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This former Lilly Raider from the 1960s just competed in the National Senior Olympics—in his 60s


Bob Mardula

In July, I had a message from my friend Tony Stopka, a former Lilly Raider football player who competed on the 1967 and 1968 championship teams. This had to do with one of his teammates on the Lilly Raiders and one of his good friends,

[My wife and I] went to Pittsburgh to watch Bob Mardula compete in the National Senior Olympics in the shot put for men between 65 and 69. He came in 4th. We had lunch with Bob and his wife Sharon. He's still an avid competitor. He throws the discus Tuesday and javelin Friday.

E-mail message


Then, about ten days later, I had a text from Bob, saying that he was in a layover in the Minneapolis airport on his way back to Utah. I immediately called him and talked for a while.


What is amazing about Bob is that even after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania where he competed for the Quakers in football and track and field about 45 years ago, he has not lost that competitive spirit. While in his mid-60s, he still throws those three -- the shot, the discus, and the javelin -- just like he did at Penn Cambria High School and at Penn.


Bob was able to attend our Lilly Raider Reunion in 2022, and after that, I wrote this story,


Learning the work ethic from the farm, this Lilly Raider ultimately earned an Ivy League degree


… had to do chores before practice

On a football field 55 years ago, I first met Bob Mardula. He had never played football before that, and I had never coached the game.


We were both novices, but in short order, he demonstrated that he could be a very tough player for a seventh grader.


However, while he excelled on the field for two years for the Lilly Raiders and later for the Penn Cambria Panthers, Bob also worked very hard in the classroom. That paid dividends for him as a high school senior when he was approached by a former Penn State player who later became a coach. His name was Otto Kneidinger, a native of Bellwood who had heard of his high school football skills — and his prowess in the classroom.


The road to the University of Pennsylvania


Bob was the son of Ann and the late Walt Mardula of Lilly, R.D. They lived on a farm outside of Lilly near the Texas-Eastern Transmission Line. His father worked in the coal mines and taught the children that work ethic.


I told Bob this story a few years ago, one that he had not heard previously. I repeated it on Sunday at our Lilly Raider Football Championships Reunion.


This is what transpired. I wrote to Penn State about Bob, and they actually responded. The recruiting coordinator, an assistant coach, said that they had known about Bob and had viewed a few of his game films.

Essentially, he said that he will be a good college player, but Penn State wanted its linebackers to be about 6-foot-2 or 6-foot-3, and Bob was not quite that tall.

However, Bob said that he was approached by Kneidinger, who was the first high school football player ever recruited by Joe Paterno, according to a bio about him written by Neil Rudel.

He said that he thought that I will fit in well at Penn. I had never even thought about going there, but he encouraged me to visit.

When I went down there for a visit, even their running backs were bigger than I was. How was I ever going to compete against guys this big?


Bob Mardula interview, 2019


After talking to the coaches and meeting with their financial aid personnel — Ivy League schools are not permitted to award athletic scholarships — Bob decided to tackle the challenge of attending Penn.

Engineering


Bob decided to major in electrical engineering, and his first challenge was tackling the academic rigors. Freshmen were not permitted to play, so he could not compete until his sophomore season.

He earned a starting spot as an inside linebacker that season and never left it. Bob became a captain his senior year, and earned his degree in engineering.

Bob moved to Utah many years ago and has worked as an engineer at a number of companies. His LinkedIn bio noted that he a senior engineer and project manager at Kennecott Utah Copper from 2011 until 2020.

The farm and the work ethic


We generally practiced with the Lilly Raiders at about 5 p.m., but Bob had to rush home and complete his chores on the family farm before going to practice.


I talked with his father many years ago, and he said that he hoped that his boys would appreciate the work ethic that he was teaching them in the future, though they may not have at a young age.


Bob’s athletic exploits continue as he continues to throw the javelin, shot, and discus in the senior games.

His accomplishments are a great testament to him and make all of us proud of what he has accomplished in life.


Bob is married to his wife, Sharon, and they are the parents of one daughter.

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