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Richard "Woj" Wojciechowski, 90, revered coach, teacher at St. Mary's High School

Oct. 8, 1927 – March 2, 2018

Richard “Woj” Wojciechowski stood 6-foot-2 and his first love was basketball. But when Niagara University offered him a football scholarship, he accepted.

“He called himself a sticky-fingered wide receiver,” his son, Richard W., said.

A member of Niagara’s last NCAA football team, he scored six touchdowns in his senior year and caught the attention of the Green Bay Packers, who drafted him on the 17th round in 1951.

He went into the Army instead. Enrolled in the Army ROTC at Niagara, he accepted his commission as an officer when he graduated with a degree in economics in 1951.

A first lieutenant, he became a platoon leader in the 27th Infantry Regiment, the Wolfhounds, on the front line in the Korean War, replacing an officer who had died in the fighting at Sandbag Castle.

Following his discharge, he got to return to his favorite sport. He was hired to coach the St. Mary’s High School basketball team in the middle of the 1954-55 season and went on to create an extensive sports program at the school.

“He was the pioneer of sports here,” said St. Mary’s president Kevin Kelleher, a former coach and athletic director at the school.

In an official statement, Kelleher added, “We are all Lancers and he was the most profound Lancer of all.”

He died Friday under hospice care in GreenFields Extended Care Facility, Lancaster, after a battle with cancer. He was 90.

Born in Depew, he was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Depew High School under legendary coach Emmett Dawson, graduating in 1946. Between his junior and senior years, he played professional baseball in the Ohio State League.

He became a full-time faculty member at St. Mary’s when the new school building opened on Laverack Avenue in September 1955. He was a business teacher and began coaching the baseball team, as well.

“He used to say, ‘I came in with the bricks and mortar,’ ” his son said.

In 1956, he resurrected the football program, which had been discontinued in the 1940s. In 1964, he was named athletic director, a post he held for 35 years. During that time, he completed a master’s degree in education at Canisius College.

Two of his basketball players, Frank Swiatek and Mark Rzemek, now a teacher at St. Mary’s, went on to have standout careers at Canisius College.

On its Facebook page, the St. Mary’s Alumni Association noted that he was “one of the legends of St. Mary’s, one of most influential figures in the history of the school, someone who touched many hearts.”

He served as football coach until 1978, basketball coach until 1986 and baseball coach until 1992. He retired from teaching in 1993.

“The legacy he left behind,” his son said, “was that he developed boys into men, men who became successful and influential in Western New York and across the country, police chiefs, lawyers, politicians, people who made a profound difference in the world.”

Mr. Wojciechowski also served as president of the Monsignor Martin Athletic Association from 1981 to 2008. He also was a founding board member of the Western New York Football Coaches Association. The Monsignor Martin Association presents an annual award in his honor to the league’s most valuable defensive player.

At. St. Mary’s, he established the Varsity Club, started the grade school basketball tournament, helped develop the athletic fields behind the school, which opened in 1998, and helped introduce bingo as a fundraiser for the school.

In retirement, he was finance director in the school’s Development Office and assisted with alumni relations.

St. Mary’s named him Man of the Year in 1992, inducted him into the St. Mary’s Hall of Fame in 1995 and made him an honorary alumni in 2004. The school annually presents a Dick Woj Dedication to Basketball Award to students.

He was named to the Niagara University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2000 and was inducted onto the Depew Union Free School District Wall of Fame in 2013.

During summers, he worked for the Lancaster Recreation Department, beginning as a playground director in 1960 and eventually becoming summer director.

For many years, he played softball in local slow-pitch leagues and is believed to have hit the longest ball ever in Cheektowaga Town Park, a towering drive that landed on the pitcher’s mound of a neighboring diamond. It was paced off at 468 feet.

He was married to the former Lillian Ponosny in 1952. She died in 1998.

Survivors also include two daughters, Phyllis Martin and Patricia Dady; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial was offered Tuesday in Our Lady of Pompeii Catholic Church, Lancaster.

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