The Rock’s legacy lives on
Myron Rokoszak, left, and Dich Howe were a fixture on the Frontier football sidelines for many years, most of them with Rokoszak as head coach and Howe the assistant. But later the two swapped roles without skipping a beat.
Frontier football coach Myron Rokoszak sends quarterback Kevin Wesoloski back onto the field after a timeout during the 1986 Intercounty League season.
Former Frontier Regional School football coach Dick Howe will never forget his former coaching partner and friend Myron Rokoszak, known to all as “Rock.” Rokoszak passed away unexpectedly on Feb. 21, the result of a massive heart attack he suffered less than a mile from his home in Stoddard, N.H., as he headed out to buy a new snowblower.
“He was gruff,” Howe said. “He loved to play that role. But there was a teddy bear under all that gruff. He was loyal to the players, co-coaches and the school.”
Rokoszak was best remembered for the fire he exhibited on the sidelines at Frontier football games for the nearly 30 years he dedicated to the program. He also served as a teacher and athletic director at the South Deerfield school he graduated from in 1962. But all who knew him admit that his gruffness was not something that consumed the man, but rather something he wore on the exterior of what was a very gentle, humble soul.
Myron Rokoszak was born on Jan. 6, 1944 in a displacement camp in Lusaka, Rhodesia, which is located in Africa. Five years later, Rokoszak, along with his parents and sister, wound up in South Deerfield as refugees. When Rokoszak began attending the South Deerfield Grammar School, he did not speak a word of English, relying on other students’ translations. He wound up repeating kindergarten to master the English language, and it paid off because Rokoszak went on to become valedictorian of his class at Frontier. He was also vice president of the student council, member of the National Honor Society, and a National Merit Scholar.
Rokoszak lettered in three sports at Frontier, playing football, basketball and track. He played offensive line on the football team, and won the state championship in the shot put before moving on to the prestigious Amherst College, where he competed on the football and track & field teams, eventually captaining both. Rokoszak was recruited as a guard but wound up playing tackle at Amherst. It was also a time when players were required to play on both sides of the ball, and Rokoszak also lined up as a linebacker. During his time at the school, the tradition of going both ways began to fade, but Rokoszak continued playing offense and defense through his Amherst tenure. In fact, he was the last Amherst player to play both sides of the ball.
Rokoszak was no average player by any means, named All-ECAC as a senior, a big deal because it lumped him in with players from much larger schools. He also won the Thomas W. Ashley Memorial Trophy during his senior season, given annually to the Most Valuable Player on the football team, as well as the Howard Hill Mossman Award given to a member of the senior class who brought the greatest honor in athletics to the school.
The Rock also continued to excel at track, setting the school’s freshman shot-put record with a put of 43 feet, 10 inches in 1963. While at Amherst, Rokoszak met a classmate by the name of John McKenzie, and the two remained friends for the rest of his life. Both men continued to attend Amherst College basketball games, and had planned to attend a game Rokoszak did not live to experience. McKenzie said he remembers how he first met Rokoszak.
“I initially heard about Myron and thought he was an interesting person and someone I wanted to meet,” McKenzie said. “He was a good athlete, and an all-around good guy.”
Rokoszak moved on to UMass, where he earned his Master’s in physical education. He returned to South Deerfield in 1969 and coached the Frontier football team for one season before leaving to go back to Amherst, where he coached the freshman basketball team. One player that he coached was a freshman named David Hixon, who graduated from Amherst College in 1975 and two years later became the youngest collegiate head coach in the country at age 24 at Amherst.
Hixon is now wrapping up his 37th season with the Lord Jeffs, leading them into battle today in the NCAA Division III Tournament, a game Rokoszak would certainly have been monitoring closely if not in attendance. Just days before the game, Hixon recalled one of his favorite memories of his former coach. During his freshman year, the team was headed to American International College late in the season and the players had pitched in to buy Rokoszak a bottle of his favorite drink. The bottle was in Hixon’s bag and, as the team was loading into the van, Rokoszak was taking the players’ bags and tossing them in. Hixon tried to put the bag in the van himself, Rokoszak would not hear of it and Hixon relented, so the team watched as Rokoszak tossed it in the van.
“He thew it in the back and I thought for sure it broke and we’d all be smelling like booze for the game,” the coach recalled. “It didn’t break and I think we ended up winning and had a nice ceremony and a bunch of laughs when we presented it in the locker room after the game.
“Myron was a great man,” Hixon continued. “Although serious and a great competitor even as a coach, he was really fun to play for. All freshmen had to play freshman ball, and it was a terrific experience to start my college career.”
Rokoszak returned to settle back into South Deerfield in 1976 where he became a math teacher and reclaimed his job as head coach of the football team following the departure of his friend Butch Farrick, who coached te team from 1970-75. Dick Howe, who had been an assistant late in Farrick’s tenure with the team, remained on as an assistant with Rokoszak and the two men were linked for years. Rokoszak served as head coach until 1987 but would come back as an assistant in 1993, with Howe serving as the top dog. The two would again go on a run that lasted up until 2003, and Howe said it was a coaching match made in heaven.
“Believe it or not, we never had a word of anger, and that’s not always easy to do,” Howe said. “We just sort of understood each other. Rock didn’t say stuff to fill up air time. He was not Mr. Fluff.”
During his coaching days at the school, Rokoszak eventually switched from teaching math to physical education, and also served as the athletic director for more than 20 years. He retired in 2003. Former Greenfield High School athletic director Tom Suchanek became friends with Rokoszak while both were serving as ADs, and the two men used to room together while away at meetings.
“He was a guy who wasn’t afraid to speak his piece,” Suchanek said. “He was up front with people, but people liked that and he got along with everybody.”
According to friends, Rokoszak is remembered for playing golf and taking care of his lawn, possibly doing each with a good cigar in his mouth, something he enjoyed. Two men who spent plenty of time on the golf course with Rokoszak were Farrick and Dick Tozloski. Farrick said he remembers walking 54 holes with his friend many days at Southampton Country Club, and the two men were both on a cruise with their wives just a week before Rokoszak’s sudden death. He fondly recalled his friend.
“He was one who couldn’t sit still,” Farrick said. “He was always looking for a project to do and he would do anything for anybody. I’ve got a birdhouse in my backyard that he made.”
Farrick said his friend’s passing was very unexpected, given that Rokoszak was constantly taking walks, and could even be found taking walks on the cruise ship when they were on vacations. When golfing, Rokoszak would bypass the golf cart for many years and instead walked with his bag. He was so diligent, one memory his friends had was of stuffing rocks in his golf bag unbeknownst to Rokoszak, who lugged around a heavier-than-usual bag that afternoon. And then there was that yard-work. South Deerfield residents remembered the passion Rokoszak had for his North Main Street lawn, which one person referred to as the “most immaculate in town.” As one story has it, Rokoszak had an infestation of ants one year and went outside one night with a headlamp and vaccum cleaner and could be found sucking up the pests. Another story had Rokoszak’s friends stopping in front of his house and throwing bottles on his lawn, a move they knew was sure to enrage their good friend, and elicited a few laughs over the years.
Rokoszak eventually left the area, buying a house in Stoddard, N.H., where he lived with wife Amy; they would have celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this year. Rokoszak came back to the area plenty, whether to be with friends or attend Amherst College games, and Amy said the two were trying to sell their house in Stoddard to move back to Franklin County.
He may not have made it back to Franklin County, but his legacy will live for eternity.