Wayne Babcanec's life hinged on a job interview at his old high school.
If he had gotten that job at New Brighton (Pa.) High School, he would have been back with his old buddies having fun and coaching football.
It would have been a dream-come-true for a kid who lived right across the river from Beaver Falls High School, home of Joe Namath, one of the National Football League's most famous quarterbacks whom Babcanec watched play in the 1960s. Namanth led the New York Jets to a 16-7 victory over the Baltimore Colts in Super Bowl III.
Babcanec didn't get the job. Instead, he applied at Norwalk and was hired in the fall of 1974. It was the same year the Norwalk Truckers were state football champions.
He came in with a winner and, as far as he is concerned, he's going out with a winner.
Babcanec, who will turn 58 in June, announced last week he will retire as superintendent of the Norwalk City Schools on July 31.
"The time is right because you want to go out when things are going well and things are going well," Babcanec said. "I started where I will retire. I started teaching second grade at Benedict School and will leave as superintendent of Benedict School (now the district's central office).
"Norwalk has been very good to me and my family. I don't plan on going anywhere. Probably the best thing to ever happen to me was getting hired by Norwalk. I applied at my old high school and did not get he job. I was devastated. This worked out great for me."
Babcanec's father was a steelworker. As a kid, he and his family usually vacationed on the lake between Vermilion and Cedar Point during the last week of July
"I was familiar with the area when I was looking for a job," he said. "I saw the opening at Norwalk, applied and was hired."
Babcanec said one of the reasons he was hired was because while working on his master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh, he interned as a second-grade teacher.
"Everybody wanted a man at the elementary school, especially at Norwalk where you had principals sharing schools," he said. "Back then it was good to have a male presence."
Babcanec stayed at Norwalk until 1980, when he was hired away by the South Central Local Schools. He served one year as middle school principal in North Fairfield and five as elementary principal for two buildings in Greenwich.
He returned to Norwalk in 1986, then moved into the central office to be assistant superintended under Virginia Poling. "I was assistant for 8 1/2 years and superintendent for 7 1/2 years," Babcanec said. "I've been in this office for 16 years. I think that is a reason. It's time to bring in a person with new ideas. The district will be rejuvenated."
Looking back, Babcanec said some the of things he is most proud of is the progress the schools have made with their achievement levels, implementation of the all-day, every-day kindergarten, Main Street School, the technology program and "some of the cutting-edge things we are doing in Norwalk."
"The one thing I won't miss the most is getting up at 4 o'clock checking the roads (on snowy mornings)," he said with a laugh.
He will miss interacting with the staff, about half of whom he helped hire. "I will miss the people."
He added: "I couldn't have gotten any better mentors than Lowell Etzler, Fred Walter and Virginia Poling."
The biggest part of the job?
"The responsibility," he said. "You are ultimately responsible for what goes on with the schools. It took me awhile to realize that. I knew about the finance and chain of command. What I didn't fully realize is the weight of the responsibility."
In a few months, the only person he will have to answer to is his wife, Carole. The couple have two grown sons, Ben and Joe, and they are expecting their first grandchild in six weeks.