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The poet in pads

By Jack Copeland

As a senior at Susquehanna, Gerry Huesken was asked in the university’s alumni magazine to explain how someone who “likes to hit people” on the football field also liked writing.

“It’s two different aspects of the same person,” he responded. “I like to express myself, and I can do so on the football field or in poetry.”

In fact, Huesken expressed himself as a well-rounded student, not only starting at offensive tackle all four years at Susquehanna, but also serving as a dormitory head resident and in student government, as a volunteer teaching assistant at a local middle school, a reporter for the student newspaper and even as the founder of an athletics booster club.

But Huesken, who today is superintendent of schools for the Conestoga Valley School District in Pennsylvania, found his passion in the written word, and specifically in poetry. He explained in that alumni magazine feature that he liked literature and writing as “expressions of human feeling.” During his sophomore year – the same year he earned honorable mention on the Associated Press’ Little All-America football team – he won the poetry prize awarded by the university’s literary magazine, and then became the journal’s poetry editor.

During his senior year, he received a $1,000 postgraduate scholarship as one of 11 National Football Foundation Scholar-Athletes for 1976 and also was awarded a $1,500 NCAA postgraduate scholarship, then became the second Division III recipient of what was then known as the NCAA’s “Today’s Top Five” award. He was the only 4.0 student among the 1977 group of honorees.

He followed the career path he planned for himself as a Susquehanna student, teaching English and coaching football and baseball in his first jobs and collecting advanced degrees at Penn and Temple, which led to administrative posts and ultimately to his selection in 1998 as Conestoga Valley’s superintendent.

Expressing himself remains a passion, as Huesken today writes a blog for school district patrons and also is featured in podcasts. He recently revealed his continuing love for the written word, as he proudly reported that Conestoga Valley students rank high in writing as measured by the Pennsylvania school proficiency exam.

“The English teacher in me hopes we don’t lose sight of one of civilization’s most important skills -- writing,” he said in a podcast last March, saying it ranks in importance alongside science, technology, engineering and mathematics. “Writing is a skill. It can be taught, learned and improved. Too often, students are intimidated by writing as an art form, when in fact it is just a means to an end, whether one is telling a story, making an argument or reporting facts.”

As a student-athlete, Huesken embraced words as an expression of love, comparing their power to painting, tapestry and sculpture in a poem published in that alumni magazine feature: “Yet I also nurture/Passions within, yearnings to aver/That, lying here with you, these moments/Might never die. But could there ever/Live the words that would these burning thoughts/So paint, or so weave them for the eye/To hold? Or could the three most weary words/So conceive still another heart from stone?”