Sankovich, 75, is a 1958 graduate of North Union Township High School where he starred in football and baseball for the Rams.
“In baseball there were no WPIAL sections – we were the county champs and we beat South Union the last game of the year for the county championship,” Sankovich said. “I was lucky enough to hit a home run.
“In football we had real good teams - we were 7-2 when I was a senior. We lost to South Union and we lost to German. The Uhlans from German had a great team – probably the best team in the county at that time.”
He recalled the fierce rivalry between South Union and North Union.
“The game was played on Thursday night. There was a parade before the game in downtown Uniontown – they would have a parade and a pep rally. Back then whoever won the game would have a day off from school the next day.
“It was amazing - you wouldn’t have school on Friday and I know my senior year we lost and back then there wasn’t too much association between North Union and South Union kids,” Sankovich stated.
Fayette County had some great athletes in that era and North Union had their share.
“We had some real good athletes,” Sankovich recalled. “Steve Kreninko who was a real good baseball player and running back and we had Bill Swaney, Joe Bartok, Bob Sillett and Rich Giachetti who later became the manager for boxer Larry Holmes. We had a lot of real hard-nosed kids.”
Sankovich played baseball for Coach George Duranko and football for Nick Bubonovich.
“Coach Bubonovich was pretty tough,” Sankovich offered. “There was no fooling around with him and our line coach was Steve Polach. He was a great coach and had played at Pitt.
“Coach Bubonovich was a tough coach, but he was fair and he was a pretty good disciplinarian.”
Sankovich played in the JC All-Star game at Forbes Field pitting the Allegheny County All-Stars against the WPIAL All-Stars.
“Bob Prince was the master of ceremonies,” he recalled. “There were great athletes in that game.”
Following his high school graduation Sankovich had to sift through several college scholarship offers from Maryland, North Carolina, Pitt, Penn State and West Virginia. He chose Maryland.
“I had some tough decisions to make,” Sankovich said. “I was actually leaning toward going to North Carolina before I signed with Maryland.
“The freshman coach who recruited me for North Carolina was Bud Carson and I loved it down there. But what sold me on Maryland was Cole Field House in 1956 and I’m down there as a football recruit and I walk into Cole Field House and I couldn’t believe there was such a place – the basketball gym is what sold me on going to Maryland.”
Sankovich fashioned a fine career with the Terps as a two-way tackle.
“Maryland was national champs a few years before I was there,” Sankovich explained. “They were undefeated two-years before I went there. The new president at Maryland was Wilson Elkins and he was a Rhodes Scholar and the academic requirements were just unbelievable.
“I went to Maryland and there were 50 of us on the freshman team and I’m fortunate I was one of seven who graduated – they were flying out of there left and right. Academically it got real tough and fortunately I hung in there and wound up getting my degree.”
His freshman team was 6-1 in 1958. In 1959 the Terps were 5-5, in 1960 they were 6-4 and in 1961 they finished 7-3.
He had some outstanding teammates at Maryland.
“Gary Collins was there and he should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame,” Sankovich opined. “My senior year there were six guys off our starting unit and a couple of reserves that went into the NFL and played at least five years. We had some unbelievable talent - Roger Shoals, Walter Rock, Collins, Tom Brown, Dick Shiner.”
In 1960 Sankovich received the M Club’s Jim Tatum Memorial Award which is presented annually to the Maryland player voted the outstanding lineman on the club.
“My best year was my junior season, Sankovich stated. “My senior year I got hurt and missed the last couple games. I was the smallest starting tackle in Division One football.
“They had all these All-Star games back then - the Blue-Gray game, the North-South game and the East-West Shrine game and I had a definite invitation to play in the Blue-Gray game and I was hurt and I missed out on that and I was on the checklist for the Senior Bowl and that when down the tubes also, but I had four great years at Maryland.”
Sankovich graduated from college as fate stepped in.
“I came home and my mother had been involved in a very serious hit and run accident as she was coming out of a ceramics class,” Sankovich explained. “I had no intention of staying around here and I didn’t really know what I was going to do.
“But when I came home to see my mother, Stan McLaughlin called and said they needed a teacher and a coach at Dunbar and the rest is history.”
He was at Dunbar for three years where he was assistant football coach and head basketball coach. Connellsville and Dunbar merged in 1966 the first year of the jointure he was football coach and assistant basketball coach. He was head football coach at Connellsville for two-years and they started baseball and was head coach in both sports. Then he just stuck with baseball.
It was as a baseball coach Sankovich left an indelible mark. He spent 20 years coaching baseball at Connellsville Area High School, posting a 424-107 career record and helping the program earn 10 section championships, four WPIAL titles and a 1989 state championship.
“We had so much talent and ability,” Sankovich said. “That’s why we won so many games. I didn’t win those games, the kids did. At Connellsville, I was fortunate that all the good athletes played baseball. Some of them played other sports as well, but they all played baseball.”
Sankovich credits a great feeder system for his success at Connellsville.
“They had a great little league in Connellsville,” He said. “You had Dr. Colvin and George Pastors who has passed away and some other people who had no kids and they were in it for the love of the sport and to work with the kids and they really developed those kids in little league and up into the Pony Leagues and I was kind of getting a finished product that I just had to polish.
“Legion baseball was big back then. That has dropped off and you don’t have as many teams.”
Sankovich’s family, friends and numerous former colleagues and players turned out at the newly christened Thomas E. Sankovich Field to observe the ceremony on April 13th.
“It is a terrific honor,” Sankovich explained. “When you get something like that from your own people. It is the biggest honor you can get. I want to thank school board member Ed Zadylak, who initiated the field’s renaming and the late Jim Kriek, a prominent figure in local sports media and a long-time friend who helped make it all possible.”
Sankovich retired in 2001. He lives in Vanderbilt with his wife of 49-years Connie. They have two sons Tom and Brian ant three grandkids and still is actively involved in baseball. Sankovich assigns WPIAL umpires and umpires for the Fayette County Baseball League during the spring and summer months.