CCAC alumnus reflects on journey


Courtesy photo

CCAC alumnus Phil Dutko with former athletic director Chuck Bell, circa 1998.

Rebekah Waldron, North Campus Editor

CCAC North alumnus Phil Dutko, class of 1997, currently teaches Physical Education in an elementary school in Canton, Georgia, less than 50 miles north of Atlanta. Prior to his CCAC education, Dutko grew up on the North Side and graduated from Pine Richland High School. He played high school golf his senior year, but had played baseball for a couple years before that. He was cut initially in 11th grade; 18 holes squaring off against another person and one had to be cut, he blew it at the last hole.

Dutko wanted to study sports marketing in college and carry on a career in the field. He almost went to school in West Virginia but thought twice when it came to the idea of moving so far away. His father recommended CCAC instead.

After trying out with Chuck Bell at the driving range by the old Chuck E. Cheese, he earned a scholarship for two years at CCAC. It was both a fall and a spring sport.

Dutko remembers his time at CCAC fondly, “Met some great guys, made some great friends,” He says. “My time at CCAC was a very positive one. The class sizes and access to professors who really cared was a big plus. Getting involved is what really made CCAC a great college experience. I received a full scholarship from Chuck to play golf; but also played on the tennis team, bowling team, and was involved with the Student Activities Board.”

At one point, Dutko joined the McKnight Lanes. “That’s where everybody bowled. That’s where our team practiced, that’s where we had our matches.” The McKnight Lanes is currently a Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Had a pink 13-pound ball he preferred to use, even though he felt it was embarrassing. “My hand fit in there perfectly.” He asked if he could take that ball to Baltimore for National Tournament, but left it behind, and ended up using another.

After CCAC Dutko went to Southeastern College, now a University, from 1997 to 1999. Although he didn’t finish, he transferred, and didn’t earn his master’s degree until 10 years later at the same college.

With a bachelor’s degree from Calvin College in Michigan, He was working with a real estate company doing investments, and it just wasn’t working out. Around 15 years ago, just after getting married and having been living in Columbus Ohio for around 6 months, a friend of his moved to the Canton area in Georgia and he figured he “had nothing to lose” from moving there as well.

He made a triumphant return to Southeastern University in Florida and graduated with his master’s degree. He went back to school in Georgia, initially to get certified to teach special education, and did so for about three years.

Following this he taught 7th grade social studies for three years, middle school health for one year, and then moved onto his current job teaching elementary physical education. He still returns to Pittsburgh twice a year, and his wife also teaches. “[Teaching] is all about learning how to do life.”

With a road to success like that, Dutko fondly reflects on his times as an athlete at CCAC North.

Courtesy photo
The Dutko family attends a Pittsburgh Pirates game.

Some of my accomplishments I’m most proud of are reaching the state championship finals in tennis, making the national tournament in golf, and participating in the national bowling tournament.” He played the State championship in tennis at Penn State, the regional tournament in Maryland where he tied for last spot to make it to nationals, and qualified for nationals in North Carolina. “[I’m] probably better at tennis than golf,” Dutko admits. He reached state finals in spring of 1997, won the Western side of the contest and had to play winner from the Eastern side for state finals at Penn State. His opponent was a Division I scholarship player.

Although being an athlete was a major piece of his time at the college, he recalls his time as a student. “My accounting teacher, Prof. Hallsak – First of all, he was hilarious. He told a lot of stories. He had a signature phrase, ‘IN REAL LIFE ACCOUNTING’, as opposed to textbook.” Hallsak once caught Dutko sleeping in class, and he likely never did live it down while he was a student on campus.

“That coffee machine that accepted coins, that was where we hung out. Around 1995-96, that was the beginning of knowing what the word internet means, establishing a Hotmail account, checking email in the library, that was a brand new concept.” With a schedule as busy as his was between his sports, it was just as important to keep up with his education. Since he was such an involved student, CCAC’s night classes helped immensely, and his morning classes were done by 11 or noon. He also found time to work at the Wendy’s in Wexford.

“CCAC is just like life. I try to tell the students I work with now: build your own reputation, choose who you hang out with, make relationships, talk respectfully,” Dutko encourages. “I couldn’t have played at a different level, but CCAC allowed me to still play college sports, have that experience, and travel to different area. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for the world.”

Thinking of his former mentor, Chuck Bell, he continues, “In 2012, I became a high school golf coach in a pretty good program down here. I did that for five years and it was just neat to be involved with those sorts of things again. And I’m sure I was able to relate that to being around Chuck and being around golf… Being able to tell the kids I played college golf.”

With all of these fond memories from the CCAC North campus, he also recalls, “The only bad thing was parking.”