Verkleeren was one of premier players for ’61 Cougars
(This is the sixth in a series on the Mid Mon Valley Sports Hall of Famers who will be honored Friday at The Willow Room.)
Dr. John Verkleeren is best known for being one of Charleroi High’s premier football players in 1961 and also being a gridder at the University of Pittsburgh.
Verkleeren, however, came close to not being a gridder after high school or even wearing a Panther uniform.
“I was accepted at the Air Force Academy to play basketball but was a half-inch too tall to be a pilot,” said the 6-3 Verkleeren. “Since I couldn’t be a fighter pilot, I decided to go the medical route.”
The Leslie Morgan Award winner as Charleroi ‘s top senor scholar-athlete, Verkleeren was one of most sought-after Cougars drawing the interest of 75 colleges.
Among the schools he visited besides Pitt were Penn State, Miami, Army and Rutgers.
Verkleeren was a two-sport standout for the Cougars in football and basketball.
He was a two-year starting two-way end for coach Rab Currie and co-captain of the 1961 team, which went 8-2 with the losses to Uniontown (13-12) and eventual WPIAL champion Monessen(19-0).
He was also three-year basketball starter and served as one of coach Henry Pennline’s co-captains the last two seasons.
Verkleeren’s most memorable football game was also his most embarrassing.
“We were playing at home against Beth-Center when I made my best catch ever on the fingertips on a pass from Stan Kemp,” he recalled. “I ripped the whole back of my pants on the play and had to have the players huddle around me so I could change pants on the field.”
As a sophomore at Pitt, Verkleeren lettered on the 1963 Panthers, who went 9-1 with the lone loss to Navy and Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach.
The following year Verkleeren started at defensive end when Pitt opened on national television with a 17-12 loss at UCLA.
Verklereen, however, didn’t play another down in the remainder of a disappointing 3-5-2 showing after suffering a knee injury on a crackback block in practice.
Although Verkleeren played in 1965, the less said about his senior campaign the better.
“It was not a good experience,” he recalled. “I was severely hampered by the injury. The knee didn’t feel good and my head really wasn’t into it.”
After gradauting from Pitt’s medical school in 1971 and completing his internship at Mercy Hospital the following year, Verkleeren went to Cali-fornia and the Naval Aca-demy in Oakland where he was the chief medical resident.
Verkleeren retired after 20 years with the Navy and went to San Diego ,where he’s been chief of cardiology for 10 years at Kaiser, which has 15 cardiologists that cares for 500,000 in the city.
Verkleeren works out of Zion Hospital in San Diego and Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla.
Earlier this year Verkleeren showed the effects of his football injury with a total knee replacement.