Penn Twp. alum receives honor from IUP
John Marefka was an AP Little All-American, but there was nothing little about his achievements on the athletic fields.
Marefka, a 1950 Penn Township High School graduate and native of Claridge, was inducted this fall to the Indiana University of Pennsylvania Athletic Hall of Fame for his accomplishments as a four-year letterman in both football and baseball.
The 1956 graduate of what was then known as Indiana State Teacher's College, or ISTC, was a two-time all Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference end, and in 1955, he was picked as a Little All-American and second-team all-state selection. On the baseball diamond, he led ISTC during his senior season with a .401 batting average while playing in the outfield, which made his eventual selection into the IUP Hall of Fame a no-brainer.
“It was terrific to be selected,” said Marefka, who now lives in Copley, Ohio. “You always think it's going to happen, but it's still special when it happens.”
Since graduating, Marefka went on to a successful career as a rubber chemist, as he cofounded Graphic Arts Rubber, Qualiform Rubber and Kleen Polymers, all firms based in Ohio. And though he hasn't lived in the Penn Township area since his college graduation, he still has some family living locally, including his brothers, Ted and Robert.
Marefka's path to being one of ISTC's football greats — he was named to the school's pre-1960 all-time team — wasn't a direct one from Penn Township, however, and he almost ended up suiting up for a different college in the region.
“At the time I graduated (high school), I had a chance to go up to St. Vincent,” he said. “I was up there for a couple of weeks trying to make the football team, but I ended up coming back to Claridge.”
Marefka added some size in the two years between his high school graduation and his arrival in Indiana, as he grew from 165 to 195 pounds, and in 1952, he was back on the tryout field with the Indians.
“I think the thing I remember most about going up there was that I played at a Class B (now AA) school, so I went up there playing with a lot of guys from bigger schools and wondering if I could play with them,” Marefka said. “But I eventually made the team and played a lot.”
Eventually Marefka reached 215 pounds, a big weight for an end in that era, and became a starter and a star for the Indians, who had a 16-16 record during Marefka's years.
The most unexpected thing about his football success, Marefka said, was that he always considered baseball to be his primary sport.
“I played four years of baseball up there, and that was always the sport I thought I was best at growing up,” he said. “I played a lot of baseball on Legion teams and other teams around Jeannette and Claridge.”
Marefka was inducted to the IUP Hall of Fame with 13 other inductees, including three others from the ITSC era of the school. He still stays involved with IUP, as he follows the team's progress on the Internet and returns periodically for fundraisers and golf outings.
But even with being honored by the university community, Marefka said, the biggest treat for him was that all four of his children and all 15 of his grandchildren were able to attend the induction after arriving from places ranging from Ohio to Alabama.
“There were 13 other inductees, and one of them was even a teammate of mine,” he said. “It was a great weekend. The whole thing was quite nice, but the best thing about it was that they all made it up.”
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.