Algona’s Bartolo goes into IHSBCA Hall of Fame

Long-time official, former Garrigan coach honored for nearly 40 years of work in multiple sports

Submitted photo Algona’s John Bartolo was named a 2018 Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame member in Cedar Rapids on Saturday. Pictured here are, front row (left to right): daughter-in-law Lisa, daughter Molly, wife Sheila, John and daughter Abby. Back: son Joe, son Jeremy, daughter-in-law Maggie and son-in-law Matt Costello.

John Bartolo didn’t give officiating a passing thought as a high school athlete growing up in Swea City.

Once he was introduced to that side of sports, though, Bartolo found his calling. And now, the Algona resident is able to look back and say a Hall of Fame career was born.

Bartolo was officially inducted into the Iowa High School Baseball Coaches Association’s 2018 class on Saturday evening. The retired Bishop Garrigan coach, who spent time as a referee or umpire in virtually every kind of event across north-central Iowa for nearly 40 years, received his honor in the presence of family and friends at the Marriott Hotel in Cedar Rapids.

”A coach of mine talked me into getting my license after I graduated in 1978,” the 59-year-old Bartolo said. ”I’d never even considered it before then. But once I got into it, I fell in love. I worked very hard to get better and show improvement every year, and I enjoyed (the different aspects) of every single season or sport.

”It was a very nice (ceremony) — especially having my wife and kids there. Not just (Saturday), but through the years. They gave up so much time for me; I’d get home from work, grab my stuff and go to a game. They were very patient and understanding. Their support was something I never took for granted.”

Bartolo immersed himself in his duties, doing so in as many sports as time would allow. Though he was officially recognized by the IHSBCA for his baseball work in Cedar Rapids, Bartolo was also a decorated official in football, basketball, volleyball and softball.

Bartolo was assigned to nearly 20 state football and baseball tournaments. He also refereed at girls state basketball and state volleyball ”eight or nine times” each, and even worked a boys state basketball tournament once.

”I just went out and worked games during (the early stages) of my career, and never thought much about the (tournament level),” said Bartolo, who is also an Iowa High School Athletic Association Officials Hall of Fame member. ”Back in the mid-80s, I met (baseball legend) Gene Meister at Bancroft. He told me that I should maybe consider putting my name in for (postseason events).

”Gene taught me many life lessons, and I’ve always had a lot of respect for him. So I credit him for helping me get involved (in a tournament capacity).”

In baseball alone, Bartolo umpired 85 district tournament games and 44 substate contests. He was either behind the plate or in the field for five different state championships.

Seven times, Bartolo was tabbed district umpire of the year. He was a state umpire of the year in both 2004 and 2011.

”I’ve known John for over 30 years, and he’s one of the hardest working individuals I’ve ever met,” said Fort Dodge Senior High athletics and activities director Matt Elsbecker, a former baseball coach for the Dodgers who is a 1987 graduate of Bancroft-St. John High School. ”He’s a great family man (who was a) dedicated coach and official.

”He is very deserving of this honor.”

Most of Bartolo’s resume centers around the high school level, though he also spent time as a Div. III and junior college umpire and referee in baseball and basketball, respectively. A battle with leukemia forced him away from those duties in the spring of 2011.

Bartolo is officially retired from varsity action now, but he keeps his competitive juices flowing by accepting occasional junior high, middle school and junior varsity assignments.

Bartolo took his responsibilities very seriously, saying that ”to be a good official, you have to work on your craft and always make sure you’re getting better.”

”I studied all the time,” said Bartolo, who still works for the city of Algona. ”I put a lot of effort into making sure I was always learning. Every year, I’d try to go to camps and clinics. I have friends who are professional and Div. I officials. I always picked their brains and tried to educate myself, regardless of the sport.”

Bartolo’s advice for aspiring umpires, referees and officials in general is to ”do things the right way and take pride in your work.”

”Ask questions. Read the rule book. Work on mechanics. Talk to veterans. Don’t be at (a game) just to be there and for a paycheck. It’s just like being (a player or a coach): there are no short cuts.”

Bartolo and his wife, Sheila, have four adult children: Jeremy, Joe, Abby and Molly. Bartolo coached both Jeremy and Joe in basketball and baseball at Bishop Garrigan for eight years, helping lead the Golden Bears to the state finals in baseball during the 1999 campaign.

Bartolo still coaches middle school track and basketball in Algona.