[Copyright 2016, Sporting Chance Press, Taken from Pilgrimage by Patrick McCaskey–found on this website under products. ]
Chicagoan Zygmont “Ziggy” Czarobski, a Mount Carmel High School and Notre Dame University Alum, was a famous Catholic athlete, an entertaining personality, and certainly one of the most important Chicagoans in Catholic charity circles. Czarobski was an all-state athlete who had made the grade at the University of Notre Dame during one of its brilliant periods on the gridiron. Czarobski was named to Grantland Rice’s Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) Second Team All-American for 1947. This was quite an honor considering the post war college teams were loaded with military men who had postponed their education to serve their country, just as Czarobski had done.
Czarobski used his football personality, humor, and persuasion to accomplish much in life. Anyone who heard Czarobski speak, will tell you that he was a literary figure—an artist.
Czarobski had a tremendous college experience. At Notre Dame, he had a pre-war and post-war career that included three National Championships. Those championships would command good speaking engagements. Czarobski, a right tackle, had played with some of the best Notre Dame teams in history. Besides playing with legendary players, Czarobski’s coach at the time was Frank Leahy, a disciplinarian who would play a leading role in Czarobski’s humor. Leahy was a fine coach who became a popular sportscaster after coaching. Leahy was as disciplined as Czarobski was fun-loving.
Czarobski liked to tell audiences about the day Leahy told the team that the coach was going to start with the basics. After picking up a football, Leahy said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” Immediately Ziggy interrupted the proceeds asking Leahy to “slow it down.” Teammate, John Lujack, said “Ziggy wasn’t the best student Notre Dame ever had. He (Ziggy) used to tell people he was in school for two terms—Roosevelt’s and Truman’s.”
Before coming back for one of his seasons after the War, Leahy heard that Ziggy’s weight had ballooned and that he was 50 pounds overweight. Leahy sent Ziggy a note stating that the coach was not interested in the lineman at his current weight and he would have to lose 50 pounds or else! There are at least three versions of what happened next, from fixing the scale, to getting a reprieve when his weight got close, to Leahy just taking it on faith that Ziggy had lost the weight. Maybe Ziggy used different versions depending upon his audience! Once called out by Leahy, Czarobski worked exceptionally hard as did others on the team. Conditioning would be one of Leahy’s strong suits.
After Notre Dame, Ziggy played for the Chicago Rockets and the Chicago Hornets of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), a professional football league that started up just after World War II. When the league folded in 1949, Ziggy’s football career ended. A few AAFC teams got into the National Football League, but for many AAFC players, they were out of work. Czarobski went to work with the Illinois Secretary of State and then he began to raise funds for charity.
Czarobski was an early promoter of the Special Olympics. The Ziggy Czarobski Golf Outing recently finished its 51st Annual cycle sponsored by the Notre Dame Club of Aurora/Fox Valley and benefiting the John G. Bryan Scholarship for local students to attend Notre Dame. Czarobski also offered his services to Father John Smyth’s Maryville Academy. Maryville, a residential child-care agency in Illinois, had fallen into disrepair before the legendary Father Smyth was assigned to run it. Funding was inadequate and the Archdiocese of Chicago was planning to close it. Father Smyth had other ideas and began to turn things around. He asked Czarobski to help.
Czarobski helped Smyth make the famous Maryville Academy Chuck-Wagon Barbecue one of the greatest charity events in the nation. He worked with people like Chicago Cub Gabby Hartnett; Heisman Trophy winner from Notre Dame, Johnny Lattner; Chicago Blackhawk Stan Mikita; and prominent Chicagoans business and professional people like Bill Wirtz, Tom Tully, and many others.
Czarobski helped persuade many sponsoring organizations to donate the food, drinks, and other materials necessary. Czarobski was a master at persuasion and had all the needed ingredients coming onto the Maryville campus. Art Contreras, a former resident of Maryville, and John Clancy brilliantly ran the event. Many others worked to serve over 10,000 customers a year.
The Maryville Academy Chuck-Wagon Barbecue brought millions of dollars to Maryville and helped the Academy expand to offer many other services and serve many more people.
Czarobski died in 1984 at the age of 61. He was inducted into the Sports Faith Hall of Fame, the College Football Hall of Fame, and the National Polish-American Hall of Fame.