Timeless talent: Klebe inducted into Sports Hall of Fame

MELISSA YERKOV WIRE PHOTO
Bensalem resident Jack Klebe was inducted into the Bucks County Hall of Fame on April 11.

By Mike Gibson

For the Wire

If the name Jack Klebe rings a bell to fans of two sports, it’s for good reason.

Jack Klebe, the athlete, made his mark as a football player at Bensalem High School and North Carolina State.

Jack Klebe, the coach, earned a similar outstanding reputation as a wrestling coach at both Morrisville and Bishop Egan (now Conwell-Egan).

What’s interesting, though, is that one sport came naturally and one was a learned experience for Klebe, one of the newest Bucks County Sports Hall of Fame inductees.

“When I was at Morrisville (as an assistant football coach), the school district was going to shut down the wrestling program and the superintendent asked me if I wanted to take it over,” he said.

There was just one problem.

“I didn’t know anything about it [wrestling],” he said. “One of my former football players, Ed Slater, who was also a district champion wrestler, came over at night and showed me some moves and beat the hell out of me. Then I would go back and show the same moves to my wrestlers and that’s how the coaching started.”

The crash course must have worked because when Klebe went from Morrisville to assistant football coach at Youngstown State and back to Egan he led the Eagles to an unprecedented wrestling run of seven straight Catholic League championships.

“Egan was going to start the program as a club, but the kids got together and we were able to convince the principal to make it a sport,” he said. “We did it by getting all of the financial support with help from the parents and support from the community and just built it from there.”

Klebe’s road to the Bucks County Hall of Fame was a winding one but with some great scenery along the way.

As Bensalem’s starting quarterback, he led the Owls to Lower Bucks County League championships three straight years, 1963, 1964 and 1965. He was good enough to be named first-team All-Lower Bucks County quarterback all three years.

“At that time, the Lower Bucks County League had teams like Council Rock, Morrisville and Bristol and we dominated that league,” he said. “We also played the bigger schools, the powerhouses like Pennsbury and Neshaminy (then in the Big Seven Conference). It was a little different outcome, but we held our own.”

The prolific passing career led Klebe to North Carolina State, where he broke all of Roman Gabriel’s passing records. Gabriel was a former starting quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I was recruited by a few schools, including Penn State and Florida State but I took a visit to North Carolina State and fell in love with the place,” he said. “Recruiting was a little different back then. You didn’t have the early signing period and things like that. You just took your visits and decided.”

At North Carolina State, his passing helped lead the Wolfpack to the ACC championship in 1968.

“There were a bunch of big wins that I remember,” Klebe said. “We beat Florida State after they had a big win over Alabama and we had a big win at Houston when they were ranked №2 in the country.“

After North Carolina State came that initial high school coaching stint at Morrisville, then on to Youngstown State to coach the quarterbacks for three years.

His first quarterback? Former Eagle Ron Jaworski, who is now an ESPN pro football analyst.

“I didn’t teach him everything he knows but I taught him what I knew and went on from there,” Klebe said with a laugh. “I knew I had something from the first throw. They used to call him ‘The Rifle’ even back then and he rifled a 20-yard out and I knew he was going to be someone special.

“He was real talkative even back then and I’m not surprised how his career has developed. He does a great job,” he added.

The job Klebe did as a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track) was the result of some good genes and upbringing, he said.

“My dad (also named Jack) was a boxer in the Marines and played football for the Philadelphia Yellowjackets (precursor to the Eagles),” he said. “ He started me from the beginning, playing in youth football at the age of 6. I would say he was my biggest influence. My aunts were great softball players. From the time I was little, I was playing all kinds of sports.“

That his contributions led to filling up the trophy cases at Bensalem, North Carolina State and Conwell-Egan was just a bonus, as is his most recent piece of hardware.

“When you look at some of the names in there [the Bucks County Hall of Fame], it’s quite an honor,” Klebe said. “Dick Bedesem, John Petercuskie, Walt Stanley, names like that, just to be associated with them is something special.”

The special thing about Jack Klebe is that he’s the only one of them, though, who can say he earned his way in for playing one sport he loved and coaching one sport he learned to love.