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In Good Hands: Appreciating the Teachings of Panini America Collector Keith Saroka

February 8, 2013

Most regular readers of The Knight’s Lance know him simply as “Keith S,” the mild-mannered Philadelphia sports fan and frequent deliverer of insightful comments. But to middle-school students at Tinicum School in Essington, Pa., he’s known as “Mr. Saroka,” the Penn State-educated science teacher with a passion for card collecting.

While we have no doubt that Saroka’s teachings on such things as chemistry, physics and astronomy are must-see parts of his educational arsenal, it’s his extra-curricular course on card collecting that we want to take.

“As part of the Positive Behavioral System at Tinicum School, once the middle-schoolers earn 1,000 ‘buc’ notes for positive behaviors (we are the ‘Buccaneers’), they’re rewarded with an activity afternoon,” Saroka says. “They spend this afternoon doing crafts, having extended gym time,  seeing holiday movies, etc. In my room, we have card collecting club.”

Saroka, who’s been teaching for 20 years and collecting for longer than that, conducted the most recent meeting of Tinicum’s Card Collecting Club just before the holiday break in December. The meeting began with Saroka sharing personal stories and treasures from his collection of Philadelphia Phillies cards from 1909 through 1978.

After that, Saroka schooled the 20 students in attendance on the finer points of Pack Wars, awarding to winners 50-card prizes lots filled with cards from 2012-13 Threads Basketball, 2012 Rookies & Stars Football, 2012 Elite Football, 2011-12 Elite Hockey and more.

“We finished up with the students getting cards of their favorite players and teams from retail packs of 2012 Absolute Football, and having the chance to trade cards and share stories of what they had in their own personal collection or perhaps what their parents had collected. Our assistant principal stopped in for some of the fun and was thrilled to get one of the 2012 Triple Play Baseball eye black cards, which he thought was very cool.

“The students had fun and were grateful to have received about 100 cards or more for free to take home.”

But perhaps more importantly, thanks to Saroka, the kids also took home positive memories and a passion for collecting that will serve this wonderful hobby of ours well into the future. Like Saroka, we can’t wait for his next Collecting Club meeting coming this spring.

Oh, and if you want to see Saroka in action busting packs with his kids inside the Panini America booth at the 2012 National Sports Collectors Convention, check out the 1:20 mark of this video.

Saroka was nice enough to provide some pictures of the big day, which you can check out in the gallery below. But before you get to those, here’s a little background on Saroka, the card-collecting science teacher:

When he started collecting: “I started in 1978, when my Uncle Ed would bring me about 10 packs of whatever was in season when he would come to visit, or have them there for me when we went to visit him. It was quite exciting for a 9-year old to look for that brown paper bag of card-collecting goodness each time I saw him. So, he more or less got me started collecting cards. Soon I found friends at school that were collecting cards and the rest, as they say, is history.

“Generally, while I do dabble and buy a box here and some packs there of just about anything, I mainly collect baseball cards (about 10 percent football, 10 percent hockey and a bit of basketball). I try to put regular sets together (usually leaving out the SPs). If a set catches my eye, I try to put it together.”

His favorite dealers: “George’s Baseball Cards in Levittown, Pa. I’ve been buying from him since 1982. He’s in my hometown so I still get to visit occasionally. Carl’s Cards in Havertown, Pa., is a great shop with great cards.”

His favorite hobby story: “I got to know a pistachio farmer in California who was collecting cards of All-Stars for his grandkids. I would ship him boxes of cards of the players he was looking for, and he would trade me his California pistachios and other nuts. We did this for a number of years back in the early 2000s.”

Collecting in college: “I graduated from Penn State in 1993 with a teaching degree and an earth science degree. There was a great card shop up there the years I was there. I don’t remember the name, but it isn’t there now. I would often bring back cards to trade with them when I went home and that’s basically how I was able to keep collecting in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a broke college student.”

Teaching: “I’ve been teaching science for 20 years at Tinicum school in Essington, Pa. We are a stone’s throw from the Philadelphia International Airport and about 10 minutes from all of the Philly sports stadiums. I have always had my ‘Philly wall’ in the classroom with current players from the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers and 76ers. I also have my ‘scientist/inventor card wall,’ as products like Panini America’s Americana have started including scientists, astronauts and inventors.”

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Cabreros permalink
    February 8, 2013 11:46 am

    Nice smiles from the Future of collectors!
    The teacher’s sharing his absolute Passion is very cool!

  2. Mitch Kalman permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:11 pm

    Great way to get the kids back in the hobby and educating them in the art of card collecting. I have done the same for my kids and hope many parents follow suit.

  3. David Brown permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:27 pm

    Great post. I appreciate that although this of course will encourage new and veteran collectors alike that everything isn’t about money. Collecting is about enjoyment of the hobby . However nice it is to get that big pull it is just as nice to get that elusive card that finishes the set you have been working on.

  4. David Brown permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:28 pm

    Hey did he say packs of 12-13 elite hockey? I didn’t know they were out.

  5. Steve McCartney permalink
    February 8, 2013 12:30 pm

    I like Panini’s profile of this gentleman. It’s good to show that all collectors are not spoiled, bubblegum-chewing kids or weird adults with childish habits. Well educated professionals collect sports cards too! I encourage Panini to continue this practice. Thanks Tracy!

    • Kollectornet permalink
      February 8, 2013 1:47 pm

      Totally agree.

  6. February 8, 2013 3:56 pm

    Tracy-thanks for the article. My students will be so pumped to see their pictures on Monday! It was a lot of fun and I look forward to our next one in the spring!!

    • Eric Cabreros permalink
      February 8, 2013 5:06 pm

      Salute to you!
      Your definitely a Positive to kids and to all collectors out there!
      Keep up the great work Professor and keep the fire of collecting burning!

    • ekalb permalink
      February 8, 2013 7:11 pm

      Great stuff. I wish I had a teacher back in my school days who did this.

  7. hudsonfan15 permalink
    February 8, 2013 7:07 pm

    Fantastic article on an excellent hobbyist, one of the goals of any true collector should be to further the future generation’s interest in cards so that it’s there in the future for us to enjoy. Thanks Tracy and congrats on the feature Keith!

  8. February 8, 2013 7:32 pm

    Very cool! Great to see you getting the kids into it!

  9. Jamey permalink
    February 9, 2013 6:22 am

    Nice job, Mr. Saroka! I do something similar with the kids at my library. I run a “Collector’s Club” replete with a Pack Wars element, and the kids love it.
    Sharing your collection to anyone is rewarding, but with kids? Who ooh and ahh over the commons? That brings me back to the thrust of collecting; it doesn’t matter if the card bears an auto or multi-break patch, it’s connection to the athlete and game is its’ intrinsic value.
    …Mr Saroka, can I go to the bathroom?

  10. February 9, 2013 1:08 pm

    Thanks to everyone for your kind thoughts and comments.

    Jamey-is it an emergency or can it wait? HAHAHA

  11. February 10, 2013 3:04 am

    When I was in 8th grade I had a science teacher that sold packs of cards to us students. My piggy bank ran dry shortly after. That’s the closest I got to something this awesome. I try and pass along the same positive notions that card collecting doesn’t have to be about the auto or patch to my nephews. My youngest nephew loves the autos and patches he’s lucked into but he loves every base Tom Brady card just as much and wants to collect Patriots everything. It’s brought joy into my home hobby life. Thanks Keith S. for what you’ve done and to all others who have done similar.

  12. deloreanfan81 permalink
    February 15, 2013 7:44 am

    so cool of him to pass on his knowlege of cards and love for the hobby

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