‘Jack, you were stinkin’ tough’

I plodded through my Tuesday this week with sadness and a heavy heart after learning of the passing of my friend, Jack Loeffler. The past few weeks, Jack and I had exchanged some friendly, short messages through his weekly Football Contest entries. Knowing I had an impending surgery in late September, Jack attached a handwritten note to his entry in which he extended his well wishes. "I've already been praying for you and sending positive thoughts your way," he wrote. That's Jack, in a nutshell, thinking of others first.

My relationship with Jack dates back to my early childhood. From first through fourth grade, I attended the Catholic elementary school here in Norwich with his sons Aaron and Rick. I was in Aaron's grade, and he was one of my good friends at the time. When I moved on to the public school, I still saw Aaron frequently at the Norwich YMCA, and we played together on the travel basketball teams in fifth and sixth grade. Jack was there, of course. Over the years, I occasionally saw the Loefflers at social gatherings. You see, Jack's brother-in-law, Lee Supensky, was my dad's best friend growing up, and the best man at my parents' wedding.

Although I had worked with Jack’s wife Nancy before my time at the Sun, it had been years since I had last seen Jack. I certainly was pleased to reacquaint myself with him when I took this job in the fall of 1995. I didn't know any of the head coaches at the time, but it was comforting to see a friendly face from years past on the sideline. Jack was welcoming – and encouraging. In my 18 years covering local sports, I have one special sports memory of Jack, and it occurred in 2006 on the most dismal of fall days.

It was a Saturday afternoon at UV High School, and the Storm were in the midst of a 13-game losing streak. Jack had taken over as head coach to start the year, and he had a bottomless well of optimism, that despite his club's travails.

It was cold and windy at kickoff, and soon a misty rain mixed with an ill-tempered Mother Nature. That weather drove me to the confines of the warm and dry pressbox, where I sat next to PA announcer, UV teacher John Jackson.

The visiting club, Moravia, was known for its ability to mix the run and pass well, but weather conditions limited any passing efficiency, and Jack had his defense primed to slow the Moravia running game. Meanwhile, UV was run-centric behind fullback Tom Giordano, who carried the ball a remarkable 47 times that day. His complement in the backfield, Eric Bennett, had 23 carries himself. It was a grind-it-out affair that became, at the time, the longest game in Section IV history.

The two clubs exchanged touchdowns in overtime – more than once – until UV finally took the lead for good in the fifth OT. Yes, five overtimes! Nearly four hours from the start of the game, a UV interception on Moravia's final possession ended the contest.

Players on the UV team piled onto one another, and I witnessed the happiness of Jack as he was overwhelmed by well-wishers. In his tenure as UV's head coach, it had to be his proudest moment. My personal affinity for Jack made it one of my proudest moments as a writer, too.

After coaching, Jack stayed involved with the UV football program volunteering in whatever capacity he was needed. To Jack, coaching was never about himself or the money. It was always about the kids, and no will question that fact: Jack loved being around kids. A father and grandfather, Jack provided that sort of influence on the sidelines. He was there to put his hand on the shoulder of a downtrodden player; provide ice for the inevitable aches and bruises, and simply make himself available for whatever was needed. He was passionate about football and he enjoyed being around the game.

Jack surely will be missed by those lives he touched, and as I say goodbye, I am reminded by one of his favorite phrases, one he used to compare the two of us: "Jack, you were stinkin' tough."

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