SOUTHINGTON — Pete Sepko spent countless hours and impacted thousands of children during his many years at Southington High School, a playing and coaching career that spanned from the 1960s to the new millennium.
Sepko was a 1967 Southington High graduate who coached and taught at his alma mater for 36 years before retiring in 2007.
He died Thursday at the age of 73 at Niantic. Jaye, his wife of 50 years, was by his side.
Sepko’s impact was tremendous at Southington High as a student-athlete, physical education teacher and coach.
A member of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame, Sepko was the state’s 2001 Coach of the Year. He was inducted into the Southington Sports Hall of Fame in 2016.
A multi-sport athlete at Southington High School, he was part of the football team’s 33-game unbeaten streak (1962–66).
He is best known, however, for his work after graduation.
“I met Pete while playing freshman football together at Southington High in 1963,” Sepko’s lifelong friend Dave Kanute said this week. “He is probably my closest friend for life. He was faithful. If you knew Pete a bit, it was like having a bodyguard and a friend.
“He was always interested in what you were doing. I will miss the camaraderie.
Sepko went to the southern state of Connecticut to get his teaching degree. He and Kanute coached midget football together.
“At that time Pete was in the (Southington) school system and I saw the type of coach he was,” Kanute said. “He was a natural coach and he cared about the kids. He never cared about the record.
Neither Sepko nor Kanute wrestled in high school. They didn’t have the chance. Wrestling was just a freshman sport when the pair were senior in 1966-67.
And yet, both went on to long and impactful careers in the sport.
Southington High varsity wrestling was started by Bob Wittneben in 1974. After Wittneben left, the SHS wrestling program was floundering and in danger of disappearing. He needed a steady hand.
Kanute suggested Sepko go and get the job. Sepko took over for the Knights, and during this time Kanute started Southington Youth Wrestling as a feeder program. Kanute is still at the helm 42 years later.
“We both never wrestled. I went to see Pete and I knew Pete knew how to coach,” Kanute said. finally convinced them to fight.
“He coached 36 years at Southington and was very successful. He has more success than wins. He helped them get into college. I groomed wrestlers for Pete and he did the rest.
Sepko coached five different sports during his 36 years at Southington High School: wrestling, outdoor track, indoor track, field hockey and freshman football. He added up to 72 sports seasons in all.
“He was never a 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. teacher,” Kanute said. “He put in the time for everything that was needed. He was very selfless. He always supported his wife and children too.
Southington wrestling trainer Derek Dion wrestled under Sepko until his graduation in 1989. He was an assistant trainer under Sepko for nine years before succeeding him as head coach.
“Pete took over from a legend in Bob Wittneben, who was very successful,” Dion said. “The program would have been cut if he hadn’t intervened. He learned as he went. He and Dave Kanute have both stepped up.
Dion said Sepko is very committed to the team’s work ethic and fitness. Sepko was also good at recruiting athletes from school. Track was her true love.
“For someone who didn’t struggle, he did a great job,” Dion said. “When I fought under him, I remember his devotion to his family and his family values. Family comes first every day. He was a dedicated father and husband, and his heart was always in the right place. .
Sepko finished with a record of 333-173-6 as Southington’s wrestling head coach. His teams have won four consecutive CCC Divisional Championships (2000-03).
After retiring from Southington he continued to coach athletics for several years at East Lyme.
“Pete and Dave saved Southington wrestling and allowed people like me to develop a love for the sport and coach kids,” Dion said. “Pete was a great role model.”
Sepko’s services will take place at Niantic on Thursday, September 15. The family will receive mourners from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Thomas L. Neilan & Sons East Lyme Funeral Home. A celebration of life will follow at the funeral home at 12:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association or the Colin Sepko Memorial Scholarship Fund in his memory would be appreciated. To leave condolences for the family online, visit neilanfuneralhome.com.