Championship season dedicated to boy’s memory
by Marc and Julie Anderson
Special to The Leaven
CENTRALIA — No one has yet made a movie about the Centralia High School Panthers football team and Andrew Kohake.
But maybe they should.
On Nov. 28, the Centralia Panthers captured their first state title, the Class 2-1A championship, by knocking off the king of the mountain — Smith Center — in overtime by a score of 20-12. Until that game, Smith Center had a 79-game winning streak and five state titles. It was the longest active winning streak in the nation for 11-man teams.
The newspapers were filled with stories about the broken streak, the score, and key players like Centralia senior quarterback Tyler Glatczak; his sophomore brother Mike; and senior tackle Tyler Gleason. Even Sports Illustrated magazine and USA Today sat up and took notice.
But their articles didn’t mention the 12th man on the field: Andrew Kohake.
Andrew played for Centralia during the 2006-2007 school year. Even though he was just a freshman, he got some playing time as a defensive lineman on the varsity squad. That’s because he was big — 250 pounds big.
It would have been easy for a boy the size of Kohake to throw his weight around — to let that varsity playing time go to his head and lord it over the other kids. But he didn’t.
Andrew’s speed, size and love of the game made him a good athlete. But his off-field character made him a good person. He’d do anything for anybody — he volunteered, for example, for the county ambulance service and the community center.
“Andrew was just one special boy,” said his father, Joe Kohake, a member of Sts. Peter and Paul Parish in Seneca. “He never knew an enemy, not one enemy.”
In May 2007 Joe and Andrew Kohake installed a new trophy case for the high school music department. It was their last carpentry project together.
On June 3, 2007, Andrew died as a result of a car accident. Small towns are like small families. Everyone grieved.
Spring became summer, and then fall. Football season is a special time in a small town. It was hard for Joe and Denise Kohake to sit in the stands and watch the games their son would have played, imagining an empty spot in the huddle. Nevertheless, they wanted to help the team.
Janelle Glatczak, wife of head football coach Larry Glatczak, both members of St. Patrick Parish in Corning, had an idea. She asked the Kohakes if they would help defray the cost of a permanent runthrough to replace the large, paper banners the team usually burst through when it took the field at the start of games. The Kohakes agreed, and Andrew’s name and number were incorporated in small lettering on the bottom right-hand corner of it.
Andrew may not have suited up for the games, but he remained the major player for the team that Coach Glatczak had always predicted he would be.
He became its spirit.
He lived on in the players’ “AK” chant after every break from a huddle.
He lived on in the prayers offered by the players— at pre-game breakfasts and Masses on his birthday, which were attended by all the members of his class, Catholic and non-Catholic alike.
He lived on, according to Glatczak, up to and including the very last play of the very last game, when “right before the defense took the field for the final time, the kids were yelling ‘AK’ as loudly as they could.”
Although Centralia is a public school, many of its students are Catholic; the football team boasts players from six different Catholic parishes in the northern part of the archdiocese.
This year, since it would have been Andrew’s senior season, the team decided not only to dedicate the season to Andrew.
They decided, for Andrew, they had to win it all.
“[The players] would come up to me and say, ‘Joe, we’re going to win it for Andrew,’” said Joe Kohake. “I would tell them just to do their best and I would be proud.”
And do their best they did.
On its victory run, Centralia set a school record for most wins and knocked off opponents Colgan (a team which Centralia had not defeated since 1985) and St. Marys, both of which, according to the pundits, were formidable opponents.
The players say Andrew was there for every play.
“Every time we would huddle together for a game, the team prayed the Lord’s Prayer and get really pumped up as we remembered Andrew,” said Michael Glatczak.
His brother seconded that.
“God has been with us, and Andrew has been there for us, too,” said Tyler Glatczak. “He was the twelfth man on the field. “He was helping us out on every play, pushing the pile.
He was always in our hearts and our minds.”
This championship season has given a comfort to Joe, Denise, and their three daughters — one that they never expected to know.
“To dedicate a season to someone’s memory is one thing,” said Joe Kohake.
“To really [win it all] is another.”
“In the fourth quarter they just couldn’t seem to put the game away,” Kohake recalled. “I told Andrew, ‘If we pull this out, look at how many converts there would be in the stadium.’
“‘Look at how many people are going to believe!’”