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LORAN SMITH COLUMN: Do you know the Joe Tereshinski story?

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

The legend of Joe Tereshinski will linger for those with affection for the grant-in-aid system, which made college football what it is today.

His story was one of old-world adventurism, coupled with opportunity when generation after generation in America, between two world wars and beyond, realized that the son could make for a better life than had the father — and perpetuate the tradition.

Immigration was never controversial four generations ago. Families left the mother country for opportunity in America. Sometimes it was not the best of times, but perseverance prevailed and fulfillment was realized. Those immigrants assimilated, made do, and became Americans, loyal and patriotic, proud and overachieving.

The original Joe T. died earlier this month, but his death, even with its sobering finality and the attendant pains it brought about, reminded us of the America we often believe we have lost. Joe’s father found his way over from Juzefu, a Polish town near Lublin, arriving in Charleston but following a wayward route to Mobile and New Orleans before settling in Glen Lyon, Penn., which is little more than a half dozen miles from Pittson, the hometown of Charley Trippi.

Tereshinski’s benefactor was the same as Trippi’s, Harold Ketron, the Coca-Cola bottler who eagerly touted them to Coach Butts. Trippi was an easy sell, but the Georgia coaches were leery of Tereshinski’s less-than-imposing size. Bill Hartman recalled that he and J. B. Whitworth, Bulldog line coach, accompanied Ketron to the Tereshinski home. Joe came out to greet his visitors, wearing, as Hartman remembered, “a vest, a sweater, and a big coat” in an attempt to camouflage his lightweight status of 165 pounds. Ketron kept repeating, however, that Joe, while not very big, was “a fighter.”

Because of Ketron’s due diligence and passion, it was difficult not to take his recommendation. Joe Tereshinski, who worked at the Coca-Cola plant with Trippi (and would become his roommate in Athens), was given a scholarship. Tereshinski would not disappoint anybody when he showed up in the fall of 1941. The singular objective on his mind was a college degree. To play football for a degree! That was a tradition for which Tereshinski extended the highest regard.

Years ago, I remember coach Butts telling a story that warrants retelling as long as football is played at the nation’s oldest state chartered university. Tereshinski — which Joe said originally was “Taraczinski” — was difficult to pronounce. One day in a fit of practice field frustration, Coach Butts told Joe that his name caused a pronunciation challenge.

“We are going to change your name,” he told his skinny end. “We are going to name you ‘Terry. Joe Terry.’”

Joe’s pride was stung. He was taken aback and deeply hurt. With the greatest of humility, he said to coach Butts, “If you let me keep my name, I will make you proud of it.” And Joe did.

Joe made it to the Rose Bowl, a letterman in 1942. Then, as so many others like him, he went off to war and returned to Georgia in time to letter in the Oil Bowl season of 1945. He was a starter on the 1946 team, which went undefeated and won a national championship, beating North Carolina, 20-10, in the Sugar Bowl. Joe signed a pro contract with the Washington Redskins after earning his degree and played seven years in the National Football League. He later coached the Redskins for nine years.

Tereshinski’s love of Georgia and Coach Butts was transparent, abiding, and long-lasting. He sent his sons Joe Jr. and Wally, whom he named for his coach, to Georgia.

“I wanted my boys to have a Georgia education and experience life in Athens,” he once said. Joe Jr. became so enamored that he never left and works in strength and conditioning for the Bulldogs with the same fervor that his dad displayed as a player.

Joe Tereshinski epitomized loyalty and love of alma mater. He always expressed unending gratefulness for the concept of playing football for a free education. If only today’s young players could appreciate Joe Tereshinski’s refrain.