Most of all, John P. Duda was “respected.”
That assessment comes from former Oak Hill High School football coach Tom Mason, who was among the coaches to follow Duda on the Red Devil sidelines.
Duda, 89, passed away Saturday, July 14 in St. Albans.
One of the founders of the Oak Hill High/Collins High School Alumni Association and the man after whom the school named its football stadium, Duda wielded influence as a player, coach and ardent supporter of Oak Hill/Collins sports over the years.
He was Collins High’s head coach from 1955 to 1959, posting a 35-15 record, which included two 9-1 seasons. “We had some good teams,” Mason, the OHHS head coach for 20 years ending in 1994, said of his playing days under Duda. “He was also a great track coach,” added Mason, who ran the 440-yard dash and relays for the Red Devils.
Mason was a longtime neighbor of Duda’s until Duda left Oak Hill for the Kanawha Valley earlier this decade.
“He was the type of neighbor you open up the door and go on in,” said Mason. “We would talk sports (and other things).” More than neighbors, the men were golfing buddies and friends.
Mason respected Duda’s coaching acumen and work ethic.
“He was a disciplinarian. He was very intelligent (as far as game plans, scouting and planning practices). He was an all-around good leader. And he was respected, that was the big thing.”
Before he coached and taught countless athletes and students, Duda himself was a standout athlete at Oak Hill and was inducted into the school’s hall of fame in 1984. He started his collegiate career after accepting a scholarship from Virginia Tech. World War II intervened, then he finished up at the University of Virginia, from which he earned honorable mention All-America designation.
Merry Hanning, past president of the Oak Hill High/Collins High School Alumni Association, said she’d known Duda — a Scarbro native — since she was a youngster and worked with his wife, Dottie, at the hospital. “As an adult, I developed an even greater appreciation for him,” Hanning said. She praised his “dedication to education, his love of football and coaching, and his love of the students.”
“He was a very dynamic force; he had such vision,” she added.
Velma Spencer Foster was a year ahead of Duda at OHHS, and she joined him, Bob Painter and others in getting the alumni association up and running. Foster was impressed by Duda.
“John was a very knowledgeable person,” she said. “Anything that John put his mind to, he did a good job at it.
“He loved his family and was real proud of his family. And he was a real good friend. You could confide in him.”
Foster also praised Duda’s teaching skills. Recalling a time when she took a post-graduation math class from Duda, she said with a chuckle, “He was a teacher and a half. You had to really be on your toes.”
The alumni association was one of three organizations to which the family requested memorial gifts be made in lieu of flowers. Hanning said any donations made to the alumni group will be used to establish a scholarship in Duda’s honor.
“John was such a good man,” Mason said. “Oak Hill has lost an icon.”
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