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Keene State's Jasinski to Officiate Shrine Maple Sugar Game

KEENE, N.H. 7/30/08 - Saturday can’t come soon enough for Keene State College chemistry professor Dr. Jerry Jasinski. That’s when the amiable Newport, N.H., native will put down his test tubes, flasks, and beakers and pick up his whistle to officiate the 55th Annual Shrine Maple Sugar Football Game at Memorial Field in Hanover.

But it won’t be just any officiating assignment for Jasinski, who will also be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the year he donned shoulder pads and helmet and played in the prestigious game.

“I’m sure I’ll get the same feeling as when I played in 1958,” said Jasinski, who now lives in Springfield, Vt., and has been a member of the Vermont Officials Association the past 35 years. “I remember running out of the tunnel and having butterflies everywhere. I know it’s going to be an awesome experience.”

Jasinski remembers the game well. A strapping 18-year-old, standing 6-5 and weighing about 185 pounds at the time, Jasinski had just completed his senior year, class of 1958, at Towle High School in Newport.

Getting selected to play in the game was a big thing in the little town. “It’s the biggest honor you could get,” Jasinski said. “I’d get thumbs up from people as I walked down the street.”

With state pride on the line, Jasinski showed up at practice ready to go. The first order of business was getting his uniform. Letting the rest of the players rummage though the jerseys, Jasinski, who played tackle and end, settled on #15. Back then, numbers didn’t have the same significance they do today.

Jasinski opened up some eyes during the practice sessions. After a couple of days of knocking horns, he was approached by a couple of his teammates from Manchester and Concord. “Who are you and where are you from?” they inquired.

“I finally got their attention when I put them on their back a few times,” Jasinski said. “I wanted to show them that guys from Newport knew how to play the game.”

Football in August can quickly separate the men from the boys, especially when the temperature is reaching the mid-80 degree mark. Despite the conditions, Jasinski persisted. “At the end of the first quarter my feet were burning, but I just sucked it up,” he said. Playing both sides of the line of scrimmage for his team, he helped New Hampshire shut out the Vermonters 18-0. Jasinski recalls making a couple of tackles at the five-yard line to preserve the shutout.

Flipping through a battered scrapbook, Jasinski points out team pictures and a few action shots from the game. “Here’s when I almost blocked a punt,” said an animated Jasinski, standing up and pounding his fists in the air.

For all the fanfare and esteem that came from winning the game, Jasinski said his most vivid memories of the experience were not on the field, but a few days before, when he and his teammates visited the Shriner’s Hospital in Springfield, Mass.

“To this day I remember seeing those kids, some in traction, others with burns covering their bodies,” he said. “You think you have problems? You have no problems compared to these kids. To me that’s what this game is all about.”

After the Shriner’s game, Jasinski removed his helmet and pads for the final time. Attending the University of New Hampshire, where he was recruited yearly to go out for the football team, Jasinski instead decided to concentrate on track and basketball and pursue a degree in chemistry. “Football might have been my best sport, but it just wasn’t in the cards,” he said.

Jasinski was encouraged to get into officiating by his former high school coach Bob Underhill. He began officiating games while earning his Ph.D. at the University of Wyoming. Moving back to the Connecticut River valley, Jasinski accepted a position in the chemistry department at Keene State, where he has been on the faculty for the past 30 years. He has served as assistant track and field coach at Keene State for 15 years and counting, runs the Vermont State Decathlon/Heptathlon Championships, which he established 33 years ago, and continues to officiate football games.

“Officiating football and coaching track is a diversion,” said Jasinski, who celebrated his 68th birthday this week. “It gets me out of the lab and out with the kids.”

Now, 50 years after his first Shrine game, Jasinski will have an opportunity to walk out of the tunnel and perform in front of thousands of fans again. His job and uniform might be different, but the reason for being there remains the same. After all these years, Jasinski says that first visit to the Shriner’s Hospital still resonates as one of the most humbling and memorable experiences that he has ever had. “That is what this Shrine game is all about. And to be able to serve the game again in this capacity just reinforces the purpose and sense of it all.”

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Keene, New Hampshire 03435