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Gearing up to honor the great Gatski

by Anthony Hanshew

SPORTS EDITOR

When it comes to the "Gunner," it's tough to say no.

In a career spanning more than 30 years, Frank "Gunner" Gatski fought the wars of the NFL's black-and-blue days and helped reverse the lives of untold youth.

On June 16, it's time to give a little back, and a Who's Who of West Virginia football are lining up to pay tribute.

Fellow Pro Football Hall of Fame member Sam Huff, West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez and Marshall coach Bob Pruett (imagine that) are among the special guests scheduled to honor Gatski at a dinner at Taylor County Middle School.

Gatski, a Marion County native and Taylor County resident, enjoyed an 12-year pro football career that included stints with the Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. His pro career concluded in 1957.

It takes more than age, however, to be old-school. You have to have the goods, and Gatski delivered.

Regarded as among the toughest centers in NFL history, Gatski played for 11 championships, winning eight. Through his playing days including high school, college (Marshall) and pro, Gatski never missed a single game. No holdouts here. What in the name of Deion Sanders was he thinking?

In 1961, Gatski returned to West Virginia for Phase 2 of a memorable career. For more than 20 years, Gatski served as athletic director and football coach at the West Virginia Industrial Home for Boys in Prunytown.

Along with teaching his less-than-subtle style of football, Gatski turned the direction of countless troubled kids.

The fruits of Gatski's work will be on full display June 16. Both football legends and everyday folk who once served time at Prunytown will turn out to say thanks.

"I'm sure a lot of the kids played out of fear for him," said Grafton coach Mike Skinner, who is organizing the event with the Taylor County Chamber of Commerce. "I'm sure a lot of them will come back to shake his hand and say he changed their life."

Skinner is more than an event official; he's a fan. When he first took over the Grafton program in the late '70s, Skinner made it clear that his staff could handle things fine -- no unsolicited help from parents would be needed.

Early in August practice, Gatski innocently asked if Skinner would like his help teaching long snaps to the punter. An exception was made without hesitation.

"He was in his late-50s, and he still snapped with the threads up perfectly," Skinner said.

Tickets for the event are $25 and are available by calling Grafton High School or Skinner at 265-4574. If you're hedging on whether to make the trek on Route 50 to attend, consider the guest and the all-star dais.

By the way, if not for Father's Day duties that weekend, Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach would be in attendance. It's tough to say no to the "Gunner."

Sports editor Anthony Hanshew can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at ahanshew@exponent-telegram.com

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