A Special Thanks to my Football Coach

A Special Thanks to my Football Coach
I cringe every time I bump into a former student or player-athlete. Invariably, he or she will remember something I did or said that I forgot about long ago. In their minds, however, the memory is crystal clear.

Such is the case with my former teachers and coaches too. I can recall incidents that former mentors would have no reason to remember at all. Take for example…

We were preparing for the Central Cambria football game in the fall of 1969. I had the responsibility of determining where the Red Devil linebackers would stack up, and then call a play away from them, all at the line of scrimmage.

When I called a running play right at those backers in practice, Coach Chuck Sponsky took his cap off and let it fly like a Frisbee (all while yelling a few choice words). A gust of wind lifted the cap higher into the air than anticipated and it sailed over the 8’ fence and into the woods behind the stadium.

“Potchak, go get that," he screamed.

I took two steps in that direction, then realized he meant for my brother (the manager, at that time) to chase it down.

Then, there was the infamous TRICEPS lesson during gym class. Mr. Sponsky was trying to show us that most males emphasize the wrong arm muscle when exercising. He would rhetorically ask a one-word question, like “Bowling?" and then answer it by pointing to the back of his upper arm and give the answer “triceps."

“Pushups? Triceps." “Throwing a football or baseball? Triceps."

“Shot Put, Discus, Javelin, Bench Press," – this went on and on to the point that we ended up counting the times he said, “Triceps." And too, we lost all value the lesson had.

One time a player was having trouble making a block during practice. Apparently the player was also in the Coach’s doghouse about something unrelated to football. “Do you know why you can’t make that block?" Sponsky asked.
“Because you’re a GD liar, that’s why," he retorted.

Another incident lodged in the cracks of memory lane was the time Coach Sponsky tried to get a little philosophical with a player. The player felt that Sponsky used some inappropriate wording in describing his play. Chuck responded with, “If the shoe fit, wears it."

I could go on, but that is not the intent of this story. We all make flubs and say things we don’t mean. There is another side to Chuck Sponsky that separates him from other teachers and coaches I’ve been associated with.

Coach Sponsky would take the extra time to relate sports to every day life. Other coaches have tried to do that too, but none have ever hit the nail on the head the way Coach Sponsky did. His message was meant to last a lifetime too.

When his senior players approached graduation, Sponsky would take the time to write a personal letter to each of them. He would include a football photo of that player, too.

My photo is hanging on my den wall, along with football pictures of my dad and son.

My letter is laminated and in the same folder Coach Sponsky gave me 36 years ago. The letter reads as follows:

Dear Dave,

Enclosed is an individual picture of yourself. This has little materialistic value, but I am sure it is something you will treasure the remainder of your life as a reminiscence of the best days of your life; your high school Football Days.

I would like to take this opportunity Dave, to thank you for all the effort you gave Forest Hills High School the past three seasons. It is a mark of your fine character as an athlete and an individual.

You will take with you three (3) winning football seasons and many individual honors.

I will always remember you Dave, as a boy who overcame many obstacles to be a field general.

I never saw a boy’s attitude change so much for the better as your football case history indicates to me. After missing your whole junior year because of illness, you came back determined to be number one (1) and that is what you accomplished. Use this example and apply it to life itself and you will be a success.

Always shoot high, because the sky is the limit, but on the same note be willing and ready to compensate with number two (2).

You were a very coachable boy – and always a great leader – go out and lead, but lead properly and lead to attain the right and proper objectives.

Don’t forget us, come to visit us often and support Forest Hills as an alumnus.

Good luck in all your future endeavors, especially at Shippensburg. God Bless You Always.

Yours in Sports,
Coach Sponsky and Staff

You can see why I always thought Coach Chuck Sponsky was a winner and why I thought he was someone special in my life. His advice remained with me and will continue to do so. His words of wisdom were much appreciated, but the gratitude I feel is much greater because he took the time to write them.

Thanks Coach.

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927

My Roots - The Potchaks - circa 1927
From Left: Son, Steve - Dad, Frank - Mom, Anastasia (Makar) - Sons; John, Mike, Frank, Chuck (Author's Dad) - Twins, Pete & Mary - Daughter, Catherine. Photo taken in Wilmore, PA