faculty. “He has utilized a piece of all of those philosophies to frame a solid perspective of what is necessary to develop a strong athletic program at Gerstell. He has led a young, somewhat small athletic program, and created a positive, vivacious and competitive atmosphere where local student-athletes can thrive not only athletically, but develop into athletic leaders.”
He also believes Gerstell was an ideal fit for his son.
“Gerstell Academy’s philosophical approach to the mind, body and physical development have been a perfect fit for the person Cap is,” added the senior Poklemba. “I am so very proud of his accomplishments at Gerstell, and I understand his commitment to his family and the need to find more time now to watch his children grow. Gerstell athletics is in a good place and it will continue to grow due to his years of commitment as a Director of Athletics for his student-athletes.”
Soon after his father departed McDonogh, Cap Poklemba began his high school athletic career for the Eagles and he was a standout on the baseball and soccer teams. While there, McDonogh football coach Dom D’Amico asked him to boot a few footballs to see if he had potential to serve as his team’s place-kicker. After the first few kicks sailed through the uprights from more than 40-yards, Poklemba suddenly became a football player.
He kicked so well that he earned a scholarship to Temple University, kicking four years for the Owls, and attracting interest from NFL scouts. When Poklemba graduated from Temple, where he also played baseball, in 2003, no NFL opportunities materialized, but he did spend the next 11 years kicking for several professional indoor teams and outdoor semi-professional teams, much of this during his tenure at Gerstell.
His final two years in a football uniform were spent with the Harrisburg Stampede of the Professional Indoor Football League where he was named Offensive Player of the Game in the 2013 league championship game won by his squad.
He would play one more season for the Stampede and at halftime of his next to last game, Poklemba proposed to his then girlfriend, Kristen Hill, in front of a crowd of 3,106 fans. She said yes and the couple was married on October 11, 2014. Now married two years, both have a child from a previous marriage, Cap’s 8-year old daughter Cadence, and Kristen’s 8-year old son Gavin. The couple is also expecting a baby girl in October.
It is his young family and his desire to spend more time with them which is at the heart of Poklemba’s decision to step aside from his duties as athletic director.
“It was the perfect time for me to step back from my administrative role at Gerstell and have an opportunity to focus on teaching, coaching and spending time with my growing family,” said Poklemba. “I have spent the last 13 years giving 100% of my time to Gerstell and its student-athletes. I am excited to have more time to spend with my two 8-year old kids who are very involved in athletics. We also have a baby on the way in October. Additionally, this gives me a great opportunity to put more focus on our baseball program as we try to grow and compete at a higher level.”
Poklemba said that his goal for the baseball team is to eventually reach the MIAA A Conference and compete for championships in that league, as his father once did. He added that the goal is similar for all of the Falcon athletic programs.
“It has always been our goal to eventually compete at the highest level in all of our sports,” stated Poklemba. “In our first two years in the C Conference in both soccer and lacrosse we won both championships, so we requested to move into the B Conference. We then went on to win the B Conference in soccer that year and have competed in multiple championships since. As our programs grow and continue to succeed we will work to get our programs into the A Conference.”
“Cap has been instrumental in the development of the Gerstell Athletic Program,” said Brian Abbott, the Head of the Upper School at Gerstell, who was once a highly successful head football coach at both St. Paul’s School and Loyola Blakefield. “He has been the one that insured our Leadership Model and Value System were integrated into everything we do athletically. He has served as mentor and role model to our students, coaches and community. Having taught Cap in Lower School, what brings me personal joy is seeing the outstanding man, dad, husband, mentor, and leader he has become. We are lucky to have him as a teacher and coach for the years to come.”
Poklemba will be succeeded in the AD role at Gerstell by Christine Hryzak, who has served as his assistant the last two years. Hryzak, 27, is a Certified Athletic Administrator and graduate from Loyola University Maryland, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, and Notre Dame University of Maryland, where she received a Master’s in Leadership Teaching. She was a soccer, basketball and lacrosse player in high school at Mynderse Academy (NY), as well as an equestrian competitor outside of school, and she was on the crew team at Loyola. Her coaching resume includes a stint as an assistant coach with the Cristo Rey boys’ basketball team and, at Gerstell, middle school and varsity girls basketball and varsity girls soccer.