Hey, Coach O!

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I had a couple of high school coaches in my studio today. I always enjoy hearing stories from coaches because they remind me so much of my dad who was a public school gym teacher and coach for most of the time that I knew him.

But he was so much more than that. Well before I ventured onto the scene he was quite the “Big Man on Campus” at Roanoke University. He was a star basketball player, nicknamed “The Big Scoop” for his skills under the basket. He was voted thrice to the All State team and eventually earned a spot on the all Century Team and was inducted in Roanoke University’s Hall of Fame.

His illustrious playing career was interrupted by a little disturbance most people knew as WWII. He left school to enlist in the Army Air Corps where he became a bombardier as part of the 448th Bomb Group for the Mighty Eighth Army Air Force. He flew 24 missions over wartime Germany and thankfully made it back home safely. Upon his return to the states, he resumed his education at Roanoke University and even played for another season where he racked up awards, accolades, and the attention of one Red Auerbach who invited him to come play for him. At the time, Red was coaching the Washington Capitols.

Unfortunately, when my dad was free to accept the offer, Red had no open positions so he returned to his family home in New Jersey and got picked up by the Paterson Crescents, a team in the American Basketball League. He only played a couple of seasons before he decided to shift his attention and talents elsewhere.

He became the Athletic Director for a Naval Base in Bainbridge MD, and then decided to embark on a career in public education. It was a career that carried him through to retirement age. And he left an indelible impression on scores of children who were fortunate enough to have had him as a coach or teacher.

I still remember walking down a city street with my father only to be continually interrupted by what appeared to me to be grown men who would shout out, “Hey, Mr. O!” or “Hey Coach!” Even at my tender age, I could see the love and respect these men had for my father because he had provided them instruction and a role model to emulate when they, as much younger versions of themselves, were his students.

It’s a warm memory. One that I am glad to know has not diminished over time.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of films, videotapes, audio recordings, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

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