Paul Zolak

Paul Zolak with his daughter, Heather, on her wedding day.

Scott Zolak lost his biggest fan.

Paul Zolak, who served as athletic director at Ringgold and Bethel Park high schools, died April 14 of inclusion body myositis, a muscle disease.

Scott Zolak spent an hour on his podcast “Zolak and Bertrand” talking about his father and what he meant to him.

“We’re down one listener and one viewer,” Scott Zolak said through tears and a halting voice. “You guys know what he meant to me. The last time I was with him, I told him I wanted to stick around and he said, ‘You get your butt back to Boston. You have to get back to the show.’”

Scott Zolak said his father put up a long fight against the disease, which strikes men over age 50 the most.

Symptoms of inclusion body myositis progress more slowly than the other types of myositis with weakness increasing gradually, sometimes over years. For this reason it is not uncommon for patients to realize that they had been experiencing symptoms for many years before they were diagnosed.

“I don’t talk about it much,” Scott Zolak said. “We’re human.

“This is what we do. We talk about sports, and about life and I think we do a good job. No one was a bigger fan of what we did than him. It’s tough. It’s tough signing off and he’s not there. Man, he taught me everything.”

Paul Zolak was a 1965 graduate of Donora High School, where he was a standout on the football and baseball teams. His specialty was as a kicker and punter. He also played tight end.

Paul Zolak attended California University, where he was a kicker and backup quarterback to All-American Jeff Petrucci.

Paul’s son would follow a similar path. Scott played at Ringgold High School then earned the starting quarterback job at the University of Maryland. Drafted by the New England Patriots, he mainly served as Drew Bledsoe’s backup.

After his retirement, Scott became a sportscaster and football analyst in the New England area.

After 37 years at Ringgold, Paul Zolak served as athletic director at Bethel Park High School from 1997 through 2004. He also spent 2005-06 as the interim AD there.

“Paul was the kindest, most compassionate and personable individual that I have ever worked with or knew,” said Jim Knapp.

The Bethel Park High School guidance counselor has had a particularly bad month as two colleagues recently past as well. Wayne Paul, former BP assistant basketball coach, passed on Good Friday and the school’s longtime softball coach Glenn Hughes died March 11. Along with those educators, BPHS has also lost Jerry Roman and John Andrejko from the administration as well.

“Paul was the consummate professional. He took the time for every one. He made everyone feel important,” Knapp said.

‘Tony Fisher agreed. The social studies teacher worked with Zolak to create the school’s Hall of Fame in 1999.

“Paul treated everyone right. He had a presence about him. (He had an) ability to give speeches and presentations that were unparalleled,” said the president of the HOF committee.

Zolak appealed to the student athletes, too. Joe Bianco was a senior on the football team when Zolak arrived on campus.

“He was one of the best,” he said. “He played a huge role in turning around our football program and was an enormous help in making college football decisions.”

Sam Vieceli and Vince Sortino summed up the loss. Vieceli was the boys varsity soccer coach during Zolak’s tenure as BP. Sortino, an Upper St. Clair resident, was an athletic director at Baldwin High School.

“Paul was a kind, caring and passionate person. Always there for you not only as a coach but as a person,” Vieceli said. “A true professional that will be deeply missed.”

“A great AD,” Sortino said, “and even a greater person.”

Almanac Sports Editor Eleanor Bailey contributed to this story.

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