A two-sentence response to newspaper ad led to a remarkable 44-year career of covering high school sports in Chatham and the surrounding area for Art Polakowski.
Helen Vance Levenson, the founder of the Independent Press had published the ad for a part-time sports reporter and the Chatham Township resident, a computer programmer at the time, responded.
"I saw the ad and had no idea what a resume should look like," Polakowski said. "I wrote a two-sentence letter, saying I was a passionate sports guy with no background. I guess I was the only one to apply because she hired me. On Dec. 7, 1966 - the Friday opening night of the basketball season - I covered Berkeley Heights at Westfield. That's how it all started and it went on for 44 years."
Today, the 73-year-old Polakowski is retired, but he's still ready to passionately talk Chatham sports. I was lucky enough to run into him the other day and it didn't take much to get the stories flowing. There are certain dates and events he vividly recalls, such as July 2, 1959, when his family moved to Chatham. He still lives in the same house.
The longtime Independent Press sports editor wrote about athletes from Berkeley Heights, New Providence, Summit, Chatham, Millburn, Madison, Gillette, Millington, and Stirling. But he definitely has a warm place in his heart for Chatham.
"Chatham was always a little special for me because that's where I live and where I went to school," Polakowski said. "It was very enjoyable, particularly covering the teams coached by people I knew in high school like Tony Mack and Herm Hering. These were people I continued a relationship for a significant amount of time. Tony Mack, Herm Hering, Otto Haas. I couldn't have had a more enjoyable time."
On Jan. 2, 2010, a stroke cut short his distinguished career and his attempt to return was road-blocked by changes at the Independent Press, which closed its doors for good in May of 2015.
"I was ready to go back to work and they terminated me in a way that made it look like I did it on my own," Polakowski said. "They transferred me to the Flemington office and they knew I couldn't ride to Flemington every day. I don't think my doctor would have even allowed it."
Polakowski still attended games as part of his social life for two years after he left the newspaper, but has since decided to stay away. Still, he's always ready to talk about the best Chatham teams and athletes he's seen.
High on his list are the 1966 Chatham High boys basketball state sectional championship team, the Billy Oliver-led 2007 Cougar state championship basketball team and the 1963 football team that finished 7-2.
Polakowski never saw the 2015 state sectional finalist Chatham football team or the Cougar boys basketball team that won three straight Morris County Tournament titles and reached the Group 3 state final this year. So he wasn't prepared to compare the football prowess of Timmy Adams or the all-around athletic skills of Mac Bredahl.
"Certainly the best athlete in the history of Chatham, without a shadow of a doubt, there isn't anybody close to it is Tim Keeley, a 1966 graduate," Polakowski said. "He's still one of only two Chatham baseball athletes ever to be drafted out of high school - Pat Butler (Minnesota Twins, 2009) was the second and Keeley was the first. The Mets drafted Keeley in 1966 and baseball was his third-best sport. He was a two-way back in football and a forward in basketball."
It might be debatable, but not as far as Polakowski is concerned.