Benefit will score touchdown for Joe Sandusky Foundation

March 24, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

It was a voice he couldn't identify. Maybe it was his conscience talking or a message, as he prefers to believe, from some higher power. Distinctly it told him: "Start the foundation." Twice more it repeated itself on that July afternoon two years ago during a trip along the interstate highway . . . Baltimore to Pittsburgh.

That's what sent Gerry Sandusky into action. He listened to the zTC words as a believer and took them literally. With strong resolve, ,, he organized the Joe Sandusky Foundation, to honor the memory of a brother who died while a football player at Tulsa University.

The funds accrued, modest at this point, will be enhanced tomorrow night when a benefit is held at the National Aquarium to raise funds to assist the education of students in financial need. Don Shula, winningest coach in the 75-year history of the National Football League, will be the guest of honor and Peter Angelos, owner of the Orioles, is playing the role of official host.

Gerry Sandusky, sports director of WBAL-TV, will be the master of ceremonies. His father John, a former tackle for Villanova and later with the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers, served 26 years as a coaching assistant to Shula with the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins. He'll be present, too, as will the other Sandusky children -- Jack and Jim, both living in the Baltimore area, and Ruth from Silver Spring.

The Sanduskys are a close family, respected in and out of football. Ten Colts' alumni and two widows of former players, Mickey Pellington and Yvonne Ameche, will gather for the grand occasion.

Joe Sandusky was only a sophomore, a starting end at 6 feet 3, 230 pounds with immense potential, when he complained of not feeling well, believing he had broken a rib in the opening game of the 1978 season. Before a proper diagnosis could be made, he was stricken fatally.

Death was caused by a streptococcus germ that found its way into his bloodstream. It was believed a blister, caused by the friction of a shoulder pad rubbing against his skin, was the source of the infection.

Gerry remembers being in a high school accounting class in Cooper City, Fla., when a teacher told him it was necessary he leave for home right away. A grief-filled experience awaited, hearing his brother, so strong and full of life, had died, age 19. The passing of time eased the sorrow, but it's a reality that still causes pain.

"We children all looked at each other," he recalls, "and asked the same question, 'Why wasn't it one of us and not Joe?' We kids knew Joe was the brightest and the best. My father, that day, lost his finest son."

The start-up money to initiate the foundation came from a $10,000 bonus Gerry received from the station for extra shows he had worked.

"My wife, Lee Ann, knew how much I wanted the foundation to be established," Sandusky said. "When I heard that voice ringing in my head to 'Start the foundation,' I bet I reviewed 100 common-sense reasons why I couldn't do it. What did I know about setting up an organization? But wonderful things happened, like having a neighbor, Jim Flick, a retired executive from USF&G, opening doors and pointing me in the right direction.

"I was fortunate enough to discover the right people at the right time. Some helped with finances, others with wisdom and insight. I had no money to do this, but I took the leap of faith and the safety net was there. If you don't take the leap, the net might never be in place. We have a seven-member board and what's happening surpassed my greatest ambitions."

Sandusky, during the time his dad coached under Shula, worked the sidelines as a teen-age ball boy. So when he knew he needed the right personality to draw attention to the foundation he turned to Shula, who accepted the invitation.

Some 250 tickets at $150 each have been sold, making the inaugural event a complete sellout. "We'll do some other things in the future," Gerry promised, "but this is a great start and we can't thank Don enough. Joe and David Shula, Don's son, now coaching the Cincinnati Bengals, were friends, the same age, and he sent a sizable personal check."

Joe Sandusky was the type who recognized value in all people. His spirit will live on in the foundation that perpetuates his name. Gerry Sandusky is happy the voice got through to him on the trip to Pittsburgh and that he didn't vacillate. It's a personal story personifying something more deeply important. Call it simply a brother's love.

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