Many athletes in Fayette County used track and field to further their education. One of those athletes was former canton German high school football and wrestling player Joel Gaydos.
Gaydos was a two-year college football scholar for the Uhlans in the late 1950s. He was part of teams that posted records of 5-4 in 1958 and 1-8 in 1959. Gaydos was there for the Changing the old guard when longtime German coach Lou Rozzi resigned after the 1958 campaign and was replaced by John Katusa.
“I started playing football in eighth grade and received college letters in my last two years in high school,” Gaydos recalls. “After Coach Rozzi resigned, my senior year was a bad year. Looking back, I remember two things about that 1959 season. Katusa came in and was full of energy and he brought a lot of new things. He brought the lonely ending they used to the military, and Lou Rozzi’s teams were really focused on the basics. We did a lot of really good line blocking and tough racing. We didn’t do a lot of passes. Katusa brought in a lot of things quickly and tried to implement them and it was a bit too fast.
“The other thing I remember this season is that in August and September it was very hot and very dry. My recollection is that a lot of other teams in the region have retreated on the hard knocks and the long practices. We never backed down and did two workouts a day. There were injuries and people were in pain and I think when we started the season we were in pain and once we got into losing mode it was a tough situation to get out of.
Gaydos was listed at 5 feet 9 inches and 180 pounds.
“I was actually a little taller than that,” Gaydos said. “I used to go between 185 and 190 pounds. At various times during my two college years, I played every place on the line on offense and defense. I played mid-guard occasionally, but I didn’t play center on offense.
A highlight for Gaydos was catching a touchdown pass in his senior year in a 33-14 loss to Uniontown.
“I did and if I remember correctly the Uniontown reporter pointed out that I had beaten the second defenseman of the Uniontown team on the play,” Gaydos said.
German’s great rival at the time was Masontown.
“It was a great rivalry,” Gaydos said. “I think in my mind it was Masontown and also Uniontown. I remember in 1958 we beat Uniontown 12-6 and we also beat Masontown that season 40-6. This team had great players like Bill Rutland, Murnis Banner and Sam Sims.
Gaydos in 1959 was named Fayette-A-Con All-Star and received an All-County Honorable Mention.
“We had a lot of talent in Fayette County,” Gaydos said. “As a person coming from German and playing, I certainly respected these players.”
Gaydos was also the winner of a three-year college letter wrestling in very good Uhlan wrestling teams.
“Coach Ray Rifenberg was a fantastic wrestling coach,” Gaydos said. “He had a lot of good wrestlers. In German, both in football and in wrestling, I constantly fought to keep my place in the team.
“In wrestling we had the Check brothers and one of the boys Vidovich and Joe Simon and Lefty Radosevich. I wrestled early in high school at 133 and 138 then 154 and did most of my wrestling at 165. We were very competitive.
When Gaydos graduated from German in 1960, he was appointed to West Point.
“Coming out of German township and going to college, I got football offers from Richmond and Penn and got the West Point date,” Gaydos said, “but the appointment to West Point was unrelated to playing football, I did well in high school class and was president of a senior year in German.
Gaydos decided after a brief period to leave West Point.
“I was embarrassed by some of the things that were going on up there,” Gaydos said. “Things went well with wrestling and I made the wrestling team. One thing that bothered me a lot was the use of food for hazing and food refusal. I lost a lot of weight and when I went out for football they told me I was too light. They said you need to lose more weight and you can play 150 pound soccer. I didn’t want to lose any more weight.
“It got me thinking about a lot of other things that I had considered and put aside, one of which was medicine. I decided to make a change and Coach Katusa found out and contacted Coach Merrick in Richmond and got a scholarship. I was in West Point in July and left shortly after the school year started and that was before the year started in Richmond. I arrived in Richmond in 1960 as a freshman.
Gaydos played freshman football with the Spiders in 1960. He wore a red shirt in 1961 and left Richmond before the 1962 season. There were six players from Fayette County to Richmond at that time: Gerald Lofstead and John Vittone of Masontown, John Sheranek and Pat Britt of Uniontown and former German Gaydos teammate Joe Stromick.
“It was because of assistant coach Hal Hunter who recruited very well in western Pennsylvania,” Gaydos said.
“Richmond treated me very well,” Gaydos said. “It was a good academic school. It was a good experience.”
When Gaydos left Richmond, he went to West Virginia University School of Medicine. He graduated from WVU Medical School in 1968. In 1967 he received the prestigious Edward J. Van Liere award for the best paper on original research.
“After WVU, I went into the military and worked at Walter Reed Hospital as a surgical intern,” Gaydos explained. “I remained in the army until 1997 and retired as a colonel.
“While in the military I was working for the Department of Defense and in the late 1990s there were fears related to infectious diseases and they started an emerging infectious disease program led by Walter Reed. I went to work for this program in 1997 and stayed with them until 2015, then I went to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland as an occupational physician until I retired in 2020. ”
Gaydos, 79, has lived in Gettysburg with his wife Charlotte for 56 years. They have four grown children, two boys and two girls, and 15 grandchildren.
Gaydos enjoyed the trip down memory lane.
“I enjoyed talking about a great period in Fayette County sports history,” Gaydos said.
George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears in the Sunday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.