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Column: Dick Trachok gave his life to the Pack and was our portal to the past

Trachok
From left to right, UNR president Joe Crowley, former Nevada star Marion Motley and Dick Trachok talk before a Wolf Pack game. (Nevada athletics)

I last spoke with Dick Trachok in June. I was working on a story about what would have been the 100th birthday of Marion Motley, and if you wanted to know anything about Nevada athletics history, your first call was to Trachok, whose connection to the Wolf Pack spanned parts of nine decades, dating to when he joined the football team as a talented halfback in the late 1940s.

Trachok died Sunday at age 94, his life being dedicated to two things: his family and Wolf Pack athletics. Nobody knew more about Nevada's athletics than Trachok, and that's because he lived it. Whenever I wanted insight or a number for a former Wolf Pack star, all I did was call Dick.

"Can you tell me about Sherman Howard? Do you have a number for Dan Orlich? Do you know Joe Bliss' address? Where is Bill Mackrides living these days?"

I asked all of these questions to Trachok, who was the Wolf Pack's last living link to the formation of the school's athletic department. Trachok was more than willing to regale me on the great Wolf Pack stars of the 1940s, 1950s, 1960s and beyond. They weren't just names in a media guide to Dick. They were friends. He kept up with them. He let them know how the Wolf Pack was doing. He made them feel valued and important because together they built Nevada athletics.

I loved talking to Dick, and his historic filofax of names, numbers and newspaper clippings outlining the history of Wolf Pack athletics were always open to me. He smiled when talking about the good ole days when he played in the 1940s. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, the Jerome, Penn., native headed west to Nevada via a pipeline then-coach Jim Aiken had built to The Keystone State. While he might have been born in Pennsylvania, Trachok's live was lived in Reno, which had a population of around 30,000 when he enrolled in college. Reno is where he met his future wife Fran, who he was married to for 67 years before she passed in 2017. Reno is where he escaped what likely would have been a hard life in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.

When you talked to Dick, you could tell how much he loved Wolf Pack athletics and how much he enjoyed sharing stories of the past. The more eager you were to hear his stories, the more excited he was to teach you. After all, he was an educator first and foremost, earning a job teaching mathematics at Reno High upon graduating from Nevada in 1949. And he educated so many about Wolf Pack athletics. Trachok was our portal to the past, the one who kept alive the memories of long-gone Wolf Pack stars whose achievements wouldn't have changed without Trachok but our appreciation for them would have faded much quicker. And the old Nevada stars always appreciated him for that.

While he didn't call Nevada home until the late 1940s, Trachok's knowledge of the department pre-dated that. He became close friends with James "Rabbitt" Bradshaw, who starred for the Wolf Pack from 1920-21. Trachok befriended many members of those 1920s teams and watched the Wolf Pack play into 2020, his personal depth of knowledge of Nevada athletics literally spanning a century.

But Trachok was more than just a living Wolf Pack encyclopedia and the eminent historian on Nevada athletics. Other than College Football Hall of Fame coach Chris Ault, no person had a bigger impact on Wolf Pack athletics than Trachok, and Trachok gets credit for first recruiting Ault as a quarterback out of San Bernardino, Calif., before hiring him as the Wolf Pack's head coach in 1976.

Trachok also hired legendary baseball coach Gary Powers, who won more than 900 games; men's basketball coach Sonny Allen, who led the Wolf Pack to its first two NCAA Tournament berths; and swimming coach Jerry Ballew, who guided his program to a 1979 AIAW national championship. During Trachok's tenure, Nevada became a bona fide Division I athletic department when it joined the Big Sky in 1979. Lawlor Events Center was built under his watch and Mackay Stadium doubled in capacity. Much of the modern Wolf Pack athletic department was formed under Trachok.

Before that, he was an elite athlete, so good in football the Wolf Pack retired his No. 21 (one of just six retired numbers in Nevada athletics history) and so good in track and field it was said he was never beaten in the 400 meters. As athletic director, he founded the Wolf Pack Hall of Fame and was humble enough not to put himself in the first class. It shows you how accomplished Trachok was when his six large-class state titles as Reno High's football coach is almost a footnote. In addition to everything else, Trachok is one of the greatest local high school coaches of all time.

Trachok was part of an incredible three-man run of athletic directors for Nevada. From 1951-2004, a period of 53 years, the Wolf Pack had only three ADs: Glenn "Jake" Lawlor followed by Trachok followed by Ault, three men who formed Nevada athletics. Trachok's name may have been the least known to the general public because the Wolf Pack's basketball arena is named after Lawlor and Nevada's football field is named after Ault. In 2017, I advocated in favor of the Wolf Pack's Hall of Fame room be named after Trachok "while he’s still here to be celebrated and appreciated for his more than 50 years of service to Nevada athletics." Despite his passing, it's not too late to do that, if not something more grandiose.

Trachok's last days were spent with family, and he had a big one, not only those biologically related to him, but those in the "Wolf Pack family." Trachok was the person who bound together 70 years of Wolf Pack athletes, coaches and fans. The old newspaper clippings he kept in a manila folders will remain, although his stories will be missed. Whenever I asked Trachok about an old Wolf Pack star, he'd always say, "He was a great athlete, and on top of that a first-class guy."

The same should be said of Trachok. A great athlete, A great man. A Wolf Pack legend who will be missed by all who had the good fortune to met him.

Sports columnist Chris Murray provides insight on Northern Nevada sports. Contact him at crmurray@sbgtv.com or follow him on Twitter @ByChrisMurray.

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