Of Chet Dembinski and Coach Cal

You have probably never heard of Chet Dembinski, but his story is one of the most amazing stories I have ever heard.

But before we get to that–at my house we like to watch the Kentucky derby, never mind that it is in Louisville. We like “the most exciting two minutes in sports” and always tune in for all the pre-race stuff. This year, sure as shootin’, who turns up on our TV, but Coach Cal. There he was, big as life, bragging about the great season his Kentucky Wildcats had–35 wins and a trip to the Elite Eight. However, he did not mention that his teams, UMASS and Memphis, had been kicked out of the Final Four, but he did mention UMASS in passing. I was waiting for the interviewer to ask him–but no dice. It almost ruined the whole race for me, but I survived.

Coach Cal also showed up at the NBA draft telecast and bragged about all his players that were taken in the first round. Had I been there, I would have asked if John Wall would be taking a pay cut when he enters the NBA.

As I watched him I fondly recall the Kentucky/West Virginia game in the Elite Eight. Kentucky missed all their three-pointers in the first half and by the time they found their range it was too late. How sweet it was.

Not only because Coach Cal and Kentucky lost. You see, West Virginia and I go back a long way.

It was 1946, WWII had only been over for a year. The vets were coming back in droves and high school kids had a real challenge for playing time. The Mountaineers had beaten us by 50 points on our floor. Heaven help us when we went to Morgantown.

As a freshman, I was way down on the depth chart and as such did not expect to play much. We came out on the floor and the WVU fans went nuts. I remember their fight song:

“Oh West Virginia–West Virginia
The pride of every Mountaineer.

Come on you old grads, join all you young lads
And sing out a mighty cheer.”

And then they really sang out a mighty cheer. I had never heard such a racket. Then the game started and they got even louder. We lost. I don’t remember the score but it wasn’t close. Here I must add, we beat them the next three years on our floor and when we were seniors they had to cheat us to win by three in Morgantown. So there.

Now Chet Dembinski. He played for Westminster Collee and was one of the better players in our circles. I don’t remember us ever beating the Titans but we had good games. Chet was an all-star and a good guy. I met him one summer. A kid from my home town played for Westminster and he introduced me to Chet. We weren’t exactly buddies but I liked him.

Chet was a year ahead of me and upon his graduation went off to play for the Akron Goodyears of the Industrial League. In those days big companies had basketball teams that carried their logos around the nation. Teams like the Phillips Oilers, Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons, Denver Truckers, Chicago Packers and the Akron Goodyears.

Because I knew Chet, I wanted to follow his career with Akron. But I never saw his name in the box scores. What, I wondered, happened to Chet Dembinski? We always played the Goodyears so I looked forward to the game to find out what happened to him.

The teams took the floor for warm ups and–bingo–there was Chet Dembinski. What the heck is going on?

I didn’t get a chance to talk to him until after the game–we won it by the way–and here is his story:

Chet got married after graduation and there was the rub. His girlfriend said she would not go thru life as Mrs. Dembinski, so Chet changed his name to Chet Clare and I assume lived happily ever after. If there is another story like that one. I have never heard it.

All Tigers fans hope we can get into a BCS conference, but at this writing it does not look too promising.

There are Tiger fans who would gladly change their name to get into a BCS conference. How about, R.C. Dembinski? Nah!!!!

Big Jack can be heard every Friday at 8am on KWAM 990 alongside former County Commissioner John Willingham.

Speak Your Mind