An Interview With John Antonik
Growing up in New Martinsville, John Antonik lived a Tom Sawyer existence. Playing ball, riding his bike around town, hanging out at his dad’s gas station (with an occasional scheme thrown in) were all part of a normal day. He attended New Martinsville School, Magnolia High School, majored in broadcast journalism as an undergrad and received a Master’s Degree in Sport Management both at West Virginia University. He is currently employed as Director of Athletic Content/Senior Writer for the WVU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. He is the author of four books.
1. Describe a typical summer day when you were growing up in NewMartinsville. Wow, a typical summer day for me would be getting up reasonably early and mowing just about every yard from Bruce Park to Viking Glass. I was fortunate enough to inherit all of Jeff Carney’s yards when he graduated from high school and moved to Florida, so that kept me pretty busy most of the week. I can remember payment ranging from $10 to checks for $1.50 to even one lady who sometimes paid with a Whitschey’s bag full of bruised apples! Mom somehow magically turned that into apple pie! Once work was finished, I usually pedaled my bicycle up to Lewis Wetzel Pool for the afternoons. This was a fairly harrowing deal back then because the Hydro Road was not yet completed so you had to negotiate the Route 2 traffic. Coming down the hill where the Po Boy was could get very interesting. Bruce Pool and Bruce Park were two other favorite places to go, particularly in the evening when baseball and softball games were going on.
2. What is your earliest sports memory? My earliest sports memory would have to be making a drive up toPittsburgh to see the Pirates play a game against the San Diego Padres, I believe the year after Clemente died, so I would have been about five. I may be getting my stories mixed up, but I remember the Pirates having some of the players on the field signing autographs before the game and a long line of about 500 or so people waiting to get Willie Stargell’s autograph. My mother innocently skipped everyone to get to the front and that was my first valuable lesson in sports don’t jump a line of 500 impatient Pittsburghers to try and get Willie Stargell’s autograph!
3. Your dad’s gas station was a meeting place for a cast of characters. It must have been a great place for a kid to hang out. It was! That was one of the social hubs in New Martinsville back in the mid-1970s. Some of the guys I recall – Dick Brookover, Barnie Clark, Charlie Corliss, Pat Kerns and many, many others whose names now escape me… Years later, when Bill Stewart returned to WVU, he once told me that he used to hang out at dad’s station as well, but I have no recollection of seeing Stew there. Dad was so kind and generous to everyone and when I would bring my friends to the station he always had a candy bar, a bottle of pop and a pack of baseball cards for everyone no matter how many kids were with me!
A quick story… It was common knowledge among the guys who hung out at dad’s station not to select Diet Pepsi on the soda machine sitting outside because that was the slot the guys used to store their beer to keep it cold. Well, one day, a buddy of mine mistakenly selected Diet Pepsi and he ended up getting a Michelob Ultra instead! I’m sure either Charlie Corliss or Barney Clark quickly rectified the situation! Another time my great uncle used to work on his car in one of dad’s servicebays, spending the entire day changing his tires and drinking wine, or vice versa. Dad’s station had an outdoor restroom near George Marshall’s house and separating the Marshall house from the station was a row of hedges. I remember poor Mr. Marshall once having to come down to inform dad that his uncle was unable to make the left turn to the restroom and ended up face down in his hedges! Great memories, for sure!
4. At an early age, you dealt with sales people who went through your dad’s business. You told me once that baseball cards you’d traded/bought there and other places helped put you through college. Yes. Their names now escape me, I only knew them as “The Peddlers.” I believe they were from either Bridgeport or St. Clairsville, Ohio, and they used to come down to the station once a week wearing their long, dark trench coats – no matter how hot or cold it was. It probably sounds more sinister than it actually was, but in those trench coats were enclaves of pockets that were full of baseball cards, rare coins, jewelry, watches, pin knives, postcards and just about anything else of value you could imagine. It was amazing the things those guys dug up and I know dad was always far more interested in what they brought into his station than what was going on out at the pumps or on the hoist in the service bay! And yes, some of those baseball cards did help pay for a semester or two of college, but keep in mind in-state tuition at WVU in the 1980s was far cheaper than it is today.
5. It would be hard to tell a kid today what a big deal the Charlie Morris Basketball League was. Can you give it a try? Charlie Morris, what a wonderful man! He was one of those special guys who really took an interest in kids for the right reasons and there were many others just like him back then. I believe Charlie was responsible for starting the Grasshopper Basketball League in New Martinsville and he used to assemble an all-star team of players to do ballhandling demonstrations once the season was over. It was a big thrill to be picked for Charlie’s all-star team and to also wear those old Magnolia basketball uniforms that he had somehow gotten his hands on. It didn’t matter that they were three sizes too big, or that they were from the 1950s just putting those things on made us feel like we were playing for the Lakers. The biggest highlight for a kid growing up in New Martinsville during that time was to see your name at the top of Charlie’s sports column in the Wetzel Chronicle. The exact wording now escapes me, but it was something to the effect of “The Largest Sports Column in the Hometown of …” When you saw your name there it was like riding on Cloud Nine!
6. Who was your favorite baseball player? Roberto Clemente. What kid growing up in the 1970s in this part of the country didn’t idolize Roberto Clemente?
7. You played baseball and football under one of the greatest coaches and characters ever, Dave Cisar. Please share a few stories.There are so many, and unfortunately, the ones we usually share whenever we get together are not suitable for printing. I had the fortune (or the misfortune) of playing on some of Cisar’s worst teams at Magnolia, and I was among his worst players, so of course, I was involved in many of them! I recall once getting intentionally hit in the eye with a baseball by Cisar during pregame warmups before an OVAC playoff game up at Brooke. I made the mistake of throwing the ball to the wrong base during infield practice and also carrying on in a lackadaisical manner, which is a mortalsin to Cisar! The last thing I recall before the fungo bat left his shoulder was his raspy voice yelling out, “An-TUN-ic (his pronunciation of my last name), CATCH THIS ONE IN THE TEETH! Well, I was so bad I couldn’t even do that I caught it with my right eye instead! After going through B.C. Castilow’s concussion protocol in the dugout, I ended up playing the entire game and getting a couple of hits in what turned out to be a big Magnolia victory. The Brooke kids made fun of me each time I went up to the plate chanting, “Yo Rocky, win this for Adrian!”
How embarrassing! And to top it off, the next day my name was called over the school intercom to report to Cisar’s Health Education class so he could show his students the swollen eye that he gave me! To this day, I’m not sure if it was for educational or sadistic reasons??? That was a fun couple of days, for sure! One other quick story … During football camp in August when ever Cisar showed up for practice wearing his aqua blue coaching shorts our lives were often in danger. Nearly 35 years later, those practices with Cisar wearing aqua blue shorts rank among the worst days of my life! After one particularly brutal practice, which ended with 10 full sprints around the baseball field (roughly a 150-yard distance) in full gear, he used to have some of his best-conditioned players hide behind a storage shed and ambush the out-of-shape kids as they walked to the finish! At any rate, once that was over and we were down on one knee gasping for breath and begging for water, Cisar used that time to show some remorse and empathy. He began to discuss all of the offensive things that he had watched on television the night prior. He rattled off some of the popular shows (Mississippi Vice and Night Lighting, in his world) that were on television back in the mid-1980s and then he held up three fingers to illustrate his point. “Boys,” he began, “there are only three things on television today THREE THINGS! Drugs, sex, rape and violence THREE THINGS!” I can remember Ripley, Tallman, Schneid and Skinny Croasmun standingin the back looking at each other and just shrugging. God bless Dave Cisar! He is the greatest!
8. Was there a high school team that you did not look forward to playing in football and/or baseball? I would say Bellaire in football. I don’t recall a team we didn’t look forward to playing in baseball. I do remember John Marshall was always a big game
for Cisar because he was college roommates with John Marshall’s coach. I think his name was Montgomery. That usually trigged Cisar into doing something wretched to us.
9. How about a pitcher that gave you fits? Names escape me, but there was a lefthanded pitcher up at Brooke who ended up playing collegiately at Oral Roberts, I believe, and a right hander from St. Mary’s with a fastball that rode in on righthanders. If we used wooden bats back then, all of them would have been broken by the fifth inning. Again, his name escapes me. Growing up in New Martinsville, Jimmy Lasick was THE GUY in Little League. If you got a hit off of Jimmy that was a major accomplishment!
10. After WVU, what are your three favorite football stadiums? My top three would be the Georgia Dome, University of Phoenix Stadium and Hard Rock Stadium all three sites of BCS bowl wins for theMountaineers. I loved old Pitt Stadium, too, for different reasons.
11. Again, after WVU, what are your three favorite basketball crowds? I would have to say the Carrier Dome when West Virginia defeated Kentucky to advance to the Final Four in 2010 would be No. 1. I can still remember Syracuse associate athletic director Rob Edson, a classmate of mine while in graduate school, telling me to savor the moment. Sadly, Rob died suddenly of a heart attack while mowing his yard a few years ago. I also remember watching West Virginia upset top-10-ranked Temple up at McGonigle Hall one year in the early 1990s. The game became even more memorable afterward when we tried to leave the arena and an entire city block in Philadelphia was on fire! And, I’d have to say Curry Hicks Cage at UMass was another favorite because the crowds there were always so sparse and you could see the squirrels chasing each other up in the rafters. 3B would be St. Bonaventure’s Reilly Center. One night someone called in abomb threat during the game (turned out to be a girlfriend of one of theWest Virginia players) and we all had to evacuate the building.
I remember a confused Jack Fleming trying to figure out what was going on while still on the air and partner Woody O’Hara telling him someone had called in a bomb threat. Jack just tossed down his headset and took off for the exit!
The two teams piled into our bus the West Virginia players on one side and the St. Bonaventure players on the other until the all-clear was given. I think Jim Barron was the coach then and I remember him profusely apologizing to Gale Catlett while they sat up front. Amazing! Those small Atlantic 10 gyms back in the day were absolutely magical!
12. Who is/are your favorite sportswriter/sportswriters? My favorite sportswriter to read was the Pittsburgh’s Roy McHugh, who was our Jim Murray a real wordsmith. I admired many of the old WestVirginia beat writers such as Mickey Furfari, Tony Constantine, Shorty Hardman and Bill Smith as well.Smitty called everyone “coach,” no matter who you were and if you were just a youngster and you crossed Mickey … look out! I remember Shorty in his later years walking around the press box and handing out those little pocket schedules from Wally’s and Wimpy’s in such a grandfatherly fashion. I also enjoyed reading Doug Huff (a New Martinsville native!) and Bill VanHorne, of course. Bill’s columns began on the front page of the Wheeling News Register and jumped five times before ending on the back page next to the Jill’s Lounge and Lou’s Voodoo ads. Bill certainly understood marketing. He figured the more names and hometowns he could stuff into his columns, the more papers they could sell.
He was right because everyone in the Valley read his sports columns to see if he mentioned them!
13. There are at least a million Coach Huggins stories. Please share a few of your favorites. You are right, so, so many. One that quickly comes to mind was whenMickey was still covering the team late in his career and, sadly, was suffering from macular degeneration. By this time Mick needed help getting around but he was always the first one to ask a question at post game press conferences a courtesy afforded to him similar to the one presidents once granted to White House reporter Helen Thomas. I don’t recall the specific question he asked, but I do remember Huggins answering, “Mickey, you were here you saw what happened!” Mickey angrily replied, “Now damnit Bob, you know I can’t see anymore!”
Everyone in the room broke out into laughter, including Huggins and then Mickey. That’s two great ones there! A priceless memory, for sure.
14. By all accounts, New Martinsville’s Coach Bill Stewart was an all-time nice guy. There had to be many instances when you saw him brighten someone’s day. Many too many to print here, unfortunately. Bill Stewart was just a greathuman being who left this Earth far too soon! I can still remember the dayhe died, a Friday morning. It was one of the saddest days in our departmentbecause he was so well liked and admired by everyone. He was just sogenuine and sincere.
15. I’m going to make you college sports czar. What are three changes you’d implement? That one is too tough for me. I am going to have to take a pass on this one!
16. What has life been like in the Antonik household during the pandemic? Interesting, for sure. Because I am a writer I can continue to do everything at home that I’ve done before the pandemic so nothing has really changed in that regard. I do try to keep things light and positive whenever I am on social media because there are so many serious things going on in the world right now. For instance, on Friday evenings I really enjoy posting some of the albums from my record collection and then reading the responses. I actually get text messages from people on Friday afternoons suggesting records to post! During one of the video conferences with Neal Brown earlier this spring, he was actually getting on me about some of my music choices! I wish I had more jazz followers on Twitter and Facebook so I could show off my jazz collection, but I’ve also got Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, ELO, The Beatles, the Boss and all of that stuff as well. I’m just waiting for Ack Morgan to open up his impressive vinyl collection and turn me on to some of that classic country and soft rock that he has -which my collection is lacking!
17. A kid has your passion for sports and wants to make it his/her life’s calling. Any advice? Do what you enjoy and don’t just chase a paycheck. If you do what you love,chances are you will do it well and by doing it well, eventually, you will be rewarded. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve never worked a day in my life!
18. Are there any sports movies that come close to getting it right? Sports movies that get it right … The Bad News Bears?I can probably do better on war movies that got it right such as Toraa!Tora!Tora!
19. Give us your five favorite sports books. 1. October 19642. Summer of ‘493. Lords of the Realm4. Paper Lion5. Ball Four.
20. What advice would you give your younger self? Think about what you say instead of saying what you think! You will learn far more from listening than you ever will from speaking.