June 21, 2018

   

The First Coach and The Last Coach by Jack Coll

The First Coach and The Last Coach

Charlie Heavey and Chris Bockrath

By Jack Coll

Part Four

Over the course of the forty year football history associated with St. Matthew’s and Archbishop Kennedy High School football programs a lot of good coaches have touched down to instruct us, our children and grandchildren on and off the field.  During the course of my research I didn’t have the time to track all the coaches but a number of the coaches included:

Charlie Heavey  1944-1954

Vince Miraglia  1955

Bill Brannau  1956-1958

Ray Norton  1959-1961

Joe Valerio  1962

Tom Green  1963

John Hanrahan  mid 1960’s

Frank Massino  Late 1960’s

Chuck Rocconi  1970-1973

Chris Bockrath  1974-1992

 

     The list of coaches above represent the dozens of assistant coaches who have participated over the years and the hundreds, if not thousands of members of the different grid clubs, parents, and interested citizens who contributed to making a football season/history of this school possible.

     Charlie Heavey arrived at St. Matthew’s High School in November 1943, the West Philadelphia native was assigned to coach baseball, football and basketball.  After attending West Catholic High School and LaSalle College, Heavey gained head coaching experience at Brown University in two sports.

     When Heavey arrived at St. Matthew’s he had to build the football program from scratch, none of the boys had any experience playing organized football.  In 1943 Father Kavanagh had appointed a director of athletics, and a newly formed athletic association of parishioners guaranteeing the financing of a full athletic program at the high school.

     It should be noted that Heavey was not a popular choice for the coaching positions back in 1943, many of the parishioners felt that Conshohocken had dozens of talented former athletes and couldn’t understand why the parish went outside the borough to an unknown guy from West Philly.  It didn’t take long for Heavey to gain the trust as a coach, a teacher and as a friend to everyone in the borough.

   Heavey’s football record during his eleven football seasons was 63 victories, 35 losses and 6 ties, and his Thanksgiving Day Record against Conshohocken High School was 6-3-2.

1944  2-5-1

1945  7-1-0

1946  3-5-1

1947  4-4-1

1948  9-1-0

1949  8-2-0

1950  6-5-0

1951  6-3-0

1952  6-4-0

1953  6-2-2

1954  6-3-1

 

On August 18, 1955, Heavey had just completed his first day of summer football camp for the team, and stopped at the home of his assistant coach Leo Wisniewski.  The rains had been coming down pretty heavy and Heavey was getting ready to depart, Wisniewski recommended to Heavey to stick around until the rain cleared but Heavey had things to do and out the door he went, according to Wisniewski, it was the last time he ever saw Coach Heavey alive.

     Heavey was traveling on Conshohocken State Road when his car stalled, a pole with high-voltage electric lines fell on the back end of his car.  When Heavey got out of his car in ankle high water running down the road Heavey was electrocuted just outside West Conshohocken.

     Heavey was also very successful in his basketball coaching career with St. Matthew’s.  In the 1943-44 season the Mirrors won the Suburban Catholic League Championship.  That team went on to reach the quarterfinals of the Class-B State Playoffs.  The following year in 1944-45 the team tied for the Suburban League Championship, but lost to St. Patrick’s of Norristown in the playoffs.  In 1946, St. Matt’s again won the Suburban League title and again went to the quarterfinals of the State Playoffs.

     The young men who played for Heavey, credit him with more than wins and losses, but with valuable life’s lessons.  Heavey lived by the motto that losing was just as important as winning, he was a great man of principle.

     A few days after his death, the Norristown Times Herald sports Editor Red McCarthy wrote the following column, it captured the Charlie Heavey that everyone at the time knew, and a whole lot about Charley we didn’t know, I thought it would be well worth the effort to reprint it, so take a minute or two to read it!

By Red McCarthy

Norristown Sports Editor

Saturday August 20, 1955

     Sobering from the shock of tragedy which struck in the torrential rains of last Thursday night, you recall many things about Charlie Heavey.  You’ll recall many more things about Charlie as summer fades into football season, well beyond this season and succeeding seasons.

     Incidents of memory will be categorized.  As a sports writer you were very familiar with his successful coaching career, and you will recall many Heavey episodes of the gridiron.

     Comes back so vividly the game ending scene at Conshohocken Community Stadium last Thanksgiving Day.

     It was the moment of Charlie’s greatest triumph.  His St. Matthew’s High School team, rated a three touchdown underdog, had just defeated Conshohocken High, 20-13, in as fine a high school game as you would care to see.

  His young athletes hoisted Charlie to their collective shoulders, and you still see a happy, laughing coach being borne off the field.

     Then you recall that night just three months prior to the tragedy.  Occasion was a testimonial given Charlie at Plymouth Country Club by the young men who comprised his St. Matthew football squads over 12 years.

     While his players of 12 years thanked him for his coaching on the field, his counsel off the field and his guidance overall, the man of the hour turned the thanks a thousand-fold to his benefactors of the evening with the sincerity of his acceptance.

     To the football men of those 12 seasons, to the clergy and the nuns of St. Matthew’s High School, to his assistant coaches went Charlie Heavey’s gratitude for an opportunity of association.  It was as sincere a thank you-for a thank you-that ears have ever heard.

A bachelor, Charlie Heavey was married to football.  He was a father to the boys who played for him.  I know of no coach, no person, who strictly on his own did so much to help his boys further their education.

     Charlie traveled miles after football season, visiting colleges to recommend this boy or that boy to school authorities.  By the dozens he annually made personal telephone calls and wrote personal letters to collegiate coaches.

     There are coaches who are admired and respected.  At St. Matthew’s Charlie was more than that.   He was loved; loved by the boys who played for him, loved by their parents.  He was that type of man.  It was evident when players of all his 12 teams at St. Matt’s honored him with that testimonial the past spring.

      Admired and respected he was the fellow scholastic and collegiate coaches.  One of the few scholastic football tutors with membership in the National Collegiate Coaches Association, he virtually lived football.

     It was his philosophy that any boy could play football, but any boy who did should have a burning desire to play football.

     We all will miss Charlie Heavey.  Those of us who regarded him as a close personal companion will miss him a great deal.

     But the youngsters who will grow into St. Matthew’s High School students of the future will miss him most.  They will not have had the opportunity of receiving Charlie Heavey’s coaching and guidance.

 ***********************************************************************

 Chris Bockrath was a legendary coach at Archbishop Kennedy from 1974, until the School merged with Bishop Kenrick in 1993.  Chris was a Conshohocken guy through and through, loved his family, loved football, loved his students and loved life.

     Chris died on Thursday February 6, 1997 of a cardiac arrest on his way home from Del Val College following a coaches meeting. As I glanced back into a file marked with Bockrath’s name I reviewed a number of newspaper articles written when Chris had passed away.  Former coaches and players were interviewed, teaches and former students, school officials from a number of different schools all gave comments to the newspapers.

     The thing is, (typically one would say “The funny thing is!” only there was nothing funny about it) very few of the people giving comments mentioned football.  They all wanted to talk about the person he was, the man he was, the encouragement he gave not only to them but to everyone he came in contact with including sports writers.

     Chris loved football, but he knew people, within minutes of meeting a person, he could turn a conversation towards them, speak words of encouragement, no matter what the topic was, and that person would always walk away feeling better about themselves, I witnessed him do that time and time again.

     On the football field Chris was well educated on his X’s and O’s, always had his team prepared to play, almost always complimented the other team win or lose, and always praised his players and coaches.  Many of his former players went on to coach with Chris, including Glen Leonard, Dom D’Addona, John Staudenmayer, Paul Balzano and Felix McKeough just to name a few.

     We won’t dwell on stats but, for those of you wondering, Chris compiled a 124-82-6 record.  As head coach, his teams won ten league titles and three co-league championships.  In 1981 the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athlete Association named Bockrath the District One Coach of the Year.  Chris won many other awards throughout the years for his coaching abilities and took great pride in coaching the Montgomery County All Stars from time to time.

     Over the years I’ve told this story about Chris more than a few times, so just bear with the rest of us while I tell it again.  I’ll quote myself from an article I wrote shortly after Chris’s death;

     “I think it was the early 1980’s, maybe the mid 1980’s, I’m not sure the years seem to slip away, Archbishop Kennedy was playing Plymouth Whitemarsh in a rival football game at the Conshohocken ”A” Field, it was the final game of the year.  It was a cold, bone chilling November night and Kennedy had lost one or two games over the past three or four years, but found themselves losing 21-0 at the halftime, in the final game of the season.

     As the team ran to the locker room the Kennedy coaches had all gathered in the locker room hallway, (Just outside the snack-stand door, but sort of inside the locker room).  The coaches would typically meet in the hallway to discuss the second half strategy, and go over the first half successes and failures, then the coaches would address the team.

     I would usually go into the hallway just to warm-up, and would usually fiddle with my camera as though I had a real purpose to be in the warmth of the hallway other than to just get warm.

     So I’m fiddling with my camera as I usually did, I’m sure I fooled everyone who walked past me, “Oh, Jack must be having technical difficulties with his camera otherwise he’d still be out on the field freezing.”

     So Joe Lewis, the late assistant Kennedy coach, who was watching the game from the top of the “A” Field press box, said to Bockrath in the hallway, out of ear-shot of the players, “Coach, we can win this game,” and Bockrath, always the diplomat, asked Lewis to come clean with his victory plan advice.  Lewis explained that Kennedy’s offensive line was getting beat, and that a quarterback that was taller and could roll out, to buy a little time to throw the ball could hit the sideline pass.

     It was an easy observation by everyone, that the Colonial defenders couldn’t cover the receivers, the Saints receivers were much too quick.  But the Colonial defensive linemen were much too strong on the line and were getting quick releases to the quarterback who was short and didn’t have the ability to roll out, buying a little time to hit the open receivers.  The winning combination for victory was to replace the quarterback.

     Well, I’m working on my camera with my head down, checking to see how many shots are remaining on the roll of film for the 15,000th time thinking this is a no-brainer, in the sport of football winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing, swap the quarterbacks, what’s the big deal?

     Bockrath agreed with Lewis, and said, in a low keyed voice, “Coach you’re right, our number two quarterback could get the job done and we would probably win this game.  But the number one quarterback, well, he’s a senior, and this is probably the final game of football that he will ever play in his life, and I’m not gonna pull him out of the final game of his career and bench him at halftime, so he has to go through the rest of his life knowing he was benched in his final high school football game, if we lose so be it.  The number two quarterback is a junior and he’ll prove himself next year.”

     From that moment on, Bockrath found a friend in me.  My son Brian was a pretty good football player who had played with the Plymouth Whitemarsh Spartans for nearly ten years, and was playing middle school football at Plymouth Whitemarsh as a starting linemen both ways, he did a little punting and a little bit of kicking off.  I remember going home that night, (as frozen as I was) and telling my wife that we need to enroll our son at Archbishop Kennedy so he can be around this man, referring to Bockrath.

     By the way, Kennedy lost that game 21-0, Chris praised his kids after the game, praised his quarterback for a great season.  I heard it all, I was in the locker room, working on my camera.

     Chris Bockrath was a hero to hundreds of young men, he helped shape their lives, day in and day out, every day of his life, always with a smile, always shaking your hand and always making you feel welcomed.

     Nearly fifteen years after his death Bockrath was honored as an inductee into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame, I photographed the event, I imagined him taking his seat in front of the room alongside the greatest Montgomery County had to offer.  I wasn’t surprised at the dozens, maybe more than a hundred people who showed up to witness Bockrath’s induction, but I was surprised at the dozens of coaches and dignitaries who showed up just to express their joy that Bockrath had finally been recognized.

     As a way to honor Chris in front of the nearly 600 people in attendance at the Hall of Fame event, Brian Coll, Ed Swetkowski, and John Staudenmayer put together an eight minute documentary film that went right to the heart of anyone that ever came in contact with Chris.

     In the film, Chris himself, from a 1994 interview, was asked about the value of sports, and he just went off in a soft voice, explaining what he thought was the value of sports, and he described it like this, word for word:

The value of the sport

 

I think the sport can instill a lot of good values into the players

regardless of the sport.

 

I happen to coach football so I try to build them into our program.

 

I think the game is a lot more than winning and losing,

granted you’re gonna waste a lot of valuable time.

 

Winning and losing isn’t important to terms of practice.

 

Certainly that’s not been the only emphasis in our program.

 

Coming out and working hard

 

The setting goals, and working hard to achieve those goals.

 

Going through the trials and tribulations of a team.

 

Finding your limits and then establishing new limits.

 

Trying to be the best you can be every time you go out.

 

There are so many carry-over things from sports that can

help people be successful in the real world.

 

Truly there the values that I look for our kids whether it was 1970 or 1990,

we still look for our kids to come away with those same things.

 

You learn to go the extra mile, you learn to do more than what was asked,

You learn to give more than you have sometimes.

 

If our kids go away from our program and they are a little richer

for that experience they are a little more in touch with themselves,

and a little more confident, they believe in themselves a little more.

 

Their better Christian gentleman as a result of the religious contacts we’ve had as well.

 

Then I feel job well done, wins and losses, job well done.

      Well Coach Bockrath, it was a job well done, and hundreds if not thousands of young adults, and young parents and good young Christians thank you for a job well done.

     I’d like to leave you with one final note from Chris Bockrath, Chris would often close out his annual Saints Football Banquet by saying I wanna leave you with three thoughts:

Well Coach Bockrath, it was a job well done, and hundreds if not thousands of young adults, and young parents and good young Christians thank you for a job well done.

I’d like to leave you with one final note from Chris Bockrath, Chris would often close out his annual Saints Football Banquet by saying I wanna leave you with three thoughts:

“Whatever road in life you choose to take,

always go the extra mile.

 

Hopefully, this program has taught you that!

 

Whatever you choose to become in life,

make sure that it includes being a Christian Gentleman.

 

Hopefully, the school has taught you that.

 

Whatever task you decide to tackle in life,

do it with “Saints Pride” and always stay strong.

I hope that your parents and I have taught you that.”

 

     It still amazes me when I think about it, Chris was only 48 years old when he died.

Isn’t it funny, much of my life is wrapped up in the history of this town, the towns rich sports history, I’ve read enough and written enough about Charlie Heavey over the years that I feel like I’ve known him, but of course I never did, how could I, I was two years old the summer he died.  And I spent a good bit of time with Chris Bockrath, the funny thing is I think of both of them on those warm, sunny late October Saturdays, I really do, I often look to the sky and think of a Neil Young song titled “Long May You Run” with a chorus that reads:

Long may you run, long may you run

Although these changes have come

With your chrome heart shinning in the sun

Long may you run

     I think all coaches are important when we are growing up, I also recognize that Charlie Heavey and Chris Bockrath were two of the most celebrated coaches in the 165 year history of this borough.

     It is my hope, and my wish that their names will be celebrated long after we’re all gone, and according to the memories at the St. Matthew’s/Archbishop Kennedy football reunion, their names will long be remembered.

“Long May They Run”

What a great reunion, I want to thank the sponsors for inviting this old writer, I enjoyed and shared more memories than I could ever write about.  Good to see the faces, some of you looked just great, and a few of you looked like $#il, you know who you are!

Let’s not wait so long for the next one, until then,

“Don’t Die On The Goal Line”

Saint’s Pride

 

 

charlie heavey, leo wisniewski coaches 001 charlie heavey, vincent miraglia, martin kelly 001 chris, chris and joanne bockrath 001 Bockrath

 

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