Charles Jestice

Inducted: 1986

Dearborn Fordson High School

Charles Jestice

 

FOOTBALL: Fordson loses a legend 

 

 

Fordson lost a legend last Wednesday when former football coach Charles Jestice died at the age of 78.

The legend will live on.

"The great thing about Fordson football is that, even though they never really met him or talked to him, our kids know who Coach Jestice is and how much he meant to our school," said Tractors coach Fouad Zaban. "Today's football is not the same game he coached, but the way he approached things when he was here is the same way we approach things today."

Jestice's name is on the school's strength and conditioning center. At the end of each season, the team selects its MVP and that player receives an award named for Jestice. The school's football field is also named in his honor.

It's artificial turf now, instead of the grass Jestice once prowled, but it's on the same spot where he forged a record of 161-31 as the head coach from 1970-89 and there are signs on campus reminding everyone of the 1971 team that was voted No. 1 in the state, the 1972 team that was No. 2 and the runners-up in the state playoffs in 1980, 82 and 84.

Zaban was an outstanding running back for Jestice from 1985-87. After playing college football at Grand Valley State, he returned to his alma mater and was an assistant to Jestice's replacement Jeff Stergalas before taking over as head coach in 2007.

"Fordson has been fortunate to have had great coaches over the years," said Zaban. "For me, it's an honor to walk the sideline that Coach Jestice once walked and to try to maintain what he and the others have built."

Jestice was suffering from Alzheimer's disease when he died.

Before being stricken, he was a regular at Fordson games, often joining first Stergalas and then Zaban on the field for postgame congratulations.

"It was always special to see him," Zaban said. "He would be at our games, but he also came around school to talk football and life in general.

"That was the beauty of him. His love, dedication and loyalty to the program was never questioned, but he also taught me things outside of football that will have an impact on my life forever."

Stergalas is now the head coach at Riverview.

He played his high school football there and was on the coaching staff in 1981 when he took a teaching job at Fordson and signed on as an assistant to Jestice.

"When I played at Riverview, we were in the same league as Fordson and I knew Charlie Jestice the legend," said Stergalas. "All you heard about back then was Charlie Jestice and George Lewis (the Fordson great who brought Jestice onto the staff from Monroe in 1963).

"I couldn't wait to get started with him."

Freshmen were being admitted to high school in the city for the first time in 1972 and Jestice asked Stergalas if he was interested in taking on the assignment of handling the ninth grade team.

"I told him, `Coach, with all due respect, I am not coming to Fordson to coach freshman football.' I wanted to work with him," Stergalas said. "So he said that was fine and asked if I wanted to be offensive or defensive coordinator. I said defense and the rest is history.

"I don't know whether I have been a good head coach or not in my career, but I do know that I was a good assistant coach because I was trained by Charlie."

Stergalas took over the Tractors in 1990 and led the team to the state championship in 1993.

Jestice was a fixture in the stands.

"I think he was happier than I was when we won it," said Stergalas.

Zaban was a volunteer assistant on the staff that year and current Fordson girls' athletic director Mark Shooshanian was the offensive coordinator.

"One of the things I will always remember about Charlie is that he was such a positive influence when Jeff took over," said Shooshanian. "He would come back to all of our games and he never took us aside to tell us what to do or what changes we should make.

"He was just there to enjoy high school football and he was our biggest supporter."

Shooshanian played high school ball at Edsel Ford and was an assistant coach there under Jack Bridges until joining Jestice's staff in 1985.

"It was definitely a contrast in styles coming to Charlie after working with Jack," Shooshanian said. "I was blessed to be able to learn from two people like that."

Bridges will always be known as the gunslinger in the black hat.

Jestice had a more conservative reputation.

"When I came to Fordson, I looked at Charlie as an imposing figure," Shooshanian said, "but when you worked with him, you found out right away that he was human like anyone else. He was never mean, but he had that look and he earned the respect of everyone around him."

Players, coaches, family members, journalists and even referees were all susceptible to "the look."

"Charlie never yelled or screamed at the officials," Shooshanian said, "but if there was something going on that he didn't like, he'd mention it and give them that look. A lot of times, by the second half, you'd see things change."

Jestice trained his teams to play a smashmouth style on the field, while maintaining a relatively understated demeanor away from it.

"Charlie never commanded respect," said Stergalas. "He never demanded anything from anyone except excellence. You just knew that, if you were in his circle, you were going to do the best you can. He never said that; it was just there.

"He had that kind of stature. He was an icon and you respected him for that."

"When I came to Fordson, I looked at Charlie as an imposing figure," Shooshanian said, "but when you worked with him, you found out right away that he was human like anyone else. He was never mean, but he had that look and he earned the respect of everyone around him."

Players, coaches, family members, journalists and even referees were all susceptible to "the look."

"Charlie never yelled or screamed at the officials," Shooshanian said, "but if there was something going on that he didn't like, he'd mention it and give them that look. A lot of times, by the second half, you'd see things change."

Jestice trained his teams to play a smashmouth style on the field, while maintaining a relatively understated demeanor away from it.

"Charlie never commanded respect," said Stergalas. "He never demanded anything from anyone except excellence. You just knew that, if you were in his circle, you were going to do the best you can. He never said that; it was just there.

"He had that kind of stature. He was an icon and you respected him for that."

 


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