Springefield College Jason Bednarz's Legacy Filled with Laughter, Leadership

John Botelho@JohnBotelhoSJCorrespondent IIMarch 10, 2010

This past Halloween, the Springfield College football team played host to Ithaca College, a team they had not defeated since 2003. 

About halfway through the third quarter with the teams locked in a tight game that had potential playoff implications, senior Jason Bednarz went down with an ankle injury that ultimately put an end to both his season and playing career with the Pride. In spite of that injury, he was still upbeat and encouraging of his team. 

As he was being carried off, Jason let loose a yell of support for his teammates heard throughout Stagg Field which they described as a message, perhaps worded in a lively manner, to finish what they started and bring home a win in that game. 

The team fulfilled their end of the bargain, completing a 47-26 victory and the team’s first win over the Bombers in six seasons. The powerful voice that rang out in support of an SC win that day fell silent last weekend when Jason Bednarz passed away in his sleep at his home in Irvington, N.Y.

The same words—love, compassion, humor, dedication, and determination—seem to leave the lips of every person who describes him.

He spent the last four years as a member of the Springfield College football team.  During his time there the team captured the 2006 Empire 8 Championship and the 2009 ECAC Division III Northeast Championship. Personally, he captured the friendship and respect of everyone who he suited up with.

As a member of the “Roach,” or SC’s offensive line core, Bednarz fought a battle with his own body on what seemed like an annual basis just to get on the gridiron. “Jay was broken,” said senior and fellow offensive lineman Nate Chantrill.

It was the injuries piling up from the torn labrum, to the torn ACL, and then the dislocated and broken ankle that led his teammates to believe he would be able to go forever. “He’s the type of kid, with the type of personality where you think he could live to be 100,” said senior teammate Marty Gaffe.

Another member of the “Roach,” Sean Down added that “he’d be held together with duct tape, but he’d still be there.”

The coaching staffing understood why he was able to make his teammates believe that.  “He was a guy with a relentless work ethic. He had a number of injuries throughout the course of his career here and he kept battling back,” said offensive cooridinator and offensive line coach Mike Cerasuolo. 

“It shows the type of person he was and the character he had. (It shows) his upbringing as well. You usually fall back on what you know best, and that is how you were brought up. Obviously he came from an extremely good background with his family.”

Head Coach Mike DeLong recognized how drive and determination affected Bednarz’s career with the Pride. “He had tremendous work ethic. He developed and made the most of the talents that he had,” he said.  “He grew in every way. Athletically, he improved tremendously. Also, he grew as a leader amongst those guys.”

His commitment was not limited just to the football field. “He was extremely hard-working. He was dedicated to this program, and to his studies,” said Cerasuolo of the Business Management and Psychology double major. “He was a very intelligent kid and knew what he wanted to get out of Springfield College.”

The Ithaca game wasn’t the only instance in which he was known to lighten a mood. “He was a sweetheart, he was one of the nicest people. [He] would do anything for you and he was really funny,” said girlfriend and classmate Lauren Fahey.

His companions in the “Roach” and several roommates definitely agreed with her recollection of his humor, all breaking into laughter when asked to describe him.        Suitemate Jim Steinmetz, one of the over 1,200 people who have already joined a group on Facebook honoring Jason’s memory, spent his entire collegiate career as a teammate of his late friend. 

He referred to him as “my partner in crime” and knew his humor well. The two often went back and forth joking and making fun of each other throughout their friendship. “He’d make fun of for being short, and call me ‘the little guy,’” he said. 

The 5'6" receiver added “Junior year, I remember he screamed across the football field at practice ‘watch out, they’re gonna eat you’ and he pointed up—there were hawks that were flyin’ around.”

Fahey recalled an incident where he showcased his humor, this time in a public a setting. After breaking his ankle, he agreed to a trip to the grocery store under the condition that he be allowed to use one of the store’s electric scooters during the trip.  She realized she was in for an interesting shopping experience and reluctantly agreed.

“He bolted right to the service counter to get the ride-on scooter,” she said.  “I was super embarrassed and I was walking five feet ahead of him at all times, darting in and out of aisles so he couldn’t turn fast enough to get me.” 

He followed her around the store, often in reverse so that his scooter was beeping loudly as he maneuvered throughout the aisles. He made sure everyone knew that he was there with her that day. “He was following me from behind, yelling ‘Lauren, Lauren Fahey. My girlfriend!  Where are you going? It’s me, your boyfriend Jason Bednarz.”

Jason did not share the embarrassment that day. In fact, he was proud of his own grocery store performance. “He ended up making me take a picture of him on his ride-on scooter because he could tell he was embarrassing me so much,” she said.

Last weekend, his loves ones were forced to come to a tragic realization: A person who had brought smiles to the faces of so many would suddenly be missing from their lives.

While he may not have made it to 100 the way some of his teammates expected, his 22 years created enough memories and laughter that will allow his legacy to continue to live on.