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Ed “Doc” Stofko: Sixty years ago, a JHS athletic trainer helped me immensely

Doc Stofko with former great Carlton Haselrig

Cambria County Sports Hall of Fame

… a personal recollection

In my sophomore year of high school, I injured my knee during a practice over the Christmas holidays, but he recovered well enough to play in games — until one night in February at Juniata Valley High School.

At that point, I went up to snare a pass from a teammates, but when I landed, I screamed in pain. I had ripped the cartilage in my knee, and I had to resort to life with crutches for a long time.

What was different in having surgery at that time was that after a person went through knee surgery — or any other kind of operation like that — the recovery process was non-existent compared to today.

No trainers, no physical therapists — nothing to aid me in the process.

For me, I met a man who was legendary in Johnstown sports. Although he did not know me, he still took some time in his athletic office at Johnstown High School to look at my knee and give me some great advice in terms of recovery.

His name was Ed “Doc” Stofko, and Trojan athletes from his years as the full-time trainer there can relate stories better than I can.

However, what Doc did for me was of tremendous help. I followed his advice in a number of areas, and I remember his kindness after six decades.

My visit to Doc

My guess is that this took place in early April 1963 when I was in the early stages of my recovery from the cartilage damage. They did not call the injury an ACL or MCL — just torn cartilage.

My basketball coach at the time, Emil Salony, was a friend of Doc’s, and he called and asked if the Johnstown trainer would have time to meet with me. He agreed, and we traveled to Johnstown.

Doc made some recommendations as to what I needed to do to recover. First, he said that I would need to increase the size of my quadricep in that leg. He showed us what I needed to do by using weights and lifting them every day to the point where it was the same size as that in my other leg.

So, we went to Mr. Alex Bellock, our shop teacher, who showed us how to built a machine like that which Doc described. He took two small pieces of wood, used a hinged to connect them, and that allowed me to sit down and raise the weights in a way that increased the strength in that leg.

That advice was great. Since we were already lifting weights in the former biology room of the old Lilly Washington High School — a practice that Art somehow managed to scrape up some money to start — I was able to do this every day.

By the start of football season, the knee was at full strength and I never again injured it in football or basketball or anything else.

The olive oil

The next recommendation was one that actually sounds strange — but worked well. He suggested that I take a heat lamp and place it a few feet above the knee. Then, he said we should take some olive oil and rub into into the knee and quad for about 15 minutes.

I never heard that before or since, but it worked. The knee felt much better after I did it, and my dad would rub it into the knee at first, and then I realized I could do it myself. I later did that any time the knee was sore.

No doubt, Doc had many other remedies that were unique and successful. He gave me some other advice, but those are the two that I remember.

Since that knee is still in good working order today, I have to thank Doc for his kindness.

The St. Francis tie

A decade or so later, Doc’s name became special at St. Francis College (now University). He sent many athletes from Johnstown to play for Coach Art Martynuska and his Red Flash. I was fortunate to coach one of the most successful of those athletes, Teddy Helsel, who rushed for almost 4,000 yards in his career with the Red Flash.

They included defensive backs like Danny Kanuch and Vinnie Vizza whom I remember so well from those years.

Art was forever grateful to Doc for helping us with attracting those athletes and helping them attain a degree and success in life.

However, my choice of a surgeon also helped me.

Dr. Lawrence Casale

When my parents looked for a good orthopedic surgeon for my knee, they were told to find a doctor by the name of Dr. Silenski [spelling may be different.] In the initial examination, the doctor was older and a veteran, but he was accompanied by his young colleague. His name was Dr. Lawrence Casale, and he was originally from Portage, so my father knew the family.

His father, Carmello, was a shoemaker, and a number of his brothers grew up to become business people.

However, he graduated from Franklin and Marshall College and Jefferson Medical School and returned to Johnstown to practice orthopedics after doing residencies. Dr. Casale did a tremendous job with his surgery. I still have no problems with that knee 60 years later.

So, between Dr. Casale’s surgery and Doc Stofko’s helped me immeasurably.

Stories about Doc Stofko

Doc did so many things for so many people at Johnstown. If you have any other stories about him, please let me know.

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