September 15, 2016
I was saddened to learn of the passing of Bill Norcik. I was a year ahead of him at Bridgeville High School and Penn State and always considered it an honor to be considered his friend.
I first became aware of Bill in the spring of 1947. I had recently become exposed to the sport of soccer in gym class and thought it might be fun to try out for the high school team, as a tenth grader. The good news is that a soccer team needs about two dozen players merely to put on a full blown practice. The bad news is that substitution in soccer is significantly limited; the bench warmers don’t have much of a chance to ever play in a game.
Nonetheless we were issued uniforms and allowed to sit on the bench during home games. One of my fellow bench warmers was a small ninth grader from Heidelberg named Bill Norcik. It was obvious to me that, despite his size he was an excellent athlete, especially for soccer.
Early in the season we were enjoying watching a game from the bench when one of our players was injured. The coach leaped up, eyeballed us potential substitutes, and shouted “I need a left-footed kicker”. Bill raised his hand and said “I’m a left-footed kicker!” Coach looked right through him, ignored him completely, and sent someone else into the game.
For the next seven years, every time I saw Bill do something special in a soccer game, I remembered that incident and chuckled. Thirty years later when my son told me they were looking for someone to coach his fifth grade soccer team, I volunteered immediately, confident that I wasn’t the worst soccer coach ever.
In those days high school soccer was played in the late winter and early spring on dirt fields that were either covered with mud when it was wet or small rocks and broken glass when it was dry. I remember several occasions when we ran through puddles covered with ice. We wore heavy leather boots that got even heavier with wet mud; this was also true of the balls. A strong kick by a fullback was lucky to get to midfield.
That year was the extent of my soccer career, although my picture shows up in the 1948 (next year’s) BHS Yearbook. Content for the Yearbook was collected early in the year, too early to properly cover the Spring sports – soccer and baseball. When the time came for taking a team picture for soccer I was rewarded for my previous year’s peonage by being included in the photograph, between two legitimate athletes – Joe Stalma and Bill Norcik. I guess that was the peak of my athletic career.
The BHS teams Bill played on in the next three years were quite respectable, culminating in a team that ended the season with a WPIAL championship only to have it vacated because of their use of “some ineligible players”. The final three games of that season were all played against South Fayette.
Teams played each other twice, home and away. Both Bridgeville and South Fayette used the same field as its home field. The first game was postponed till the end of the season because of weather. BHS won it 1 to 0 on a goal by Lou Cimarolli, then lost the second game, in the rain, by the same score.
This left both teams with identical 8-1-1 records, forcing a playoff. Norcik won the game in the final quarter with his third goal of the game, for a final score of 3 to 2. I don’t know the story about the ineligible players – it probably was associated with someone playing Junior Soccer concurrently.
The high school teams were bolstered by players from Heidelberg and Beadling who had acquired significant experience playing Junior Soccer. I remember in particular Harry Prandini, Lou Kwasniewski, Joe Comini, Charlie Pollock, Bernie Sypien, Harry Kurinsky, and Andy Schoen.
Semi-pro soccer was a big attraction for us kids on Sunday. The Morgan Strassers (later, the Pittsburgh Indians) played their home games on our field. It was enclosed by corrugated metal sheeting, with a hole at one end so kids could sneak in free. The games were well attended, mostly by first generation immigrants who were passionate about the sport.
The year I was a Sophomore at Penn State, Bill Norcik, Bob Harris, and Emil Borra arrived on campus as Freshmen; Bill and Emil, to play soccer, Bob, to play basketball. Freshmen were not allowed to participate in varsity sports in those days, so they became involved in Freshmen teams.
Soccer was a Fall sport at the college level at that time. When the Freshman soccer team was organized they realized they lacked an experienced goalie, so Bill and Emil persuaded Bob to join the team in that position. He played it well until basketball practice started, then switched sports.
Early in the basketball season Bob suffered a leg injury severe enough to end his aspirations for stardom in that sport; consequently it was an easy decision for him to try his hand at varsity soccer the next year. He proceeded to excel as a goalie for three years on very good teams, lettering each time.
Bob and I were “best friends” in high school. My dormitory room was close to the athletic complex, making it easy for me to watch practice and go to games. Consequently I became close friends with all three of the BHS boys, as well as some of the other varsity players. I was especially proud of the fact that our high school had contributed three key players to a nationally ranked team.
Bill Norcik was a major contributor to those Penn State teams, also lettering all three years. The action photograph in the yearbook, La Vie, for his senior year shows Bill attempting to score on a goalie from Duke.
My brother remembered coming to Penn State in 1952 when I was a senior and watching the BHS boys on the soccer team play Navy. He also noted that Bill’s obituary reported that his nickname was “Crusher” and wondered if that name came from Heidelberg or was a consequence of the Bridgeville propensity for nicknames. Incidentally we called Bob Harris “Luman”, because there was a major league baseball player named Luman Harris in those days.
Lou Kwasniewski rode the school bus from Heidelberg to BHS each day with Bill Norcik. Lou remembers Bill as a good friend, a fine soccer player, and an all-around outstanding human being. I think that is an impressive legacy for Bill to leave.