Frank R. Cutko, a referee and umpire who taught physical education and coached baseball and softball at the Community College of Baltimore County Essex campus, died from complications of heart failure May 20 at his son’s home in Bowdoinham, Maine. The Mount Washington resident was 90.
“I’ve never seen anyone who loved competitive sports more than this guy,” said Kevin Cowherd, former Baltimore Sun columnist, sports reporter and author, who first got to know Mr. Cutko when they met at a Towson gym.
“While he was a huge fan of UConn sports and paid attention to sports, he was so well-rounded. He was a voracious reader of newspapers and books” Mr. Cowherd said. “If he had one flaw, it was that he liked polka music, but Frank lived a long and rich life and had so many friends.”
Frank Raymond Cutko, son of Roman Cutko, an Eastern European immigrant and a factory worker, and Mary Cutko, a homemaker, was born and raised in Willimantic, Connecticut.
At Windham High School in Willimantic, Mr. Cutko was a multi-sport athlete. He captained the basketball team and was an All-State standout in basketball, football and baseball.
His high school baseball team won the state championship in 1947 and the football team did the same in 1949.
After graduating from Windham in 1950, he accepted a basketball scholarship to Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. As a sophomore, he picked up the sobriquet of “Frank the Tank,” because of his height and started for the basketball team.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1954 and then played two seasons with the Wilkes-Barre Barons of the Eastern Professional Basketball League in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.
In 1957, he returned to Willimantic to be the physical education director at the Willimantic Y, where he had spent afternoons as a kid.
He enjoyed mentoring scores of young men, family members said, who came from similar backgrounds as his own.
In 1963, Mr. Cutko was recruited to become the physical education director at the Towson Y.
Highlights of his career there were working out with Colts legend Johnny Unitas and future Hall of Famer, Orioles third baseman Brooks Robinson. Mr. Cutko also played an integral role in designing the Y’s new Towson facility in 1964.
In the late 1950s, he “traded in his players’ uniforms for those of a referee and umpire,” according to a biographical profile submitted by his family.
He was the founder of the Eastern Connecticut Board of Baseball Umpires and served as its president. He later became a top NCAA basketball official and in 1995 became president of the Collegiate Officials Basketball Association.
Mr. Cutko attended the Olympic training camp in 1972 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where he “taught the U.S. team international rules and rubbed shoulders with legendary players and coaches like Tom McMillen and Bobby Knight,” according to a newsletter for the Springwell retirement community in Mount Washington, where he had lived for the past five years.
In 1976, Mr. Cutko again worked with the USA Olympic basketball team in Colorado Springs.
“Like any good official, he claimed he never missed a call — especially the technical foul he gave Bobby Knight in 1972,” his son, Andy Cutko of Bowdoinham, who is director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, said.
“I heard from coaches and refs who said they had great respect for Frank because he took control of a game, and this was the era when you had two refs on the floor, not three,” Mr. Cowherd said.
During his 35 years as a basketball referee, Mr. Cutko officiated some of the biggest games in the country including Patrick Ewing’s first game at Georgetown University and David Robinson’s debut at Navy.
Mr. Cutko joined the faculty of what was then Essex Community College in 1969, as an associate professor of physical education. He coached the baseball and softball teams, with 23 of his baseball players and eight of his softball players earning NCAA Division 1 scholarships. Seven of his baseball student-athletes went on to have professional careers.
“He had players from his past come back and tell him how much they loved being coached by him and how much he taught them about basketball and baseball,” Mr. Cowherd said.
“He was the consummate teacher, coach and referee and had refereed some of the biggest basketball games on the East Coast,” Woody Powell, who knew Mr. Cutko for 40 years, said. “He was always talking basketball and baseball and quoting stats whether they were for the Orioles or UConn’s women’s basketball team.”
In a 1977 Evening Sun article, Mr. Cutko favorably compared the college’s baseball facility with that of the now demolished Memorial Stadium.
“It’s well laid out, and has permanent dugouts, stands, fences and warning track,” he said. “The background for hitters is good. Except for the Stadium, it’s probably the best field in the state.”
While at Essex, he obtained a master’s degree in physical education and recreation from Morgan State University in the 1980s.
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During his tenure at Essex he won more than 350 combined baseball and softball games, with a better than .750 two-sport winning percentage, earning him membership in CCBC’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
In addition to coaching, Mr. Cutko taught swimming, biking and canoeing courses.
He retired in 2002.
Mr. Cutko, who lived on Orkney Road near Belvedere Square for 58 years before moving to Springwell, enjoyed traveling with his wife, the former Barbara Totman, to London to visit their daughter, an actress.
The couple also traveled to other countries in Europe and spent summers in Port Clyde and Round Pond, Maine.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. July 22 at CCBC-Essex, 7201 Rossville Blvd., Essex.
In addition to his wife of more than 60 years, a retired city public schools social worker, and son, Mr. Cutko is survived by his daughter, Valerie Cutko of London; and two grandchildren.