West Point graduate Priatko honored at Norwin School Board meeting
Norwin High School and U.S. Military Academy graduate Dan Priatko, who fought back after sustaining life-threatening injuries in a 1985 car crash, was honored Monday with the Noble Knight Award.
Priatko, 55, was recognized at the Norwin School Board meeting with the award for his “uncommon spirit, determination and desire to ‘live above the common level of life,' as he likes to recite from the West Point Cadet Prayer.”
Superintendent William Kerr presented Priatko with the award, which symbolizes the seven character traits of the Noble Knight: respect, responsibility, courage, honesty, perseverance, fairness and caring. Priatko was given an autographed copy of “Stand Your Ground: Building Honorable Leaders the West Point Way,” written by West Point graduate Evan Offstein.
“His story is one of courage, loyalty, duty and honor — not only to his community, but to these United States,” Kerr said in presenting the award.
Priatko, given a standing ovation by those who packed the board room, thanked school officials “from the bottom of my heart.”
Recalling his days as a cadet at West Point, Priatko said it was important to “work hard and do your best ... never quit ... and give your all.”
Priatko, a 1980 Norwin graduate, was senior class president and was selected Norwin's Outstanding Male Student. He was a running back and linebacker on the football team, as well as captain and the team's most valuable player.
At West Point, Priatko focused on Russian-area studies and the Russian language, influenced by his family's Ukrainian Orthodox Christian faith. He was a placekicker for Army's football team and had the highest grade point average of a senior varsity letterman.
After graduating from the academy in 1984 and completing airborne and Army Ranger schools, he was preparing for his first deployment to Germany when tragedy struck in March 1985. While driving home from West Point with his sister, Deborah, their car slid off Interstate 81 near Hazelton in an ice storm and hit a concrete abutment. Deborah suffered minor scrapes, but Priatko suffered a head injury that put him in a coma for nearly a year. He was in the hospital for 14 months and needed a feeding tube for almost a year.
The prognosis from his doctors was that he would not survive, let alone walk. He proved them wrong when he started walking a year after the crash and came home in 1986.
About 20 years later, Priatko volunteers at Redstone Highlands in North Huntingdon. He is a fixture at almost every Norwin home football game.
He is the son of Bill Priatko and the late Helen Priatko. His father played for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns in the late 1950s. He was an athletic director at Yough High School and taught social studies at Norwin High and Norwin Junior High East in the late '70s and early '80s.
Joe Napsha is a Tribune-Review staff writer.