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Sponsky left mark on his players

(Editor’s note: Former Forest Hills and Bishop Carroll football coach Chuck Sponsky died on Sept. 6.)

I cringe every time I bump into a former student or athlete. Invariably, he or she will remember something I did or said as a teacher or coach 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…

As a player for Forest Hills in 1969, we were preparing for the Central Cambria football game.

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 eight-foot 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.

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

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 Sponsky gave me 50 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 winning 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 and that is what you accomplished. Use this example and apply it to life itself and you will be a success.

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

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