By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Retired Associate Director Jerry Cvengros, who served at the Michigan High School Athletic Association for more than 13 years after three decades at Escanaba High School, died Monday evening in Lansing. He was 80.
As lead assistant to Executive Director John E. “Jack” Roberts from August 1988 until retiring in January 2002, Cvengros served as director of football and briefly hockey in addition to coordinating the Program of Athletic Coaches Education (PACE), presenting annual in-service training for administrators and serving as MHSAA liaison to statewide principals, athletic directors and coaches associations.
He came to the MHSAA after 30 years at Escanaba, where he taught, coached, served as athletic director and later principal during a tenure stretching from August 1958 through July 1988. While at Escanaba, Cvengros also represented Upper Peninsula Class A and B schools on the MHSAA Representative Council from 1983-88 and served as the Council’s president from 1986-88.
Cvengros received the MHSAA’s Charles E. Forsythe Award in 2000 in recognition of his many and significant contributions to interscholastic athletics.
“During his lifetime, Jerry Cvengros impacted every area of interscholastic athletics as a coach, athletic director, principal and then associate director of the MHSAA," Roberts said. “He was the perfect combination of fairness, toughness and diplomacy, able to draw on a vast knowledge of MHSAA rules and an understanding of educational athletics fostered by his various experiences.
“Jerry was known and respected statewide for his dedication, and his contributions have had a lasting impact.”
Cvengros built an elite football program at Escanaba as varsity head coach from 1962-84, leading the Eskymos to a 161-42-3 record, a Class A runner-up finish in 1979 and the MHSAA championship in 1981. That team remains the only Class A/Division 1 team from the Upper Peninsula to win an MHSAA football title. Cvengros was inducted into the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame and served on its original Board of Directors.
His 1979 team fell to Detroit Catholic Central 32-7, but he brought the Eskymos back to the Finals for a 16-6 win over Fraser two seasons later. Cvengros' championship lineup included quarterback Kevin Tapani, who would go on to pitch for the Minnesota Twins among five major league clubs, and tailback Dean Altobelli, who later played at Michigan State University. The title run included a 15-14 Semifinal win over Dearborn Fordson that included a savvy two-point conversion call by Cvengros, who wanted to avoid overtime after a late score drew Escanaba to within a point of tying the score.
As the MHSAA’s director of football, Cvengros was instrumental in creating the current playoff format that expanded the field from 128 to 256 teams beginning with the 1999 season. He also co-authored “Youth Football: A Complete Handbook,” a guide to coaching at that level.
Among many additional honors, Cvengros was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame and Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Service Award from the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. The National Federation of State High School Associations twice awarded Cvengros with a Citation – the NFHS’ highest honor – for his service as a coach and then as a member of the MHSAA staff.
Since his retirement, Cvengros and his wife Shelley have continued to reside in Okemos. A visitation will take place beginning at 10 a.m. Monday, April 7, at St. Martha Parish in Okemos, with a funeral Mass to follow at 11 a.m.
Cvengros was a 1951 graduate of Ironwood High School and went on to study and play football at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He earned his bachelor’s degree in secondary education and teaching from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and a master’s from Northern Michigan University.
He taught English, history and physical education at Escanaba High School and also coached basketball and track and field. He became the school’s athletic director in 1970, added the duties of activities director in 1975 and became principal in 1983.
Cvengros is survived by his wife and children Michael, Steven and David, and seven grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his daughter Lee Ann (Cvengros) Swasey in May 2013.
PHOTOS: (Clockwise from left) Escanaba quarterback Mike Beveridge fires a pass during the 1979 Class A Final; Cvengros co-authored a book on coaching youth football; Cvengros was celebrated once more in Escanaba following his final season as football coach.