Robert ‘Chuz’ Calvario remembered for sports roles in Pottstown
His influence in semi-pro Firebirds, St. Pius X football remembered

By Rosemarie Ross, The Mercury

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

POTTSTOWN >> The time was the late 1960s, and some of the top brass from the Atlantic Coast Football League were looking for a new home for their Wilmington, Del., team. They came up Route 100, scouting out Pennsylvania and stopped at the Pottstown Diner for a bite to eat. They started talking to the waitress and said, “This seems like a nice town; do you think they’d be interested in getting a professional football team?”

The waitress knew just the right man to contact: Robert “Chuz” Calvario, owner of a service station in town who ran a local Touchdown Club, annually honoring 12 area high schools.

The waitress called Calvario to the diner to talk to the ACFL guys, and the Pottstown Firebirds were born.

That story, among many being recalled this week, epitomizes the enthusiasm Calvario brought to every encounter.

A businessman, assistant football coach, sports enthusiast and one of the founders of the former St. Pius X High School, Calvario died Sunday at his longtime home on Spring Street. He was 84.

Friends and family remember him as the heart and soul of Pottstown — a giant, generous and beloved heart. .

Mass will be celebrated today in St. Aloysius Church at noon, preceded by a viewing in the Gathering Center from 9:30‐11:45 a.m. He will be laid to rest in St. Aloysius New Cemetery, Lower Pottsgrove.

His sudden passing sent shock waves across town and the surrounding area, especially among the old-timers.

All along Calvario had still been out and about, regularly meeting his longtime St. Pius X buddies for breakfast or lunch, helping people wherever and whenever he could. Calvario had been walking with a cane due to knee replacement some years ago, but otherwise was in good health, said his son Jimmy, with whom he resided.

Everybody loved “Chuz” Calvario. He was a humble, everyday people person.

In his younger days, Calvario owned and operated C & K Service Station at Beech and Charlotte streets, where he worked for 27 years.

He was a giant in what he meant and brought to Pottstown.

He helped lay the foundation for St. Pius X High School, watched it open its doors in 1953, then watched it grow into an area football power soon after.

Calvario was the one who convinced Jim Mich to take over as the Pius football head coach after Mich arrived here from Easton in 1959. And with that the legacy of the St. Pius X football program began.

Calvario was the man who brought the legendary Firebirds to Pottstown and then served as team president. To this day those Firebirds legacy lives on, not just here, but nationally.

NFL Films writer/producer Phil Tucker and cinematographer Steve Sabol became enamored with the Firebirds and followed them around for their whole 1970 season. NFL Films was a small and unknown outfit back then.

The Firebirds went on to win the ACFL championship, and Tucker and Sabol created a one-hour film, “The Making of a Championship Season in a Small Pennsylvania Town,” broadcast just prior to Super Bowl VI in January 1972.

After three years the restless Firebirds flew out of town, but they had already become a cult classic.

“Oh, they were flamboyant,” Calvario said, with a big smile some years ago. “Some of the players were turned away from the NFL because at that time, they were too flamboyant for the NFL. ...They were some real characters.”

Those Firebird memories would always bring a huge smile to his face.

“We had Pottstown Firebirds license plates made back then to sell and raise money, and I still have one of those license plates on my car,” Calvario said. ”And there isn’t a year that goes by that I’m out of town somewhere and someone will make a comment to me about it. ‘Oh, the Firebirds, we remember them.’ Everybody remembers them.”

Calvario was instrumental in the St. Pius X football program, serving as Mich’s assistant coach for eight years.

“I came to town in 1959 and got a teaching job at Pius when I was just 21 years old,” Mich recalled. “Chuz was my mentor. I didn’t know anybody up here. Nobody. And the people up there introduced me to him immediately. From there a lifelong relationship developed between Chuz and I.”

The friendship started with Calvario convincing Mich to become the Pius head football coach at the tender age of 21.

“In 1958, they had a strong group of men that formed the Pius Athletic Association and Chuz was one of the key members,” Mich recalled. “And they said, ‘We want to have a football stadium.’ So they raised the money and put up the stadium.

“At that time it was not allowed by the Philadelphia Archdiocese to have any football stadium, etc., on the property. And then downtown heard about it, that we did that. And Chuz said to the principal, “Well, what are they going to do? Come up and take it down? We already got it up,’” Mich recalled.

“My first home game as a coach was the first game at the new stadium. In ’58 they had played a varsity schedule, but played all their home games at Pottstown High. It was quite something to have that new stadium.”

Mich coached at St. Pius X for 26 years with much success. And all that while, Calvario was right there for him whenever he needed help or something done. And that didn’t stop when Mich stepped down as coach.

“That’s what friendships are all about,” Mich said. “We seemed to connect right from the beginning. His positive and optimistic outlook on life certainly had an effect on me.

“I still remember when the former Pius principal, Monsignor Joseph Murray, came to town as the principal, he called me in and said to me, ‘Coach, who do I see in town who can tell me about Pius better than anybody else?’ I told him, ‘See Chuz Calvario. If you need anything, if you want to know anything, you call Chuz.’

“He was quite a personality, quite a character. Chuz was a doer and a giver. Nothing was ever too much for him. That’s the way he lived his life.”

Ed Dobry, the Pius track and field head coach for three decades, was part of that original St. Pius X group and remained so to this day.

“I was very close to Chuz,” Dobry said.

They all had breakfast again just two weeks ago at Pied Piper Diner in Bally.

“We all went out, Jim Mich, Pete Sovia (a Pius grad and now the Upper Perkiomen girls basketball coach), myself, a couple of other people. His son Tom Calvario was there,” Dobry said. “We’re still all close and just wanted to get together. Chuz seemed very upbeat. He sure seemed OK to me.”

“All his kids went to Pius, he was totally involved in the sports programs at the school. And in the community, not just Pius,” Dobry said. “He was a dynamic individual that really, really worked well with people. He was a good guy. And people just loved him.

“I worked at Pius for 30 years, I was very close to Chuz the whole time. He was always around and he’d do anything for you, for the kids or for the sports programs. Anything you’d ask for, he’d get it done.”

Dave Psota, former St. Pius X golf and assistant football coach was also part of that tight-knit group.

“He was a wonderful, wonderful man,” Psota said. “He was the soul and spirit of St. Pius back in the day when I first started there. I was just a little ninth-grader when Mich came to Pius to teach and coach. Then I came back to coach with him for many years. Chuz was such an instrumental man in getting Jim to coach at Pius. There was no greater fan, no greater supporter, no more of a wonderful father than Chuz Calvario. He had the biggest heart of anyone I’ve ever known or will know.”

A Pottstown High School graduate, he played on the Falcons football teams as a lineman. Football was Calvario’s passion.

And there he was last fall for every game at Perkiomen School, where his son Tom Calvario is the head football coach, making his way up into the stands with his cane, a huge smile lighting up his face when a play went especially well.

When asked what his father was most proud of, Jimmy Calvario said, “I think he was most proud of his family. His kids and his grandkids.

“He was just as an everyday person who liked to help people,” Jimmy Calvario said.

Condolences have been pouring in to the Calvario family from everywhere. Phone calls, people stopping by the family home on Spring Street.

“It makes you feel good to know you have a wonderful father and people really loved him,” Jimmy Calvario said.


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