At Kutztown U., an old-timer has his day

November 04, 1994|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun Staff Writer

KUTZTOWN, Pa. -- As he flopped onto the training table and sighed, Chuck Roseberry looked very much like the oldest player in college football.

The arthritis in his right shoulder was acting up again. Same with the torn tendon in his biceps. The pain in his tendinitis-riddled knees never goes away. And the "stinger" he suffered in practice a week earlier had left him with a throbbing pain in his neck. While ultrasound treatments brought relief to his shoulder, Roseberry was partially hidden by six bags of ice -- two on his upper back, two on his right shoulder, one on each knee.

Three months of knocking heads with men young enough to be your sons will do that to a 46-year-old.

"I just don't have the strength I need in my arms right now," Roseberry said. "My right side was weak anyway, but since I took that shot last week, the left side is worse. It's very frustrating, because my legs are so strong."

They can't be as strong as Roseberry's will. He has been through two wars and three failed marriages and is engaged to marry his fourth wife. He's a grandfather who, over 20 years, worked as a police officer and a prison guard. And he did it all before coming to grips with a learning disorder -- dyslexia -- that hindered him for more than 30 years.

Instead of settling down in his middle age, Roseberry has set out to claim the life he wishes he would have lived three decades ago.

Roseberry beamed as he walked to his psychology class on the Kutztown campus, trading hellos and thumbs-up signs with some of the 8,000 students who congregate in the hills of Pennsylvania Dutch country. He is the most easily recognized among them, and not just because of his head of gray hair or his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame.

The Kutztown Golden Bears are a decent Division II team that will visit Towson State tomorrow. Kutztown (4-4) has some fine players, including an NFL prospect in junior linebacker John Mobley. But the Golden Bear who has garnered the most attention this fall is Roseberry, the man they call "Papa Bear," a third-string, sophomore defensive tackle who endured spring and summer practice, then waited seven games before getting his first taste of live action.

With four minutes left in the first half of last week's 18-14 loss to visiting Shippensburg, Roseberry finally was told to strap on his helmet.

"The crowd reaction was amazing. Everybody went crazy. It was an awesome feeling," said Roseberry, who lined up for the next three plays. He did not make a tackle. "I was kind of in a haze, just enjoying being out there. In the huddle, the guys were asking me if I was ready. I said, 'Are you kidding? I've been waiting for this all my life!' "

Not everyone was glad to see Roseberry. On his first play, a Shippensburg lineman grabbed his face mask and yanked his helmet. The foul failed to draw a penalty flag.

"He said to me, 'How do you like that, old man?' When I pushed him back, the crowd went nuts," Roseberry said. "I told him all of XTC that dirty stuff won't keep me from having my day."

It turned out Saturday was Roseberry's first and last day as the man the NCAA believes is the oldest football player in its history. Earlier this week, his injuries -- particularly the back and neck ailments that resulted from his recent stinger -- caught up with him. The Kutztown staff decided to sit him down for the rest of the season.

Roseberry, who will not return to play football, is disappointed he can't finish the season but is satisfied to have "touched a dream." He plans to earn his bachelor's degree in psychology at Kutztown, where he also wants to try acting in the drama club. He already has written some soon-to-be-published poetry, as well as a one-act play. Both works deal with his Vietnam War experiences.

"I've been coaching for over 20 years, and something like this comes along once," said Kutztown coach Al Leonzi. "He's been through two wars, he's dyslexic, and he's got a 3.0 [grade-point] average. He's been through so much adversity. That's why I decided there had to be a place around here for him. Chuck has got to be an inspiration to some of these kids."

Roseberry has come a long way from the kid who was inspired by little more than football in high school. As a standout linebacker at Washington (N.J.) High School, he was a vicious hitter with good size, quick feet, major-college potential. But poor grades intruded on that goal.

It's not that Roseberry wasn't trying in the classroom. He just couldn't comprehend the lessons. In the '60s, learning disorders were not readily recognized. He drifted through school absorbing negative messages. He can't concentrate or pay attention, people said. He must be stupid. Roseberry believed it, too.

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