Chuck Sponsky had retired as a high school football head coach in the late 1980s, but news of his death still impacted the region.
Sponsky died of the coronavirus on Sunday in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, according to his son Craig. Chuck Sponsky was 80.
The first coach in Forest Hills High School history after consolidation in 1966, he spent eight years with the Rangers before taking the head job at Bishop Carroll in June 1977.
After 11 seasons, Chuck Sponsky stepped down as coach in order to watch Craig Sponsky play college football. He took the role as Bishop Carroll athletic director for 26 years and was considered a founding father of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, which inducted him into its hall of fame in 1999.
“Around July 17, he started having really bad stomach pains. We had never heard that was a symptom,” Craig Sponsky said of his father’s illness.
“Day 2, he was really lethargic. I texted the primary care physician. She said, ‘Get him to the hospital now.’ He tested positive right away, July 19.”
His father appeared to take steps forward, Craig Sponsky said, but eventually regressed.
He said his father had no pre-existing conditions and took extra precautions during the COVID-19 pandemic such as wearing a face mask and social distancing.
“I want to have peace with it,” Craig Sponsky said. “He wasn’t in any pain at the end.”
Chuck Sponsky grew up in the small Cambria County community of Bakerton and graduated from John Carroll High School in 1957. He played football at Lock Haven State College for three years, twice earning all-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference honors, including a first-team nod in 1961.
The former Triangle High School, which eventually became a part of Forest Hills, hired Sponsky as an assistant and he became the Rangers head coach in 1966. Sponsky went 34-34-2 in eight seasons at Forest Hills, coaching a young Don Bailey, who later coached the Rangers for 45 seasons and won 375 games.
“I had a lot of respect for him as a coach. He was my coach,” Bailey said on Wednesday. “He had a very sound football mind. A lot of the coaching abilities I had, I learned from him. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Craig, Chuck’s wife (Carole) and the family.”
Former Cambria Heights coach Bill Shortencarrier led the Highlanders for eight seasons and recalled Sponsky’s competitiveness.
“Even in the scrimmages, it was pretty fierce competition,” Shortencarrier said. “Chuck was not a guy who took losing very lightly. He was a winner. He wanted to win as we all do. He was fierce about it.
“He was very knowledgeable. He always had good assistants up there. He treated people with respect,” Shortencarrier added. “Even when he lost, he was very respectful. I don’t think he could wait until next year if he lost to you. That was on his calendar and you better be ready for him the next year.”
Sponsky established a successful program at Bishop Carroll. He led the Huskies to a 48-57-3 record in 11 seasons, giving him a 82-91-5 career record.
“Chuck was a typical football coach, very hard-nosed, a product of the times and how he was brought up,” said Rob Maruca, who played for Chuck Sponsky from 1977-79 and now is a dentist in Ebensburg. “I called it smash-mouth football. It was very predictable. ‘We’re coming right here. If you can beat us, then you can beat us.’ You try your best and what happens is the best team wins. That was how it was from his perspective. I followed that belief my whole life.”
Chuck Sponsky coached his son from 1985-87, a memory Craig Sponsky cherishes decades later.
“He was hard on me but I was OK with that,” Craig Sponsky said. “He was clear before he ever coached me that it was going to take extra to earn any job. I was good with that conceptually, but I wasn’t aware how hard it would be in the long run.”
‘He did everything’
When Craig Sponsky went to play linebacker at Towson University, Chuck took on the AD role at Bishop Carroll.
“He called me and asked me if I’d be interested in the job,” said Corky McCabe, who followed Chuck Sponsky as the Huskies coach. “I was shocked that he’d call me. He was the AD at that time. I went to Bishop Carroll and I enjoyed it.
“Anything that we needed, Chuck did his best to get it for us.
“Chuck was probably the biggest supporter of all the athletics at Bishop Carroll. He did everything.”
Chuck Sponsky chaired the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association for many years and served as president in 1994. He was involved in the PSFCA Hall of Fame induction ceremonies.
“He had a passion for football. He had a passion for kids and making a positive difference,” Craig Sponsky said. “He demanded the best effort every day. He knew the value of football in his own life that got him out of Bakerton and got him a college education.”
After winning 105 games, six district titles and earning one state runner-up finish during his 13 seasons at Bishop Carroll, Craig Sponsky left for Florida, where he served as athletic director at Oxbridge Academy. Chuck and Carole Sponsky relocated to Florida in 2012 and he was a volunteer coach at Oxbridge Academy.
“From him coaching me, to me being able to coach alongside him,” Craig Sponsky said. “He was a tremendous asset because of all of his experience. I always will relish the challenge he would present in the preparation of every game plan, every practice schedule, every drill. That made me a better coach.”