"Helmet Reflections"



By Dr. Ken


As I write this, another high school football season will begin on Long Island within days. My yearly “clock” is geared specifically to this and with what for me is a “new year” comes a flood of memories of past seasons. Perhaps it truly is a symptom of old or at least, “older” age. Perhaps we all become like our parents as we age and tend to look back, but the start of this football season had me taking a walk down memory lane and thinking about…Kansas State. “Why Kansas State?” is an excellent question. The Helmet News article of December 2005 recalled the great K-State uniforms I witnessed as a collegiate player and referred to their rather hapless history on the gridiron ( http://www.helmethut.com/Dr.Ken26.html ). The many beautiful Kansas State helmets remain a popular feature on the HELMET HUT site (http://www.helmethut.com/College/KansasState/KSUindex.html ). However, my high school and college football experiences were not played out in Kansas so why then, would Kansas State be as prominent in my consciousness as the University Of Cincinnati, local Hofstra University, or the many institutions where I have friends or acquaintances as members of the coaching staffs? Perhaps it’s the Latin phrase that is the state motto of Kansas and that has been adopted by the Wildcats for the 2008 season, as it is that very Latin phrase that is coincidentally, tattooed on my right forearm. “Ad Astra Per Aspera” translates to, “To the stars, through difficulties” or “You’re going to have to overcome a ton of stuff and work your butt off to achieve anything worthwhile,” certainly a lesson I learned a very long time ago. Perhaps it was a conversation with one of my patients who noted that as a teenager, he had a fistfight with one of his high school classmates. The young man he fought was the son of a high school football coach, a wonderful man named Steve Delligatti who decades later became a patient of mine and who had played his collegiate ball at Kansas State. Perhaps it’s the excitement of seeing an underdog rise again, as K-State did years ago when Bill Snyder became the head coach. Kansas State is a fine academic institution. My late father-in-law, a professor and director of research in the School Of Agricultural at Purdue University once told me that Kansas State had one of the best “Ag” programs of study in the nation. Some of the older, historical buildings that grace the campus allow K-State to make the claim that it is in fact, a beautiful school. Unfortunately, at least until the early 1990’s, football success was not among its selling points.


Prior to the arrival of Snyder as head coach in 1989, the “Mildcats” as they were derisively called, had won 299 games to the 510 they had lost. Other than the brief tenure of Bill Meek from 1951 through ’54 and the winning years he enjoyed in his final two seasons, 1936 had marked the last victorious season in Manhattan, Kansas. In what might in retrospect be termed “an error in judgment,” the administration refused to grant a small raise to Meek’s staff after the 1954 season and watched him and his assistants jump to the University Of Houston where he was again successful as he was later at SMU with the quarterback he developed, Don Meredith. K-State then went on to another fifteen years of losing more games than they won in any season. Snyder fixed things and established Kansas State as one of the best programs in the Big 8 and then in the Big 12. Current head coach Ron Prince is, fans hope, on the way to re-establishing the Wildcats as one of the best in the region. With no real ties to the school, I always look forward to Kansas State winning. Steve Delligatti and I would often talk “K-State football” and football as it’s played in various parts of the country. Steve was fortunate to have been recruited out of Uniontown, a typical Western Pennsylvania coal and steel mill town approximately fifty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Steve was short, stocky, and tough, a perfect interior linemen who could play on both sides of the football.



I know that like many of us who played in another era, Steve believed that football taught him many of the life lessons that made him a highly respected, considerate, and well liked individual, and an area football coach whose knowledge was constantly sought. He was the head coach at Oceanside High School, the primary rival of Long Beach High School, the first secondary school I attended. The very long-running joke in our house was that once the request was made that I no longer attend Long Beach H.S., I was denied the opportunity to finish at the school otherwise closest to our town which was Oceanside. When they refused to accept me “under any circumstances,” it added fuel to the already red-hot fire that came from the inter-school rivalry. However, having met the Oceanside head football coach, I couldn’t bring myself to dislike him because Mr. Delligatti was that coach. We had spoken, after it was assumed that I would enter Oceanside H.S. and I was extremely impressed with his demeanor, his soft-spoken approach, and how welcomed he made me feel. Steve moved on to coach Newfield High School in Selden, a relatively new high school in Suffolk County. He maintained a residence in Oceanside where his two sons were outstanding lacrosse players, eventually moving on to the collegiate level where they both again excelled. One son, Lou, became well known as a premiere brawler in the professional lacrosse league. Steve jumped to the collegiate level, coaching first at Long Island’s C.W. Post College and then handling the offensive line for Hofstra University when they were consistently in the Division III playoffs. Always extremely popular with his players, and very much a father figure, Steve provided guidance both on and off the field for many under his tutelage.   


It is poignant that Steve Delligatti was on Kansas State teams that were growing into a successful unit. Like many if not most of the collegiate football coaches of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, head coach Bill Meek was a former serviceman. The level of discipline and the physical demands that each player faced was infinitely more stringent relative to today’s player because those former military men utilized many of the same core principles as the foundation of their football programs. Hard and sometimes harsh physical training, running, and drills that might today seem to border on abuse were standard and in fact, welcomed by the players because we knew it would benefit us during the most crucial points in any game. The insistence upon working as a team, displaying mutual respect, and a higher standard of daily behavior on and off the field than that expected of the typical college student, was a constant and the backbone of the value system that each of us carried forward into “life” once our football playing days ended. The simplicity of the white helmet with a purple one-inch center stripe that Steve wore at K-State is a reminder of those days, those values, and the unfortunate change that today’s game often reflects.