Fate, fealty and my father

I pulled a handwritten note and a crisp newspaper clip out of a basement bin last night and learned a little more about fate, fealty and my father.

Recently, my brother let us know that the Cincinnati Enquirer had named our dad, Ron Kostelnik, to the all-time University of Cincinnati all-star football team. He’s a first team selection from a 125-year old football program, one of only three selected from his era.

That he played for the Bearcats at all remains somewhat astonishing given the random path he took. Dad did not step onto a football field until his sophomore year in high school and then only because then head coach Jim Cook spotted him in a mandatory gym class.

Cook drove all the way to Colver to sit down with my dad and his parents and patiently convinced them that “Butch” should give football a go. Grandma remained unconvinced and Pap only mildly interested, but my Dad turned out to be a natural.

The Colver trio would repeat the living room summit seven years later when Coach Phil Bengston similarly worked patiently to convince the Kostelniks that their son should be allowed to play football for the Green Bay Packers.

Dad stayed in touch with Coach Cook for the rest of the coach’s life and in 1988 he spearheaded a campaign to have his first football coach inducted into the Central Cambria County Coach’s Hall of Fame posthumously.

The note I found last night, written by Cook’s wife, thanked my dad for his efforts and included articles from the Cambria Tribune and the Johnstown Tribune Democrat.

In the articles, my dad explains his relationship with his former prep coach, who played a key role in securing him a college scholarship.

“That gave me a chance and when I would return to my home on vacation, he would always check on me and see how I was doing both athletically and educationally. I will never forget that,” Dad said.

Both men owe a large portion of their impressive legacy to athletics, but other attributes like loyalty, kindness and mutual respect allowed that legacy to transcend the playing field.

Coach Cook’s wife Betty sent the clippings and a lovely note, which my dad kept until he died. My Dad loved his high school experience and went to every high school reunion he could.
When Coach Cook was promoted to high school principal in 1956, the school board to had to hire a new head football coach, head basketball coach, head track coach, golf coach and athletic director to replace him.
Here’s my Dad’s high school graduation photo. He never expected to play pro football, but, graced by cool opportunities and influenced by excellent coaches, he worked hard and enjoyed a nine-year NFL career, including three world championships and two Super Bowl titles.

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