Joe Cindrich was one of the top lineman to come out of Redstone High School.
When his football career was derailed because of injury he went on to have a tremendous career in education and then at the local, state and national levels of government.
Cindrich was an outstanding offensive tackle and defensive nose guard on Redstone squads that posted records of records of 1-8-1 in 1950, 5-5 in 1951 and 7-2 in 1952 when the Black Hawks lost to Monessen 6-0 and Washington 7-0. In Redstone’s second season in the Big Six Conference it captured the title with a 6-0 win over Charleroi on the road in front of 7,000 fans.
“We beat Uniontown my senior year 3-0,” Cindrich recalled. “Jim Lenhart was the Charleroi quarterback in the game we won 6-0. He later was a teammate at Pitt and he told me that I really gave him a rough time in that game in Charleroi. I played every minute in all nine games that season on both sides of the ball.”
Cindrich has fond memories of his old coach at Redstone, Joe McCune.
“Joe McCune was a wonderful guy,” Cindrich said. “He was really a good coach, he was not a mean guy like a lot of other coaches. He was a real gentleman.”
While at Redstone, Cindrich was with some very talented players.
“When I was a junior, Bobby Locke was a senior,” Cindrich recalled. “Bobby was a great punter and, of course, a very good baseball player. We had some other very good players.”
Coach McCune thought Cindrich was a special player.
McCune called the 6-0, 205-pound Cindrich, “the finest lineman in the WPIAL.”
Cindrich had the hardware following his senior season to back up that statement. He was All Big Six, All County, All WPIAL and Associated Press All State. The Wigwam Wiseman named him to their 77-man team, which included the cream of the crop from every state in the union.
Cindrich also was a member of the Western Pennsylvania All Stars, who defeated the Allegheny County All Stars, 35-15, in the Junior Chamber of Commerce All Star game played at Mt. Lebanon High School.
“I was very proud of all the honors,” Cindrich said. “It was a tough life growing up. We were poor. I’ve had the advantage of being disadvantaged. I was pleased that I was recognized like that.”
Cindrich was a hot property when he graduated from Redstone in 1952. One report had him headed to Notre Dame. He was also courted by Florida State, West Virginia, Pitt and many other schools.
“I finally decided to go to Pitt because my father was ill,” Cindrich explained. “Pappy Lewis from West Virginia came to recruit me and a lot of other coaches tried to get me to go to their school.
“I came into Pitt with a star-studded class. Joe Walton was part of that class, Corny Salvaterra was our quarterback, we also had Jim Lenhart from Charleroi, and Bob Rosborough from Donora. We had some good players in that class.”
Cindrich ran into academic difficulties at Pitt and was suspended by the Dean of Men. Cindrich was the eighth Panther prospect to leave school since the end of the 1953 season.
“I played freshman football and we were unbeaten,” Cindrich said. “I was having academic problems and I was very frustrated and it was tough. My father passed away and times were hard. There were still children at home. I thought I’d come home and go to work, but there weren’t any jobs and that’s when I went into the Marine Corps and I was able to help support my family.”
In 1955, Cindrich joined the Marine Corps and played both offensive and defense for the Parris Island Marines football team where he experienced a serious knee injury. He also served in Japan and Okinawa with the 3rd Marine Division.
“When I got into the Marine Corps the first thing I knew I was assigned to special services because I played football,” Cindrich recalled. “I ended up playing first team and the sad part about it is in about the sixth game against one of the military bases, I think it was Fort Jackson, I got hit on the kickoff because I was the kicker and tore up my knee, I broke a bone in my knee and tore cartilage and that was it. I never did fully recover. I had four surgeries during my career, including a knee replacement
“I came home in January of 1958 and when I got home my mother, brother and little sister were not home,” Cindrich said. “I found out my mother was in the hospital and she had surgery the next day. She had pancreatic cancer and she passed away in 90 days. I was transferred to Connellsville Airport to the Marine base there.”
After his discharge from the Marine Corps in 1958, Joe accepted a scholarship to play football for the Indiana University Hoosiers. Joe again sustained another serious knee injury that eventually limited his play at the next level.
“I really wanted to try college football again,” Cindrich said. “Indiana gave me a scholarship and I had two knee operations by that time. I never fully got back to my full capabilities. I had to give it up, but I still wanted to continue my education.
“With both of my parents deceased, the younger brother and my sister went to Cleveland to live with my older sister. My younger brother did not like living in Cleveland and he came to live with me in Bloomington.”
Cindrich received his BS and MS degrees from Indiana University and earned a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland in the fields of public health & safety and transportation. He served as a high school teacher and football coach for three years in Mansfield, Ohio. His brother Paul was a junior on the football team. He went on to play his junior and senior year at Mansfield and made numerous honors, namely All Buckeye Conference and All State, as a guard.
Cindrich served as a professor at several major universities, namely Western Illinois University, the University of Maryland, and San Diego State University where he helped develop the Masters of Public Health Program. He also served as the Director for Ground Safety and Health at Andrews Air Force Base.
In 1976, Cindrich was appointed to an executive position with United States Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., where he served until 1985 before joining the Social Security Administration as the Associate Deputy Commissioner for the Office of Inter-Government Affairs.
In 1987, Cindrich was appointed to a higher position as the Regional Administrator for the US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for Region IX in San Francisco. Cindrich’s duties were to oversee highway transportation safety programs for the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii, and the Trust Territories of Guam, American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands until he retired in 1998.
Since 1994, Cindrich has served on the Board of Directors for the Croatian Scholarship Fund (CSF) which has helped raise funds for over 400 Croatian students from Croatia and Bosnia Herzegovina who have earned a college degree at a university in Croatia. The White House recognized the outstanding accomplishments of the CSF program and invited Cindrich to meet with President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore as well as members of the U.S. Congress and has been honored by other national Croatian organizations.
Cindrich, 84, resides in Menlo Park, California. He had a daughter from a previous marriage who has passed away. His second wife Karen passed away four years ago.
Looking back, Cindrich is proud of his career.
“It was a struggle, but athletics was my ticket to a better life,” Cindrich said.
George Von Benko’s “Memory Lane” column appears in the Monday editions of the Herald-Standard. He also hosts a sports talk show on WMBS-AM radio from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.