Dolph Tokarczyk, a Coaldale guy

Published on Times News Online. March 8, 2009

Dolph Tokarczyk, a Coaldale guy

For awhile it was my most prized possession - a football.

It was better than my pedal-driven fighter plane, my red scooter, and even my Mickey Vernon model baseball glove.

This wasn't just any football. Oh, it was shiny leather, with white laces. And it was new. It had been booted only twice - once by a future NFL Hall of Famer named Chuck Bednarik, and the other by the big guy who lived up the block from my grandparents on Coaldale's East High Street. His name was Dolph Tokarczyk, and to a four-year-old, he was bigger than life.

Dolph played three positions for the University of Pennsylvania Quakers in the mid and late 1940s, as an offensive guard, a defensive linebacker, and the long snapper in kicking situations. He was good enough to be named to the Big East team, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears, before becoming a successful businessman in Philadelphia.

But to me he was just Dolph, the son of a coal miner and a mother who was the neighborhood seamstress. He had a hand as big as a first baseman's mitt, and a grip and a smile to match it.

Big number 64, in the distinct jersey of the Quakers, with stripes down both sleeves, and a leather helmet with no face mask, is the player I went to see in my first college game, at massive Franklin Field, in front of more than 60,000 banner waving, screaming fans. Penn was a big-time Division One program at that time, and good enough that it went undefeated during the 1947 season, playing against some of the best competition in the nation. We drove to Philadelphia in my dad's dark green '47 Buick. Penn State and the University of Pittsburgh were Pennsylvania's other two college teams during that era. Penn was the big boy.

The football was a Christmas gift from Dolph. My father and I visited him at his home over the holidays and he made sure that he and Bednarik had signed it. Too young to understand the possible historic significance of the Chuck Bednarik autograph, I couldn't wait to call my friend Bill Donovan and have a game of catch in the street. We eventually wore the ball out, and had a great time doing it.

Dolph Tokarczyk died last weekend at the age of 84. His passing saddened me, but news of his death brought back nothing but good memories for me. We kept in touch with annual Christmas Cards (thanks to my wife and Dolph's wife, Carole who always remember such things). I'd see him at Coaldale High School reunions, and most recently a couple years ago when a Coaldale High School Football Symposium was held at Costello's Restaurant, and all the former Coaldale gridders were invited back for a nostalgia-filled night of stories and laughter.

The girl he married, Carol DiNinni, came from Pottstown, where I spent 20 years working. Her parents owned the best Italian Restaurant in town until it burned down in the late 1960s.

I recall visiting him at his Philadelphia home from where he, my Uncle Ed and I went to see an Eagles game at Veterans Stadium.

Dolph was always special to me because he was a bridge between my father and myself. He was a lot younger than my Dad, but considerably older than myself, but there was a bonding among us that transended sports.

I guess I could say Dolph was my first hero.

Years after his playing days were over, and he and Carole were raising their sons in Philadelphia, he still made frequent visits home. He'd stop in to see my mother at her news stand. He'd attend 9:15 a.m. Mass at St. Mary's. He'd drop in and visit with the gang at McGeehan's Bar and the Coaldale Legion. He never forgot his roots, and his roots never forgot him.

His oldest son, Dolph Jr., followed his Dad to Penn where he played tight end and graduated from the Wharton School of Business.

Big Dolph graduated in 1942 from Coaldale, where he was a do-everything performer for the Orange and Black, performing on the gridiron, basketball court and in track and field.

He played three seasons of football for Coaldale, as a blocking back, fullback and linebacker. He scored two touchdowns in the 1941 Schuylkill County Dream Game, leading the South squad to a 14-13 victory.

From there he moved on to Penn where he was elected captain for the school's undefeated freshman team.

Then World War II came, and he answered the call.

He captained the Gulfport Army Air Force Base Mississippi team in 1944, and the Third Air Force squad Air Force champions in 1945. Some of the players on that squad read like a who's who in college football during that era - Jim Vugrin of Lansford and Tennessee fame; Casimir Myslinski and Frank Merritt of Army; Bob Kennedy of Washington State; future All-American Charlie Trippi of Georgia; and later to become Texas hall of fame coach Darryl Royal of Oklahoma..

In 1946, Dolph returned to Penn and starred for the Quakers. He was named to Collier's Magazine's All-East team, Penn State's all-opponent team, and he played in the East-West Shrine game and the Chicago Tribune College All-star game.

He was a great football player, but an even greater person. I'm honored to have been able to call him a friend.

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Dolph J. Tokarczyk

Dolph J. Tokarczyk, 84, of University City, Pa., died Feb. 25. He was the husband of Carole A. (DiNinni) Tokarczyk.

He was a 1950 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and a 1942 graduate of the former Coaldale High School.

He was an outstanding football player in college, having played alongside Chuck Bednarik in the line on some outstanding Penn teams. He was a member of the Carbon County Sports Hall of Fame.

Surviving with his wife are loving sons Dolph M. (Eva), Justyn G. (Trish), and Gregory C.; and one grandaughter.

Service: Relatives and friends are invited to viewing on Thursday, 6-8 p.m. at the Danjolell Memorial Home of Broomall, 2811 W. Chester Pike. Funeral mass on Friday, 11 a.m. , in St. Agatha-St. James Church, 3728 Chestnut St., Philadelphia. Interment, Ss. Peter and Paul Cemetery. Contributions in his name may be made to the church.

Published in the Times News on 3/3/2009