John Kowalik '83 -- Learning to teach while competing at Williams

Eph Legends
Eph Legends

Former Boston Mayor Kevin White ’52 and Paul Grogan ‘72, who worked with John Kowalik’s older brother Joe, indirectly influenced John’s decision to attend Williams. “I learned of Williams’ academic reputation and rich history and was impressed that NFL players Jack Maitland and Scott Perry graduated from Williams,” said Kowalik.

Success could be John Kowalik’s middle name. At Williams he played on and was a captain of three sports, earned 11 varsity letters, and was a member of the Gargoyle Society. Along with being a standout performer on the defensive line, he was a strong contributor in the shot put and threw the weight and the hammer.

Kowalik was successful before Williams, at Williams, and since graduating. He was inducted into the New Jersey Scholastic Coaches Hall of Fame (2003) and the Archbishop Williams H.S. [Braintree, Mass.] Hall of Fame in 2008.

After one year in the business world, he entered secondary education, accepting a teaching and coaching position at Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J. He taught A.P. European history and computer science and coached freshman football and track in 1984.

In 1987 he took over as head football coach and athletic director, and later became dean and assistant headmaster. He went 138-29 (.826) in 16 years and became the youngest coach in New Jersey history to reach 100 wins.  Under Kowalik Delbarton captured two state championships, posted five “Top 10” state final rankings, and won nine conference championships.

John Kowalik '83

Kowalik concluded 19 years at Delbarton in June, 2002 and is now in his seventh year as headmaster of The Peck School, a 117-year-old K-8 independent school in Morristown, N.J. He’s always kept an eye out for Eph grads interested in pursuing careers in teaching and coaching.

“Williams graduates make excellent teaching candidates,” he said. “It begins with the person, a strong liberal arts background, and sincerity about teaching, Between Peck and Delbarton, I’ve been involved in hiring at least 25 Williams graduates. In fact, I hired Matt Sigrist ’99 twice, at Delbarton (2001) and at Peck (2007)!

“In searching for coaches, I knew Williams football players had been well-coached and typically had a thorough understanding of the game – a great formula for success. At Delbarton, I was fortunate to have several former Eph football players such as Dan McCarthy, Jerry Rizzo, Jeff Boni, Chris Jepson, Mike Hyde, Jamall Pollock, Mike Bajakian, Rik Dugan, Matt Sigrist, and Junior Reid as assistants. In addition, I hired former Williams assistant coach Brian Bowers as an assistant, and Brian took over when I stepped down.”

Though Kowalik flourished at Williams it was not easy. His Williams coaches were a great reason then and now for his success. “My father died while I was a junior in high school and it took some time for me, well into my years at Williams, to work things through,” Kowalik recalled. “The tremendous positive influence of the Williams football and track coaches (Bob Odell, Dick Farley, Carmine Palladino, Erv Chambliss, and Walt Cueman) set me on my path in life. Their example was significant to my growth and their patience and guidance allowed me to make mistakes, grow up, and mature during an important and not always easy time in my life.

“They had no idea at the time but I absorbed every word. They were straightforward, conscientious men with a positive approach to each day. They were people-smart, high E.Q. [emotional quotient] coaches who understood and worked well with college student-athletes. On and off the field, they emphasized a blend of physical and mental stamina, resilience, and preparation in life that carried over to every aspect of my life.

“The personal qualities, humility, hard work, and professionalism of coaches Odell and Farley as well as the entire school environment at Williams were contagious. I had the pleasure and good fortune of having Farley and Palladino as coaches for four years in three sports. Their daily presence in my life was a reminder on how to approach life’s challenges and to do things right.

“I feel very fortunate, blessed actually, to have attended Williams. I have always loved Williams and owe much to the college.  I met my wife Carolyn ’83 during my freshman year. My work in education has it roots in the people who coached and taught me at Williams and the education I received. There’s no question that I’m an educator because of Williams College.”

Two wins in 1982 highlight Kowalik’s football career in the Purple Valley. Tufts, then the power in New England fell to the Ephs 13-11 on their homecoming on the 100th anniversary of football at Tufts. “It was a memorable victory for we hadn’t defeated Tufts in several years,” said Kowalik. “Early the next morning, I left with Professor Sheafe Sattherwaite and our Land Use Policy class for an overnight camping trip to the Adirondacks to analyze the effects of Adirondack Park Agency policy on development.  Only at Williams!”

And then there was the last second win over Wesleyan 27-24. “Wesleyan scored very late and we had little time to answer,” said Kowalik. “On the sideline with the defense I had a great view of the unlikely and controversial last offensive play -- BJ Connolly’s incredible touchdown pass to Marc Hummon. Following the play, controversy ensued as Wesleyan supporters alleged that offensive lineman Bernie Krausse had helped BJ up from the ground after being sacked, effectively ending the play. I remember Wesleyan head coach Bill MacDermott, believing BJ was sacked, starting across the field to shake hands with coach Odell. There were many incredible individual efforts in that play and throughout. It seemed like a miracle that Marc Hummon got into the end zone with defenders all over him.

“That game also marked the end of a three-year battle I had with current Williams head coach and then Wesleyan All-American offensive lineman Mike Whalen. Believe me, he was that good!”