Joseph J. "Sammy" Ososki Jr.
Prep Teacher, Coach & Athletic Director (1948-1984)
As the old Fordham story goes, Joseph Ososki first thought seriously about college when he was 11 years old. He and his father were buried chest-deep in a cave-in while working in the Pennsylvania mines. There in the dark, awaiting their rescue, the elder Ososki began to spell out his hopes for a far different future for his son. And there in the dark, young Józef listened.
Several years later, Joe arrived at Penn Station to start his freshman year at Fordham University. His mother had warned him that for all practical purposes, New York City was at the other end of the world, but that if he got into trouble, he should turn to a police officer for help. Getting off his train, Ososki had no idea how to get to the Bronx, or even how far it might be. Naturally, one of New York’s finest was standing nearby, and heeding his mother’s advice, the coalminer’s son asked him the way. Looking the strapping Pennsylvania boy over, the officer asked if he would be playing for the Rams. When Joe said yes, the Fordham fan in blue bought him breakfast and paid for a cab ride up to Rose Hill.
Joseph John Ososki Jr. was born in Mount Carmel, in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania on June 23, 1919, to Jospeh Ososki Sr. and Helen Elizabeth Kurtz Ososki. There were three daughters in the house on South Plum Street as well: Elizabeth, Rita and Madeline.
Joe began his education at the local Polish School going on to Mount Carmel High School where he had a spectacular athletic career, culminating in selection to the All-State team at the end of his senior year. It was then that Joe was dubbed “Sammy” because of many comparisons to “Swingin’” Sammy Baugh, a popular two-time All-American who would go on to have a career with the Washington Redskins.
It was 1939 when Sammy first stepped off that train and took the cab ride up to Rose Hill. During his college years, Ososki played halfback for Fordham football team at a time when the Rams were nationally ranked. Among his teammates were some of Fordham’s all-time legends on the gridiron — Steve Filipowicz, Jim Blumenstock, George Cheverko and Jim Lansing to name a few. The New York Times once called Ososki the “fleetest in Fordham’s galaxy of runners.” Elsewhere in the press he was known as “The Polish Lancer.” He also played baseball at Fordham, prompting yet another sportswriter to call him “a poem of grace and speed.”
After playing in the Rams’ memorable 2-0 victory over Missouri in the 1942 Sugar Bowl, Joe enlisted in the Marines in the middle of his senior year. Serving bravely on Iwo Jima, he returned to complete his senior year at the university, graduating in 1947.
Joe was drafted by the New York Giants, but a knee injury in training camp ended his pro career almost as soon as it started. He worked for a time as a scout for the Giants and then as the freshman football coach at the university, taking over from Fordham football legend Vince Lombardi.
When the College suspended their football program in 1948, he joined the Prep coaching staff and faculty, becoming head football coach and head baseball coach, teaching phys ed, social studies and economics, and eventually serving as athletic director. A reminiscence from Daniel Kelleher, Class of 1957:
On Day One in 1954, he held a meeting with his new football team on the practice field. He stood in front of us with his olive complexion — some say that his face looked like smooth leather. His dark hair was parted on the side and combed straight back. He looked very much like a movie star from the ’40’s.
At 5’8”, he had a sturdy build and piercing, dark eyes. I swear he could look straight into your soul. Standing there on the field, he appeared to be sizing up each player. You could almost hear the inner workings of his mind:
This one looks fast...
Surverying his squad, he took thoughtful puffs on his ever present pipe. (On rainy days he would pack and puff that thing up-side down. Truly miraculous!) And when he moved, you just knew he was powerful and quick, like a stalking panther.
The Prep's Football Rams of 1954 and 1956 went undefeated and captured the CHSAA championship in 1958. In those days, one of Ososki’s star players was none other than fellow Prep legend and Hall of Honor member, Bruce Bott. In Bott’s words: “Sure, Coach had a strong knowledge of the game, but it was his ability to prepare and motivate his teams that was his strongest asset. He made his players and students believe that they could achieve anything. And we did.”
In 1984 Sammy retired and was inducted into the Fordham University Hall of Fame and the CHSAA Hall of Fame. That year's Ramkin was dedicated to Mr. Ososki, a man “of extreme dedication, unselfish devotion, and unstilted pride in his players and students.”
Joseph “Sammy” Ososki passed away on September 22, 2002. He left behind a son, Gordon, and daughter, Suzanne as well as two grandchildren. Like everything else about the man, his love for his children is the stuff of Prep lore. Many an alumnus from the Ososki days was inspired by Coach’s wise words in the locker room or classroom about being a man and being a father — lessons that were learned and lived out far beyond the football field, and far beyond the walls of Hughes and Shea Halls.