The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

September 14, 2012

Out of downs: Volunteer manned Mustang marker for 61 years

Kelly Urban

PORTAGE — Bob Yetsko oozes Mustang pride, and it’s a passion that has spanned decades.

But after serving 61 years as a member of the chain crew for the Portage Area High School varsity football team, the 82-year-old finally decided it was time to call it a day.

“I used to go and watch the scrimmage games and nobody wanted to hold the down marker, so I volunteered to do it,” the Portage Township resident said. “I never thought I’d be doing this for 61 years, but I’m ready to be done because I can’t move as fast as I used to.”

Prior to the start of the

Sept. 7 game against Berlin Brothersvalley, Yetsko was honored for his service and presented with a plaque from school district Superintendent Richard Bernazzoli.

It reads in part, “For 61 years you have dedicated your Friday evenings to the service of our varsity football program as an integral member of the chain crew. You will forever be a part of the Mustang tradition and its pride and honor that we recognize.”

Yetsko said he wasn’t totally surprised by the accolade and knew something was up after the high school assistant principal came to his home to interview him about his time as a member of the chain crew.

Even though he got run over a few times by players while working on the sidelines, he admitted he’ll miss being a part of the action and watching it up close.

“I’ve seen a lot of good players over the years,” Yetsko said.

He said he still plans to attend Portage football home games, but now he’ll be a spectator in the stands.

Yetsko’s love of sports, football in particular, began when he was a student at Portage High School and a member of the school’s first football team.

“I played right tackle and played for three years,” he said.

He couldn’t play his senior year because he was 19 years old and over the age limit, so he joined the Portage Bulldogs, a semipro football team.

The league consisted of teams from Johnstown, St. Michael, Portage and Chambersburg.

“The Steelers would come and scrimmage with us,” Yetsko said. “I remember one game we were playing them – and winning – until Johnny Unitas came in, and that was it.”

Yetsko graduated from Portage in 1950, and although he was offered a few college scholarships to play football, he passed and went to work as a coal miner, working in Bethlehem Mines 32 and 33.

Since his football playing days were behind him, Yetsko eventually joined a local fastpitch softball league and played for a few years.

“I was a pitcher,” he said. “I just enjoyed playing sports.”

These days Yetsko spends much of his time with his wife, Barbara, on their 68-acre farm, where he tends to beef cows, pigs and chickens.

“My son runs the farm, but I help out,” Yetsko said. “I like getting dirty.”

The couple, who have been married for 62 years, have three children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

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