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Ron Kodish reflects on Penn State’s Chuck Crist

AVIS — When former Lock Haven all-state basketball star Ron Kodish heard the sad news that his Penn State teammate Chuck Crist had passed away on Oct. 28, memories came tumbling out of his mind with memories of his old roommate and friend who played basketball in college and then spent seven years in the NFL as a defensive back with the Giants, Saints and 49ers.

The news also put Kodish, now 70, into a reflective mood as he recalled the relationship he had with his late father, Ray (Coach) Kodish, who headed the boys’ basketball program at Lock Haven High from 1954-80, winning four league championships.

“My father was a much loved and respected teacher and coach,” Kodish said in an email. “He always coached to his players’ abilities. I learned so much from him that I incorporated into my coaching philosophy throughout my career. When I coached Jersey Shore from 1982-85, my father was my assistant coach and the junior varsity coach, where he coached his only undefeated team. That was a wonderful learning experience for me.”

In high school, Kodish made second team, all-state as a senior (1967-68 season). He accepted a scholarship offer to Penn State and moved into his dorm room in September. Right away, he met his new teammate and future roommate Crist, a four-sport star from Salamanca High in western New York.

“We were both members of John Bach’s first recruiting class at Penn State,” Kodish recalled. “It has been more than a half-century since we first met. I can see it so clearly even now. I was shooting hoops at the South Gym before classes started. The gym was almost empty. I looked down at the other basket and saw this one guy shooting by himself. He seemed to be floating through the air. We introduced ourselves. Chuck told me he had been recruited for both football and basketball. He wanted to play quarterback but Coach (Joe) Paterno told him the coaches thought he would be better suited at defensive back. Chuck only wanted to play quarterback. He decided right away that he would play basketball.”

Both Kodish and Crist were small town stars coming to the big Penn State campus “where it seemed like everyone was an all-stater,” to use Kodish’s description. He was a 6-foot-1 guard and Crist, who checked in at 6-2 and 200 pounds, would settle in at small forward once they became eligible for varsity competition as sophomores.

“In those days, freshmen were ineligible.” Kodish said. “We never thought anything of it because that was the rule. There was no dunking. We were allowed to dunk in practice and Chuck was easily the best dunker on the team. He had what we call quick jumping ability. Chuck would go up, come down and be back up in the air before anyone else.”

The freshmen played a light schedule. Their main role was serving as competition for the varsity in practice. In his sophomore year, Kodish averaged 10 points per game and Crist around half of that off the bench. The team compiled a 13-11 record, a small stepping stone in John Bach’s plan to revitalize the program.

“Tom Daly, who was also from Lock Haven, was our senior point guard,” Kodish remembered. “He made everyone else around him better.”

Kodish and Crist roomed together in North Halls as sophomores.

“We didn’t socialize too often because he was engaged to his high school sweetheart, Patti. They got married after Chuck’s sophomore year. But I have so many memories of fun times on our dorm floor. One time, we got some boxing gloves and the kids started sparring with each other. I got whacked around a few times. But when Chuck put on the gloves, we were all amazed by his hand speed and quick reflexes.”

“Chuck was just a natural at any sport he tried,” Kodish added. “We both majored in health and physical education. I remember once in gymnastics class, I was struggling on the pommel horse, as most of us were, but Chuck got on the horse and after a few turns he was spinning around like a member of Gene Wettstone’s varsity team.”

On the basketball court, Crist became a team leader as a junior and was named a co-captain for his senior season. He would go out on a high note as the Nittany Lions broke through with a 17-8 record.

Alas, things did not go as well for Ron Kodish, who had averaged 10 points per game in his first two seasons.

“I broke my hand before our senior season and fell behind everyone,” Kodish admitted. “It was hard for me to catch up. We had our best team that year. Ron Brown became eligible and he was a really strong player. They brought in Jim Dashield as a transfer to play guard. Bill Kunze turned into a great shooter. I remember we beat Virginia when they were ranked No. 2 in the country. Barry Parkhill from State College was the best player on Virginia’s team.”

After graduation, Kodish and Crist went on with their lives. Kodish went into teaching and Crist jumped into the NFL.

“I saw Chuck at a couple of reunions after he retired from the NFL. I even went up and visited him and Patti for three days. He was really loved up in Salamanca, where he taught school and became a high school principal,” Kodish said.

“A few years ago, I heard from one of my teammates that Chuck was sick. I called up Chuck and he was optimistic, saying he thought he could beat it.”

Crist battled aplastic anemia for several years before succumbing in late October at the age of 69.

Kodish is newly retired after spending over 40 years teaching and coaching at the high school and collegiate levels. He helped launch the women’s basketball program at Penn College in 1996. Kodish’s life is similar to that of his beloved father. Both men coached basketball, raised a close-knit family and worked hard in their community.

“One basketball memory of my father that will stand out the rest of my life is when he and my mother watched me win my only championship as a coach,” Kodish said. “In 2006, my parents came to the Bryce Jordan Center at Penn State to watch my Penn College women’s basketball team beat PSU Harrisburg. Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by then but he was able to enjoy the game, and talk about it afterwards. That is a smile in my memory that I will cherish forever.”

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