Bruce Wask, a pioneer and trailblazer in the New Jersey track and field community for several decades, passed away on Sunday. He was 79.
Wask, a graduate of Cliffside Park High School and Montclair State University, was was drafted and served in the Army for two years, stationed in Fort Huachuca, Arizona before he began his career at Columbia High School in 1969.
At Columbia, Wask taught physical education and driver's education, and in 1975, Wask, along with the legendary Len Klepack, started the girls track and field program at Columbia, which became one of the greatest programs in state and U.S. high school history.
"He was the beginning force behind starting the girls program at Columbia,'' said Klepack. "If you knew Bruce, you would have loved the guy and his passion for track and field was as great as anyone in the state.''
Wask, who lived in Fredon since 1996, also coached soccer at Columbia under another legend, Gene Chyzowych, and then went on to teach and coach at Spotswood and Morris Hills and Morris Knolls. He also served as an assistant track and field coach at Seton Hall University under the great John Moon.
After leaving education for a successful thirty-year career in financial planning, Wask continued to volunteer his time to coach and mentor young athletes in track and field cross country. In 2004, Wask founded The Polar Bears Track & Field Club where he worked with hundreds of Sussex County athletes. The Polar Bears T&F Club, a USA Track & Field (USATF) sanctioned organization, was a winter extension of the Bears Youth Running Program, which is held in the spring and fall.
One of the runners that Wask coached at the Polar Bears Club was Joe Dragon, a state XC champ and Foot Locker National XC finalist during his days at High Point High School. Dragon, who graduated from High Point in 2016, went on to star at Syracuse University.
Wask was a selfless man, who was all about helping the sport and the athletes he coached in any way possible. He made an immediate and lasting impact on the lives of everyone he coached, taught, and worked with during his amazing journey.
"He was special person, who was was humble as anyone you could meet,'' said Klepack. "He coached all members of the club without any remuneration. He would get guest speakers like Joetta Clark and Lisa Morgan to speak to his club. Each year he took care of getting many of them (his club members) to Joetta's Track and Field Camp each summer.''
Morgan, who ran for Klepack at Columbia and was the head coach at Columbia from 2007-15, said Wask left behind a legacy of greatness that should never be forgotten.
"Bruce was great,'' said Morgan, a 1985 graduate of Columbia. "It was Bruce's idea to started the girls program with Klepack at Columbia. said Morgan, now the head of TCU's track and field and XC programs. "No program accomplished what Columbia did during that time, especially in Group 4. Bruce got it going, and Klepack and I continued what Bruce started.''
Wask was a member of the Yellow Frame Presbyterian Church and served on the church's governing board. He was an active participant in the Fredon Township community.
The son of the late Seymour and Helen (Moler) Wask, Bruce was predeceased by his first wife, Maureen (Norton) Wask in 1987, his second wife, Virginia (Ong Morgan) Wask in 2012, and his grandson, Andrew Romeo in 2016. He is survived by his brother, Craig Wask and wife, Joanne, of Forked River; his son, Daniel Wask and wife, Donna, of Wantage; his daughter, Katherine Bittner and husband, Michael, of Bangor, Pennsylvania; his daughter, Sarah Morgan Geldhof and husband, Dante, of Kent, Ohio; ten grandchildren, Veronica, Kelly, Randi-Marie, Daniel, Jonathan, Alexandra, Mark, Luke, Indiana, and Tigerlily.
Visitation will take place Thursday, July 29, 2021 from 3 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Smith-McCracken Funeral Home, 63 High Street, Newton. A memorial service will be held at noon on Friday, July 30, 2021 at Yellow Frame Presbyterian Church, One Yellow Frame Road, Fredon Township. Interment will follow at Yellow Frame Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to Fredon Volunteer Fire Company, 443A Route 94, Newton, NJ 07860.