PATERSON, NJ - John F. Kennedy High School (JFK) seniors Jayson Triunfer and Jahmall Readus both have football on their minds. The same is the case for junior Steven Rojas, though the fall gridiron season is still months away.
Triunfer has accepted a full-ride athletic scholarship to play for Fort Scott Community College, in Kansas. Readus was awarded a partial scholarship and will take the field for New Jersey’s Caldwell University. Rojas is looking forward to playing middle linebacker for Kennedy Head Coach Ron Jackson and building upon last fall’s state playoff qualifying squad.
The day before graduation, the trio all had one thing in common. Each were mourning the loss of their former coach, Walter Munk.
Last week, the well-respected instructor and mentor unexpectedly passed away following a surgery.
The three sat down with TAPinto Paterson and elaborated on the tremendous impact Coach Munk, had made on their lives, both on the field and off.
Munk’s coaching career spanned three decades, including stops at Paterson Catholic, St. Mary’s, Passaic, and Clifton before taking on the top job as the head coach of JFK’s freshman squad in 2014.
It wasn’t just the play on the field that mattered to him, the three standout athletes said. Coach Munk was equally as concerned about the young men’s academic ventures as he was their football exploits.
Coach Munk was my coach in 9th grade,” Triunfer stated. “He was very hard working. He’d do anything for us kids. He always got along with everybody. He was very positive. He helped me prepare not only for football but for life.”
The 18-year old credited the early influence of Coach Munk’s work ethic as inspirational in helping him develop from a player who was just beginning to learn the game to earning a starting position at both defensive and offensive tackle for the Knights’ varsity. Triunfer can now bench press a whopping 385 pounds and has been contacted by several universities, including the University of Nebraska, to possibly continue his football career after junior college, he said.
“Usually, on football teams, the varsity practices run later than those of the 9th grade team,” Triunfer said. “But our freshmen year the varsity usually went to the locker room before we did. But the hard work really paid off. We had a 9-2 record that season.”
“I remember that Coach Munk used to call me ‘The Godfather’, Truinfer continued. “He said that because I was the oldest looking guy on the team. But, he also helped me all through high school. He helped me weigh the options of which colleges I should attend.”
Readus played tight-end and middle-linebacker for the Knights this past season. He and Triunfer were 9th grade teammates. The 19-year old said he especially remembered that Coach Munk would always go the extra mile for his players.
“Coach Munk always took time to talk with you,” Readus recounted. “If he felt there was something wrong, or something was bothering somebody, he would take them aside and talk it over. He was always there. You could depend on him.”
Readus said that at times if a player needed reprimand, Coach Munk would not hesitate to go to their classroom, call them out, and, “tell them to shape up and do better.”
“We played our freshmen games on Saturday mornings,” Readus reminisced. “Every Friday night, after practice, Coach Munk would serve us a dinner in the locker room. There were always sandwiches, pasta, baked chicken, and more. Also, on Saturday mornings, I would roll out of bed just in time for my mom to drive me to school to get ready to play. Coach Munk would always have bagels and cereal ready for us on game day.”
Rojas recalled Coach Munk’s regular protocol with not just athletes but with all students.
“Coach was always in the hallways checking up on people, even if they weren’t football players,” the soon-to-be senior said. “He would check up on your grades and make sure you were doing okay.”
Rojas said that due to his freshman mentor’s guidance he chose to focus on football over the favorite sport of his native country, the Dominican Republic.
“If it wasn’t for Coach Munk’s encouragement and inspiration to me that year to keep going, I don’t think I would be playing now.” Rojas explained. “Now I am working hard toward playing football in college.”
Rojas said that Coach Munk made one final gesture of bonding.
“Coach Jackson was away coaching for the North-South game,” Rojas said. “Coach Munk was in charge of overseeing the players during weight lifting. Before everyone left, he told us he was having surgery. We all wished him well as we left.”
Jackson said that he and his staff, as well as the entire JFK family, were deeply saddened by the loss of their friend.
“Coach Munk was a very loyal coach to the staff, to the kids, and to the school community,” Jackson stated. “I could count on him 100%. He was always dependable.”
Jackson said that Munk also helped coach the varsity on game days by providing updates from the scorer’s booth on defensive alignments of opposing teams and assisted with other duties, as well.
“This is a loss for everyone,” Jackson concluded.
“Coach Munk was dedicated to making the lives of our young folks better. He was also just a good dude," In a Paterson Recreation Director Benjie Wimberly wrote partially in a Facebook post. "The last time I saw him, he was a volunteer coach at the Victor Cruz Football Camp. Coach Munk will be missed and his impact will be everlasting.”
The beloved role model also worked in the Paterson Public Schools Special Education Department as a student-aide at JFK.
“Coach Munk was a one-on-one with a young man who is physically and mentally challenged,” Joe Feoli, team leader of Kennedy’s West Side Café, said. “We have two classes of 20 students each who we work with here in the culinary program to provide them with skills for life after high school. I worked with Coach Munk for two years. He got along really well with all of the students and would always go out of his way to help others. He always had a smile on his face.”
Feoli said that returning to school was difficult for the young people.
“Many of the students were crying,” Feoli said. “They were all very sad. We had a long discussion. What helped was that we had a time of remembering and expressing the good and pleasant memories about Coach Munk. That really helped the students.”
“My sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Coach Munk and the JFK family," Zatiti Moody, Principal of Paterson’s Great Falls Academy, stated. "We lost a true soldier in Brother Munk. He was truly dedicated to coaching and a good man with a great spirit for helping young men develop. This is a big loss for the entire county. God Bless you all!! RIP Coach Munk.”
Munk was also a dedicated member of the Roger Williams Baptist Church, in Passaic. He regularly volunteered for many events and ministries there as well as assisting Pastor William Davison.
Memorial service plans are underway and will be posted when announced.
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