When Gonzaga High School closes its doors for the summer in June, the Rev. Bernard Dooley, school president, will call in Athletic Director Joe Kozik and ask him for the umpteenth time, "Joe, are you ready to retire?"
Dooley will know the answer before the immensely popular and highly respected 66-year-old arrives. Asking the question is but a formality.
"The coaches and the AD are on one-year contracts," Dooley said. "And, each June, they must sign another contract if they plan to coach next year. Even though I know Joe isn't going anywhere, I still ask him. Our conversation doesn't last very long. I ask him and he always says, 'Father, I think I'll give it another year.'"
Kozik has given Gonzaga 28 years as athletic director. But his dedication to the thousands who have attended the 150-year-old parochial school dates to 1942 when Kozik began teaching history and biology and coaching.
"I coached all three sports (football, basketball, baseball) and loved it," Kozik said. "I even drove the team bus to the games. I considered that part of my job, too. I didn't do anything special. I just enjoyed working with the kids and just tried to be a good friend in addition to being their coach.
"When I got out of college (Penn State), I never knew I'd be a coach or a teacher, but I've enjoyed every year I've done them. Each year has been different and if I had to do each year over again, I'd do it."
Always one to speak his mind, Kozik earned a lot of friends and probably a few enemies during his years of coaching at the school at North Capitol and I Streets NW. In 1945, Kozik set up a football game between his then all-white team and Boys Town of Nebraska, which had several black players. The game, played before 9,000 spectators at old Griffith Stadium, reportedly was the first high school contest in this area in which blacks competed against whites.
"It was just a football game to me," recalled Kozik, a native of Wilkes Barre, Pa., "and coming from my little town, I didn't know much about integration. People made a lot out of the game, but what the hell, Boys Town was undefeated and we wanted to play a good team. We won, 9-0. It was a great game."
In 1956, two years after integration, Kozik, who has a 48-27-2 record and won five Catholic League titles in eight years as football coach, played a major role in setting up a city championship football game between Gonzaga and Cardozo. It was Washington's first football game between an all-white and an all-black team. The teams met at Griffith Stadium and more than 20,000 watched the two battle to a 6-6 tie.
Many schools refused to play Gonzaga after that, but that hardly fazed Kozik.
"That was a great achievement, that game," Kozik said. "We knew we could get other teams to play. And we decided we would play anyone who wanted a game."
Kozik was a three-sport athlete at Hanover (Pa.) High School and spent several years in the Cleveland Indians' minor league organization before attending Penn State. After earning bachelor's and master's degrees, he coached at his former high school before coming to Washington. He taught and coached baseball at Bladensburg a year before beginning at Gonzaga.
"I guess I'm the oldest man in service now," Kozik said, laughing. "But I feel I can still do the job. I coached baseball from 1942 until 1976. I had to give up baseball because both jobs became too demanding. Our school is much bigger and it was just too hard to handle both jobs."
Gonzaga, still considered an excellent school academically, enrolls approximately 650 boys. About half the students are black.
Over the last 10 years, the school's athletic prowess has diminished. Two years ago, Kozik and the administration agreed Gonzaga didn't have the overall strength to compete in the Metro Conference and dropped out.
"We just weren't able to compete, so we felt it was a good idea to take a leave of absence," said Kozik. "We have played much better the last two years, so we've rejoined the conference. I'm glad we're back in."
Kozik recently was honored at a testimonial dinner attended by more than 800. According to Dooley, the honor was well-deserved.
"Joe has been invaluable to this school," said Dooley, who has served as president seven years. "He knows every kid who has come through here by name and is always willing to sacrifice to help someone. He just has a big heart. There was many a day Joe went into his pocket to see to it a kid had what he needed.
"Not too long ago, a former student donated a check for $8,000. He said when he and his brother attended the school, Joe was a good friend to them. He even gave them coats and ties to wear. He said people like Joe made him want to help a needy kid."
Asked if he plans to retire this year, Kozik said, with no hesitation, "No! They'll have to fire me."
And there's no chance of that happening.