Too often we don’t get to show our appreciation and admiration for someone until they have died which means it’s their family who hears the words or sees the evidence that a life was lived well and served as a benefit to many. 

Robert "CZ" Czarniewski (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Fortunately those associated with the Island Heights Grade School did not wait too long to say thanks to Bob Czarniewski as two years ago they dedicated the school gymnasium to him in a ceremony I attended and spoke at. 

It was June 4, 2013 and it came at the end of his 40th year of teaching physical education at the school.  The evening was a “lovefest” as past and present students talked about a teacher who was more than that. He was a mentor and friend whose gym was a safe haven and fun place to be.  From that point on it would be called the Robert “CZ” Czarniewski Gymnasium.

My relationship with Bob goes back to the mid 70s when I was attending Ocean County College and served as the public address announcer for the men’s basketball team. He operated the scoreboard, a position he held from 1972 through this past season.  When I started the WOBM Christmas Classic in 1984 I asked him if he would work the clock and of course he said “yes.”  He would do that for every game played over 31 years at OCC and later the Pine Belt Arena. He never missed a game and was a great asset, so much so that in 2000 we presented him with an award for his contributions to the tournament.   

Former Island Heights student Danielle Gabriel with Cz. She received a $500 college scholarship with extra money raised in the community for the commemorative plaque.(Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Bob loved basketball and soccer, a sport he coached for many years in Toms River. In 1985 he took over as head coach at TR East and guided the Raiders to a Group 4 state title and then moved back into the more comfortable role of being an assistant.

I said earlier that I spoke at the gym dedication two years ago and this Friday at the request of his brother Dan I will speak again about “CZ” but the circumstances will be quite different. Last weekend Robert Czarniewski died at the age of 66, suffering a heart attack at home just a month shy of completing his 42nd year of teaching. 

There’s a huge hole in the hearts of many from past and present students, former soccer players and all of us associated with the WOBM Christmas Classic.   We will say good-bye tomorrow at Anderson & Campbell Funeral Home on Main Street in Toms River from 2 p.m. - 4 p.m.  and 7 p.m. -9 p.m. and there will be a service at the funeral home Friday morning at 10. The bronze plaque in the Island Heights Grade School gym will serve as a constant reminder that CZ truly made a difference and has left a lasting legacy.