Ninety-one-year old Lido poured the Yuengling. Cousin Julie baked the walnut roll. Uncle George and Aunt Martha brought the memories. The NFL provided the occasion and Central Cambria High School did all the rest.
My dad, Ron Kostelnik’s, Golden Football Celebration turned out to be a rip-roaring good time in which we collected stories from people we rarely get to see, re-introduced ourselves to relatives we had hoped to see, and celebrated both a man we all loved and the school that gave him his start.
In conjunction with the Golden Football Celebration, in which the NFL honors the high school of any athlete who played in a Super Bowl, Central Cambria High School also retired my dad’s jersey number.
As I’ve written about before, my dad grew up on 20 Row in Colver, a tiny coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania. He played football for the first time as a high school sophomore and went on to enjoy success at the University of Cincinnati and with the Green Bay Packers. He earned entry into Hall of Fames at all three levels of the game.
“Everyone knows Colver kids are tough as nails,” said Stephen Gironda, CCCHS assistant athletic director and the evening’s MC.
They called my dad Uncas, due to his love for both the outdoors and the Last of the Mohicans.
Seeing the outpouring of love and respect Friday night in the Central Cambria County Gymnasium, Uncas would have been overwhelmed.
The Red Devils provided personalized football jerseys and, by tip-off, our group of Kostelnik-jersey-wearing family members had swelled to include relatives who traveled from North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, Erie, New York and, most special of all to us, Colver.
My grandma’s brother Jimmy Melnyk came with his son Jim, whose son Tanner played on the Red Devils basketball team. My dad’s cousin Timmy Kostelnik, also a decorated Red Devil athlete, joined the group as did my dad’s formidable aunt Genevieve Semko and her daughter Janet. Most of my cousins came, and all of my siblings.
Though health troubles kept them from attending in person, my dad’s cousins John Mihalik and Jo Semko helped coordinate the event via social media.
We’ll be grateful for the rest of our lives that we had the opportunity to celebrate my dad in such a special way among the people who knew him first.