Pictured are the late Jerry Jasinski, left, and Steve Zemianek, right.

Jerry Jasinski had one heck of a life. It included placing second in the 1958 New Hampshire Decathlon when he was representing Towle High School of Newport his senior year.

There was no shame in finishing second that day. The winner was Lou Kirouac, a terrific athlete who went to have a career in the NFL as a lineman and kicker.

Jasinski, who became synonymous with athletics in Springfield where he lived and throughout Vermont, died this week.

He was visible as a longtime high school football and basketball official but his biggest contribution to Vermont high school athletics was in track and field. The Vermont State Decathlon was his baby.

It is now called the Jerry P. Jasinski Vermont State Decathlon.

Jasinski had a great time competing in his own high school decathlon in 1958 and felt Vermont athletes should be afforded the same opportunity.

The idea was planted when Jasinski was coaching the Springfield High track and field team and his good friend Steve Zemianek was coaching the same sport at Mount Anthony.

Zemianek was one of the competitors at the New Hampshire event with Jasinski and Kirouac. They asked themselves one day why New Hampshire had the event and Vermont did not.

They went to work to make it happen. They launched the Vermont State Decathlon in 1976. It was held at Springfield High School.

The girls were not forgotten. They competed in the pentathlon that season.

Jasinski ran the decathlon event for 35 years.

Today, sophisticated electronic timing graces the event but when Jasinski and Zemianek began the Vermont State Decathlon, it was a wonder to watch them tabulate the results with paper and pencil.

It truly was a labor of love for them.

Jasinski finally let go of his “baby” in 2010 but remained connected to the coaches he met throughout the years.

The decathlon event was moved to Burlington several years ago and Jasinski drove from his Springfield home there to present the trophies up until a couple of years ago.

News of his death was felt throughout Vermont by a wide range of people including former students and athletes as well as fellow football and basketball officials.

Carleton Laird, who still holds the Rutland High School shot put record that he set in 1974, said he first met Jasinski while in high school through track and field.

Later, he worked with him on football officiating crews.

“He was very knowledgeable (in football) and had a dry sense of humor.

“We used to kid him about how high he threw his flag.

“He was always fun to work with.”

Jasinski was a chemistry professor at Keene State and authored more than 400 articles on subjects in his field. He had his doctorate and both taught and coached track and field at Keene.

“He was a real bright guy and yet down to earth. He was not aloof at all,” Laird said.

Like Laird, Andy Bladyka’s first association with Jasinski was in high school.

Bladyka was a Springfield High student and knew Jasinski as a teacher and coach.

“My first impression was that I was intimidated by his size and his manner. He put the fear of God into you, but in a good way,” Bladyka said.

Much later, Bladyka became Springfield’s recreation director and got to know Jasinski in a much different way.

“He ran the Knights of Columbus Hoop Shoot for us single-handedly,” Bladyka said.

“We had a nice relationship. I went from being intimidated by him to seeing him as this great guy.

“It has been a tough time. We have lost a lot of the people who helped shape me in Springfield lately, people like Tom Lovett, Richie Wyman and Jerry.”

Jasinski made his life count to the end. He did not retire from his job as a chemistry professor until he was 79 in 2019.

The decathlon is a major part of his legacy. Rutland’s Bruce Tobin was the winner of that first decathlon in 1976 and South Burlington’s Janet Dewar picked up the pentathlon prize that year.

A tradition was born and the event has been held every year since until COVID intervened.

The event has showcased so many great athletes.

One of Jasinski’s favorites was Brattleboro’s Heather Pancake. She won the heptathlon (the girls competition was changed from the pentathlon to heptathlon and today is the decathlon) in 1996 and went on to become a two-time NCAA Division III national heptathlon champion at Wheaton College in Illinois.

“You talk about someone who is focused. She was just so intense,” Jasinski said in 2019.

If anyone was as tied to the Vermont State Decathlon almost as much as Jasinski and Zemianek, it was Fair Haven Union High School coach Dave Heitkamp.

Many of Heitkamp’s Slaters were winners at the decathlon including three of his own children. Michael, Tommy and Mary Heitkamp won the state decathlon crown.

“Jerry was an iconic coach and figure in Vermont track and field,” Dave Heitkamp said.

“One year we had the Division II and Division III state track and field meet at Springfield on the same day. He said, ‘We can do it’ and he did it.”

Jasinski was inducted into the Vermont Principals’ Association’s Hall of Fame in 2017 as a contributor.

If Zemianek and Jasinski meet in the after life, there first meal will be a kielbasa.

That delicacy was part of the many stories Jasinski would weave. You could be certain that during those day-long decathlon events, the subject of kielbasa would come up at some point.

One of his favorites was about the late Bo Birsky, the legendary Springfield coach. He would regale people with the story of Birsky throwing kielbasa on his carburetor to keep it warm for the post-game meal when he officiated football.

Jasinski was a master storyteller. There will be more than a few told about him over the next several days around Springfield.

tom.haley @rutlandherald.com

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