George Steitz refuses to sit still at 89

George Steitz has officiated 108 local junior-high and high school events this calendar year. He’s 89.

Remarkable, right?

“You’ve got to keep active, that’s the biggest thing,” says the former longtime Penfield High School physical education teacher and coach. “Keep yourself busy, get into a program or a routine. Get out and mingle with people. Not everyone can referee, but find a hobby to keep you busy.”

It’s a great message this holiday season, the second Steitz will spend without his wife of 59 years. Julie Steitz died June 22, 2012. She was 80 and had been ill with heart issues and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

From 1954 to 1984, she was a coach’s wife, and Steitz built Penfield into a boys soccer power. His teams won 408 games and six Section V titles. When he retired in 1984, his win total ranked in the top five among soccer coaches nationally.

“He was really so good at dealing with kids. He really made it fun, and they worked hard for him,” says John Butterworth, who took over for Steitz in 1985 and stepped down as coach earlier this year. “George had so much fun it was contagious.”

His baseball teams also won 446 games. Mix in victories while also coaching basketball, softball and skiing and the win total exceeds 1,250. His soccer win total still ranks among the top 10 in Section V.

“Chronologically he may be 89, but George has the vim and vigor and pep of a 40-year-old,” says former Pittsford Mendon coach Joe Borrosh, who turns 77 on Nov. 29. “I don’t know how he does it.”

Steitz fishes a few times a week. It’s one of his passions. “I’ve fished in 42 of 50 states,” he says.

He has cast lines in Alaska twice, Hawaii and Mexico. Earlier this month, he fished off the Florida coast with his family. Steitz has three grown children: Tom, a former U.S. Olympic Nordic Ski coach; Douglas, who lives in Kentucky; and Sherrill, who lives in California. He also has four grandchildren.

Steitz officiates swimming and soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and umpires softball and baseball in the spring. Mostly, he works at the modified (junior high) level. “I don’t go as fast as I used to, but I know the game, I know the rules and I know how to handle the coaches after coaching 47 years,” Steitz says.

While his doctors “marvel” at his fitness, Steitz says he has lazy urges like everyone else. But he has a stationary bicycle in his living room.

“I’ll get on it at 11 o’clock at night, push on that for an hour,” he says. “It keeps the heart rate going.”

And that helps keep his weight down. The 6-foot Steitz tries to stay under 200 pounds; he’s at 197.

“I had a couple of friends that were retired and were couch potatoes. They were long gone in six to nine months,” says Steitz, who started a “Retired Coaches Group” that meets on the third Thursday of each month.

Those gatherings are getting smaller, he says. Losing his wife was difficult, but Steitz hasn’t let it stifle his will to live. “You can’t just sit home and grieve forever,” he says.