ROCKPORT, MAINE – Joseph P. Plaskas, Jr. - Whoever said records were made to be broken underestimated the athletic prowess of Joe Plaskas.
In 1959, Plaskas was the Northern Illinois University all-conference starting pitcher, yet he also set the conference record with a .455 batting average.
There have been 60 years of NIU Huskie players who have come along since then with their aluminum bats (Joe’s .455 was with a wood bat), batting gloves, club-ball upbringing and paid hitting instructors. None could break Plaskas’ conference batting average record. Not in Joe Plaskas’ lifetime.
A two-sport star athlete at NIU and Oswego High School, a Hall of Famer at three institutions (as a player at NIU and Oswego, and as a coach at Barrington High School), a husband, father, grandfather, teacher, coach, accountant and arguably the most interesting, humble and self-proclaimed luckiest man who ever graced this earth.
Joe was also so remarkably efficient and precise in life, he died on the same calendar day he was born, January 16. Why use up two days when one will do? He was 81.
Athletics may have been the root of Joe’s life, but from there it grew into so much more. His remarkable playing days, though, are worth reviewing. Besides the pitching and hitting records he set at Northern Illinois, Joe also broke the school rushing record, which stood for five years, and he would have upped that total except his freshman year he led the Huskies in passing as their starting quarterback.
It was 1959 that became the year of Joe Plaskas. He rushed for 698 yards as NIU’s senior fullback. If that doesn’t sound like much 60 years later, consider this: Billy Cannon won the Heisman Trophy that year with 598 rushing yards – 100 less than Joe. The year before, Pete Dawkins won the Heisman with 428 yards rushing -170 less than Joe.
When Joe finished with 1,332 career rushing yards, he broke the NIU record that had held for 10 years. Earlier in the spring of 1959, Joe was a first-team All-Conference pitcher and two years later, after an Army stint gave him one more year of baseball eligibility, he was All Conference as both a pitcher and outfield.
Did Bo know Joe? Bo Jackson would have appreciated the exploits of Joe Plaskas.
A former high school football player recalled the time when Joe Namath’s white shoes were the rage. “You can wear any color shoes you want,” Plaskas told his football team, “as long as they’re black.”
One of his chemistry classes had a group of students who kept a notebook of the sayings Joe used throughout the semester. “I didn’t even know it,” Joe said. “Every time I’d say something goofy they would write it down. Stupid stuff like in coaching: ‘If you guys get out of line, you’re the grass and I’m the lawnmower.’ Or if kids were messing around he’d say, ‘You guys are like fish flopping around on the dock. Shape up.”
Other Joe sayings were, “you guys act like BB’s in a boxcar for brains,” and “nothing good happens after midnight.” He had a way of drawing smiles while getting his message across.
Joseph Paul Plaskas, Jr. was born on January 16, 1938 in Aurora, Illinois, moved to Galveston, Texas when he was in third grade, and back to Oswego, Illinois when he was a sophomore in high school.
He set football and baseball records for the Oswego Panthers, then went on to NIU primarily because it had the only coaches who let him play both sports. Not only did he play both sports, but multiple positions of each sport.
He was 27 and pitching for the Aurora Tiger Club baseball team when unbeknownst to him, he caught the eye of a beautiful young lady who was the sister of his teammate Randy Tschannen. There was only one catch: Suzanne Tschannen was 18 when she instantly became attracted to the lefty on the mound. Actually, there was a second catch: Suzie hated sports, but she went to see her brother play because she wanted to escape from another guy who had asked her out.
Joe and Sue’s first date was naturally, at a baseball game. They married three years later – he wanted her to turn 21 – and “we’ve been dating ever since,’’ he said. “Looking back, she had a short shelf life. If I hadn’t grabbed her she would have been gone. She didn’t know how good she was. So, I got her before anyone realized what the hell happened.’’
The love between Joe and Sue was there for others to admire. Sue is the sweetest person on the earth who is quick with the wisecracks. Joe laughed at every one.
Joe and Sue raised their two children, Brett and Amy, in Barrington, Ill., where Joe was one of the first in the United States to teach AP chemistry. He was also such a good varsity baseball and football coach, he was elected into Barrington High School’s Hall of Fame. If he was a man of selfish ambition, Joe could have piled up the high school wins or gone on to the college level. But it was family, first, for Joe Plaskas.
After he retired as a teacher, Joe and Sue eventually moved to Rockport, Maine, where they had vacationed for years, and lived for 22 years in the home they built along the Atlantic Ocean. Joe’s favorite place in the world was his home and now he is enjoying his permanent home. In 2005, Joe and Sue purchased the Oakland Park Bowling Lanes in Rockport as an investment, running it until 2014.
Joe is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Suzanne; his two children Brett (Carrie) and Amy (Joe Wall); four grandchildren Jack and Caroline Wall, Piper and Palmer Plaskas; his sister Mary Ann (Joseph) Klis; his brother Robert (Margaret) Plaskas; many nephews and nieces, as well as hundreds, if not thousands of people he touched and impacted.
He was preceded in death by his father, Joseph Plaskas Sr. and mother, Myrtle Sargent.
At Joe’s request, there will be no funeral services. A celebration of his life will be held in Illinois in the spring.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Sussman Hospice House Voulenteer Program Kitchen, 140 Anchor Drive, Rockport, ME 04856. Arrangements are in the care of Burpee, Carpenter & Hutchins Funeral Home, Rockland.