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Remembering a Crusader icon

McCormack spent 40 years as equipment manager

September 5, 2010
By FRED YOUNCE, Sports writer

STEUBENVILLE - On Aug. 27 the Crusader family lost their beloved equipment manager, Jim McCormack.

McCormack was 73. He was a 1954 graduate of Catholic Central and served as equipment manager for 40 years.

That small bit of information concerning McCormack's connection to Catholic Central could be found in his obituary.

It doesn't do justice to what the man known as "Mr. Mac" meant to the countless kids who roamed Central's halls over the years and his place in the tradition of the school.

Angelo Canella, a 1999 grad, states, "Coaches and players came and went, but two things remained constant: CCHS tradition and Mr. Mac. He will truly be missed."

Joe Petrozzi, a 1997 grad, concurs, "I think of Mr. Mac as one of those Crusader mainstays. Someone who you knew was there before you ever got to CCHS, and who you expected to be there long after your four years were up. He exemplified all the traits CCHS represented: Courage, Character, Heart, Spirit. Mr. Mac will be missed by many, but forgotten by none."

Mr. Mac became equipment manager to fill in for a short time as a favor to Central's principal, Father Wilamowski, in 1968.

Dolly McCormack, Mr. Mac's wife, remembers, "The parish priest at Annunciation Church in Mingo, Father Wilamowski, asked if he'd do him a favor and take care of the equipment until they found someone permanent. That was 1968.

"He was there with Tom Duff his last year and then was there for the '71 team. I went through one of his drawers. He had programs from the '71 season that look brand new."

Mrs. McCormack laughed as she remembered just how important Central was to her husband.

"This is funny. Well you might not think its funny. When I had my heart surgery and he was there the whole time the day of the surgery. Central had a game two days later and by then I was lucky if I got 20 minutes. I came in second to Central football."

She also remembered how he would go up to the locker room early, which she never understood.

"When Central played on Saturdays he would leave the house at noon. I would say nobody is up there and give him a hard time about going up that early.

"I would have to pack a lunch because he was diabetic to make sure his diet was being taken care of. I found out at the funeral home that Jared Mosti and Shawn Gillette from the 2005 team would go at noon and sit in his office and talk with him."

Another person who has fond memories of talking with Mr. Mac is current Crusaders head fotball coach and 1970 graduate Gregg Bahen.

"One thing I'm going to miss is going to the locker room early and having coffee and talking with him," said Bahen.

McCormack would perform his role as fill-in equipment manager until 2008.

Bahen states, "He dedicated 40 years of his life to Catholic Central. He's been missed up here in the locker room for a few years and now he's missed even more. He touched a lot of lives."

In his time as equipment manager he would touch the lives of so many because of the way he cared about Central and the kids that attended the school.

Central Athletic Director and 1991 graduate Steve Daley states, "He touched the lives of so many kids and not just football players. There probably isn't a Central kid that doesn't have a Mac story. Its hard to replace a guy like Mac because the way he cared about the kids can never be replaced."

Jim Sweeney, a former coach and 1969 alum, adds, "They lost one of their best supporters of athletics. All the things he did for the kids at Central. He always put the kids first."

1985 Central grad and current Big Red co-offensive coordinator and head basketball coach Mike Haney concurs, "I played there 25 years ago and when I discussed it with the guys I played with we had good memories talking about Mr. Mac. He really cared about and took care of the kids."

Added Petrozzi, "I always felt like I got special treatment from Mr. Mac, not because I actually did, but because he made everyone feel that way."

In the locker room, among the players, Mr. Mac was seen as another coach. He was respected and thought of like any other leader.

Current Edison head baseball coach Mike Collopy, a 1993 graduate, states, "He was tough on us like the coaches were and we loved him like we loved them and it's sad that we lost him."

1994 grad Donald Thorn adds, "I remember our senior year. As a senior we got the best stuff. He told me the first day of camp, and again when I was getting fitted for my shoulder pads, to play so hard he wanted to not be able to use those pads again. I'm sure he used those pads again, but I played my butt off that year and we won state. Not for nothing but Mr. Mac was the soul of that locker room and one heck of a man."

In a time when most people are thinking about money, Mr. Mac continued to be a supporter of Crusader athletics and athletes without concern for financial returns. His concern was always the kids and the school he loved.

Collopy states, "There's not too many places you're going to find a guy that is going to put that much time and effort in without a big payoff. Everybody is about how much my time is worth. He loved Central."

1994 alum David Riley adds, "I see Mr. Jim McCormack as a member of the early generations of Catholic Central devotees who made the school their life's mission. The school's history is full of people who have sacrificed salaries and benefits to build and continue the Catholic Central tradition. I consider myself truly blessed to be one of the beneficiaries of Mr. Mac's selfless dedication to the Crusader football program and the Catholic Central Family."

One of Mr. Mac's most fondly remembered traits is that he, no matter if you were all-state or a scout team hero, treated everyone equally.

1993 grad Brian Shannon remembers, "When double sessions started my sophmore year, Mr. Mac pulled me aside and said 'Hey I remember someone who was number 30. Do you want that number?' He was referring to my dad. Of course I said yes and it was my number throughout high school. To some that might not be a big deal, but I wasn't a starter. Not even close. But it meant so much to me that Mr. Mac remembered that 20 years prior my dad had that number."

Thorn adds, "He treated everyone with respect. He will always will have a place in my heart."

Mr. Mac was also known to throw in a life lesson or two to the kids that he cared so much for.

2007 graduate Luke Nicholson remembers, "After winning a game as a freshman, we were waiting to leave the locker room. Coach Petrella asked Mr. Mac if he had anything to say to the team. Everyone gave Mr. Mac their full attention, hoping for him to tell us how we played. Mr. Mac took advantage of the situation, and instead of commenting on the game, he decided to give us a random life lesson. He said 'Fellas, I'm going to tell you one thing, utilize your brain because no matter what you do on the football field, no one can ever take away your brain.'"

One man who had the unique opportunity to assist Mr. Mac as equipment manager from 2000-07 was Chris Henry.

The man described by Mrs. McCormack as "like a son" to Mr. Mac and called "MiniMac" by some, states, "I enjoyed every moment working with Mac. All the good laughs and old football stories will be sadly missed. Mac was there every day making sure things were right. He handled things the same way every year to carry on the traditions of our team. He was very dedicated to the players and the school."

In his time as equipment manager Mr. Mac was known for not only being a caring man but also one who would vigilantly attend to his duties.

Indian Creek football coach Andrew Connor, a 1988 Central grad, states, "He had a rep for staying on kids to get their equipment in but he always took care of kids and there was nobody who wanted to see Central succeed more than Mac. He bled blue and gold."

His "rep" was one of the things most fondly remembered by many.

Haney remembers, "He'd be screaming about turning in our uniforms, he'd chase some of the younger guys that didn't know any better into the shower about getting their stuff in."

1997 alum Jason Golec remembers being one of those kids years after Haney played.

"I remember Mr. Mac would always yell the last names of people who thought they could get away with showering before they turned in their equipment," said Golec. "He actually came into the showers and dragged me out after we beat Columbus Bishop Ready 14-13 in overtime in 1995."

Bahen saw more than his fair share of kids getting chased down.

"He used to chase the kids down if they didn't have their game jerseys in their baskets. He'd hunt them down in the showers like a bounty hunter."

Henry would add, "On game days at Central any player will tell you no matter how big the game was you will always remember turning that game jersey back into Mac."

It wasn't just the players who remember Mr. Mac fondly. His trainers had a love and respect for a man who many saw as a grandfather.

1994 graduate Jenee Morrocco states, "I remember sitting in there with him every single practice and him telling me stories about his son. He loved him so much and was so very, very proud of him. I also remember him telling me that I may not have a grandfather who was alive, but he would be there to listen anytime I needed him to. He is going to be missed for sure and will always hold a spot in my heart."

1994 grad Mica Macedonia Boerner adds, "When I would go home after we graduated from high school I would always go say hi at the games. He was always so excited to see me and would be totally up to speed about everything I was doing. He even e-mailed me a couple times. He always knew how to make me smile and he will be missed."

Angela Zamana-Younce, a 1998 graduate, remembers how close Mr. Mac and her late father, coach Steve Zamana, were and smiles at the thoughts of them reunited.

"My dad and Mr. Mac were friends and I can only imagine the coffee and conversation between them in heaven."

Mrs. McCormack added a story regarding one of her visitors at the funeral home during Mr. Mac's viewing.

"A little girl came up to me at the funeral home and she was crying. I asked if she knew him, and she said she was one of his trainers. She just loved him. He taught her to jitterbug."

To many, if the former St. John Arena could speak, Mr. Mac would be what its voice sounds like.

That's because for many years he was the voice of Crusader basketball.

1984 grad and current ESPN personality John Buccigross states, "My memory of Mr. Mac will always be first and foremost his voice. 'Crusader field goal, Don Goodpasterrr!' He had great pipes and a bubbly personality that was always uplifting in person or behind the microphone. Mr. Mac was and always will be part of the soundtrack of Crusader basketball for me and part of the Crusader family in general. His loss, like all Crusader losses, leaves a gap of cold air."

For many Mr. Mac is synonymous with the Crusaders.

Haney states, "I just think when you think of Steubenville Catholic Central football you think of Coach Bahen and Mr. Mac as two key components."

Collopy added, "Mr. Mac is Central."

Mr. Mac was a man who cared about the students of Catholic Central High School like they were all extensions of his family. He exemplified everything that Crusaders hold to be virtues of their community. He will be remembered by all who came in contact with him with a smile and a happy memory.

The input received for this story was overwhelming. Although unable to use everything, it was clear that Mr. Mac was and will always be one of the most beloved members of the Catholic Central community and will hold a special place in the hearts of many.

Daley states, "The biggest thing is Mac was such a huge part of Central. It's a huge loss to the Central family because anybody you talk to in any sport was affected by him. We are doing some things to memorilize him at the school. He deserves the tribute, it will be coming shortly and is very deserving."

Bahen may have summed Mr. Mac up best, though, when he said, "As good and generous as he was, it was still hard getting shoe strings off of him."

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