I believe that everyone is special, but I also believe that some are more special than others.
Every once in awhile someone enters our lives that is a cut above just being special. One of those someones is the late Joseph John Krivak, who died on Christmas Day at his home in Bowie, Md. His funeral was last Friday at Sacred Heart Church in Bowie.
Mr. Krivak or Joe to those of us who knew him, was 77. He battled Leukemia.
He is best known around these parts for the impact he made while teaching and coaching all sports at Madonna High School for eight years during the 1960s.
However, Joe was an outstanding three-sport athlete at Shade Township High School and earned a football scholarship to Syracuse University where he earned four varsity letters (three in football and one in baseball).
As an offensive lineman and linebacker at Syracuse, Joe blocked for the legendary Jim Brown and his 1957 Syracuse team played in the Cotton Bowl in 1957. That's when earning a bowl bid to one of just a handful of post-season bowl games was truly an honor for the players and the school.
He earned a Bachelors of Arts Degree and then a master in Education from Syracuse and started his teaching and coaching career at Madonna. He was named head football coach of the Blue Dons in 1962 succeeding the school's first coach, John Grossi.
Krivak was head coach at Madonna from 1962 until 1968 compiling a record of 45-21-2. His winning percentage of .682 is second in the more than 50 years of school history behind Bob Kramer (.761). During that stint, Krivak's teams won two OVAC championships and one West Virginia Catholic School title.
On Nov. 11, 1961, Joe Krivak married Jeanne Irvin, a Weirton native. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary on 11-11-11 and enjoyed their 51st this past November. The couple has three sons, Edward (Karen) of Newark, Del., John of Tampa, Fla. and Jeff (Lisa) of Clarksville, Md. They also have two grandchildren.
I first met Joe Krivak as a young sports editor of the Weirton Daily Times, a position I held from January 1966 to May 1967. I only covered Joe's football team during the 1966 season, but since he was all-sports coach at the school, our paths crossed during the 1966 and 1967 basketball and baseball seasons.
One day following the 1966 Madonna football season, I received a telephone call at home from a gentleman, who introduced himself as the sports editor of the Bedford, Pa. newspaper. He asked about Joe Krivak and informed me that Joe had been hired by the Bedford Board of Education as the head football coach at the high school there and he was calling to get some background information about their new coach.
I immediately called Joe at his home and when I told him about receiving the call from Bedford, there was a pause - a long pause. It seems that Joe apparently had thrown his name in the hat at Bedford, but hadn't informed the Madonna Athletic Board.
Well, as just about everyone knows, Joe, who told me his hometown was near Bedford, decided to stay in Weirton for two more years before moving on as an assistant football coach at his beloved alma mater, Syracuse University.
I'm so glad I was able to visit briefly with Joe last April at the Weirton Hall of Fame Banquet at the Weirton Knights of Columbus Hall. He was humble, yet precise, about his memories of Weirton during his acceptance speech.
Joe never lost touch with Syracuse University. He attended alumni gatherings, especially football weekends. On Oct. 22, 2011, Syracuse University presented Krivak with a LetterWinner of Distinction Award for his accomplishments as a coach at the high school and college levels.
During his time of coach at Madonna, Joe was very instrumental in acquiring football scholarships to Syracuse for several of his players, namely, Bill Zanieski, Paul Paolisso and Chuck Boniti. He also saw that many others, who wanted to play football at other places, got the opportunity.
Despite being a lineman and linebacker during his playing days, Joe became well known for developing college quarterbacks. Of course, he coached Paolisso at Madonna to prep him for a distinguished career as the signal caller at Syracuse.
Krivak was an assistant coach at Syracuse, the U. S. Naval Academy and the University of Virginia, but is perhaps best known for the five years he served as head coach of the Maryland Terrapins from 1987-91. He was on the coaching staff at Maryland under Bobby Ross and replaced him as the head coach at Maryland when Ross left to coach at Georgia Tech.
Joe's Maryland teams posted a record of 29-34-2. His best season was 1990 when the Terrapins went 6-5-1 and tied Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl.
Ross told the Baltimore Sun that Krivak took over at Maryland when the school's athletics were reeling following the drug-related death of basketball star, Len Bias.
"It was a very tough time with all that was going on at Maryland, but he did a good job," Ross told the newspaper. "Joe was a good football coach, but far more important, he was a great human being."
And that's what Zanieski, Paolisso, who was a pall bearer at Krivak's funeral last Friday, and many others, who left online tributes to his family on the website of the Beall Funeral Home, which were in charge of arrangements.
Paolisso said that a couple of pretty good college and NFL quarterbacks, groomed at Maryland under Krivak, attended the funeral. They were Boomer Esiason, Neal O'Donnell and Scott Zolak.
When in Weirton, Joe developed a close relationship with the McCune and Andochick families among others. Mike Andochick, former Weirton mayor, and Weirton attorney Dan McCune drove together to Bowie for the funeral.
Dan McCune, who graduated from Madonna in 1980, said even though he didn't play for Krivak, Joe was instrumental in guiding him to play football at the U. S. Naval Academy Prep School in Newport, RI after he finished his playing days at Madonna in 1980.
"Coach Krivak was at the Naval Academy then and I am thankful for him being instrumental in giving me the opportunity to explore," McCune said. "I didn't choose to go to the Academy, but the experience gave me a sense of what I really wanted to do. My father always considered Krivak to be his best friend."
McCune said his parents told him that it was having the same values of religion, education and family that brought the Krivak, Andochick and McCune families together.
When Zanieski finished an outstanding high school career at Madonna, his dream was to play football at Notre Dame. Notre Dame invited Zanieski as a walk-on, but he had scholarship offers and signed with the University of Pittsburgh as a defensive back. A couple of months later, Pitt reneged on the offer and when Zanieski told Krivak, the coach went to bat for him and a week later he had the scholarship to Syracuse.
"One of the stories I tell about Coach Krivak is when I had him in social studies at Madonna he required everyone in the class to write a paper and he assigned the subjects," Zanieski said. "I was assigned the topic "Bloody Sunday Massacre," which is about the beginning of the Russian Revolution. Krivak gave be a C+ on the paper. For some reason, I kept that paper and when I took a class in Russian History at Syracuse, I had to write a paper, so I pulled out the one I had written at Madonna, dusted it off and handed it in. I got an B grade for it from the college professor."
Zanieski, who is a retired teacher and coach with the Hancock County school system, began his teaching and coaching career at Madonna in 1969, the year after Krivak left for Syracuse.
The thing many Madonna graduates who left replies on the Beall Funeral Home guest book remembered about Joe Krivak was his passion for teaching and his desire to educate the whole person in all aspects of life.
"He was a Christian," is how Zanieski summed up the life of Joe Krivak.