Considered by many to be the best all-around athlete to graduate from Nyack High School, John R. VanWyck III excelled in whatever sport in which he participated. At 6’2” and carrying 210 pounds on his well-proportioned physique, he was an imposing triple threat from the fullback position in the single wing formation. He averaged over 50 yards a kick as a punter in his junior year and was selected by The Journal-News as the MVP for that season (1943), as Nyack finished in a tie with Pearl River for the county title. In 1944, John was the leading scorer in Rockland County football, and was named to the All-County team for the second consecutive year.
His junior year (he acquired the nickname Zombie over the summer) he led Nyack to a second place finish (2 one point losses to Haverstraw), ending the basketball season as the 8th leading scorer in Rockland. In 1945 he was 3rd in scoring behind Haverstraw’s Rocco Morano (member of Rockland’s Hall of Fame). It was also his second consecutive year being selected for All-County.
Baseball was perhaps John’s best sport, where he excelled as a hard-throwing pitcher and powerful clean-up hitter. He led Nyack in 1944 to its first title since 1936. His senior year (1945) Zombie pitched a no-hitter with 14 strikeouts over Congers High School (which became Clarkstown in the 1950’s). Two weeks later John bested Haverstraw’s Paul Urban (member of Rockland’s Hall of Fame) and fanned 13 Red Raiders.
Whenever there was a track meet being held on the same day as baseball and he was not pitching, Zombie would throw the shot and discus (allowable in those days to participate in 2 sports in the same season). He entered the Rockland County meet in 1945 and placed first in the shot put and discus, falling 6” short of breaking the discus record. These feats gave him All-County honors in his fourth sport.
During the winter of his senior year, Zombie led his team to the championship of the Nyack YMCA Community Bowling League with an average just under 200.
After serving in the U.S. Navy during 1945-6, John attended Muhlenberg College for a semester. Connie Mack, the owner and venerable manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, personally signed him to a baseball contract in 1947 as a primary pitcher and assigned him to Lincoln, Nebraska (a AAA classification). In spring training, he met and competed with fellow pitchers such as Dick Fowler, Carl Scheib and Bob Savage, all of whom made it to the A’s in The American League.
John also played in the outfield and it was there that he injured his shoulder and back. In 1948 he tried to come back with the local Nyack Rockies, but his fastball was no longer explosive and he was used primarily as a hitter.
In the winter of 1947-8, John joined the Detroit Clowns, a well-known semi-pro touring basketball team (a la The Harlem Wizards).
In the 1950’s, he turned his attention to golf, where he became a proficient scratch player (72 with 0 handicap) for several decades. He recorded his best score of 61 at the Blue Hill course in Orangetown.
John could also hold his own as a doubles player in tennis in the 1970’s and 80’s, as well as being an excellent diver and swimmer.
Jim Brown (Nyack’s Hall of Famer from the 1950’s) said, “As a fifth grader I learned from John how to kick a ball over 50 yards later in my high school career. All of us kids looked up to John.”
John VanWyck died in April 1990 – a shy, modest, multi-talented athlete – admired by friends and foes alike for his athletic abilities and clean sportsmanship.