Laszlo Jurak, of Hempstead, is shown with his wife, Ingrid, celebrating his 75th...

Laszlo Jurak, of Hempstead, is shown with his wife, Ingrid, celebrating his 75th birthday in 2006 at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho. Credit: Jurak family

Picture a white-haired guy in a tracksuit, constantly recruiting young athletes at all sorts of sports games by declaring in his Hungarian accent, “You should play handball. Together, we’ll see the world.”

Laszlo Jurak helped establish the popular European game in this country while also turning The Waldorf School of Garden City, where he taught physical education for 31 years, into a sports standout. He cofounded the United States Team Handball Federation in 1959 and trained more than a dozen players who made it into the Olympics and professional leagues around the world, his friends said.

“He was an evangelist for handball,” said former student Kenneth Chenault, who headed American Express for 17 years. “He had an uncanny ability to connect with people. … He believed very strongly in the team and in teamwork.”

Jurak, who coached the 1972 U.S. Olympics handball team, was teaching tennis well into his 80s, until health and surgery complications led to his death on March 4. The Hempstead resident was 92.

The natural athlete was a record-setting coach. He led The Waldorf School’s boys soccer team to 19 championships in a private school league before leaving as the athletics department chair in 1994. USA Team Handball, the governing body for the sport, called him the “all-time winningest coach” with his boys and young men’s teams nabbing 22 national championships.

“Anyone who played with heart was what really got his admiration,” said his son, Christian Jurak, of Brightwaters.

Jurak had missed his own chance at the 1956 Olympics. That fall, a few months after graduating from the prestigious University of Physical Education in Budapest, he was a member of Hungary’s Olympics basketball team when Soviet forces crushed his country’s uprising.

Accompanied by his father, the young man fled on a train headed toward the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. At the border, his father bade farewell. It was the last time Jurak saw his father.

He adapted quickly to New York after arriving in December 1956, those who knew him said. In Queens, he formed the New York Hungarians handball team to play a sport he grew up with and relished for its fast pace. At one point, he got temporary work unloading trucks for the Gigante mob family, which paid the princely sum back then of $50 a night for no questions asked, his son recounted.

For decades, Jurak worked several jobs at once. For example, during much of his school tenure, he was the tennis coach in Garden City’s recreation department and handball instructor at Adelphi University.

At The Waldorf School, where the soccer field is named after him, Jurak instituted a curriculum rooted in building core strength. He taught students a wide range of sports, including javelin throwing.

He had a “cool” vibe that attracted pupils, said high school principal Roland Rothenbucher. “My favorite memory of him is seeing him throw the ball out to the students. … There he was in a semi-reclined position on the ground, with his sunglasses and his hat on, as if he was lying on the beach, calling out instructions to his team.”

Students respected him as a demanding but good-hearted leader, who ensured boys without fathers got onto his sports teams.

“He didn’t give a lot of compliments but did give a lot of colorful and hilarious insults to our athletic ability,” recalled Nathaniel Robin, a 1981 graduate. “They were always good-natured and always had a point to them. ‘Use your other left foot’ or ‘If you had brains, you would be dangerous.’ He taught me that even in the tough talk, there was always wisdom trying to make you better.”

Jurak’s greatest legacy is the brotherhood of hundreds of former students and athletes who keep in touch, no matter their ages, said longtime friend Bill Harrison. “It’s amazing how one person impacted so many people and the circle of friends that grew out of it.”

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Ingrid Jurak, whom he met at a dance shortly after he arrived in New York, and grandson Alexander Jurak, of Dix Hills.

A wake was held March 8 at the Park Funeral Chapels in Garden City Park. A service was held March 9 at Church of St. Joseph in Garden City, followed by cremation.

Picture a white-haired guy in a tracksuit, constantly recruiting young athletes at all sorts of sports games by declaring in his Hungarian accent, “You should play handball. Together, we’ll see the world.”

Laszlo Jurak helped establish the popular European game in this country while also turning The Waldorf School of Garden City, where he taught physical education for 31 years, into a sports standout. He cofounded the United States Team Handball Federation in 1959 and trained more than a dozen players who made it into the Olympics and professional leagues around the world, his friends said.

“He was an evangelist for handball,” said former student Kenneth Chenault, who headed American Express for 17 years. “He had an uncanny ability to connect with people. … He believed very strongly in the team and in teamwork.”

Jurak, who coached the 1972 U.S. Olympics handball team, was teaching tennis well into his 80s, until health and surgery complications led to his death on March 4. The Hempstead resident was 92.

The natural athlete was a record-setting coach. He led The Waldorf School’s boys soccer team to 19 championships in a private school league before leaving as the athletics department chair in 1994. USA Team Handball, the governing body for the sport, called him the “all-time winningest coach” with his boys and young men’s teams nabbing 22 national championships.

“Anyone who played with heart was what really got his admiration,” said his son, Christian Jurak, of Brightwaters.

Jurak had missed his own chance at the 1956 Olympics. That fall, a few months after graduating from the prestigious University of Physical Education in Budapest, he was a member of Hungary’s Olympics basketball team when Soviet forces crushed his country’s uprising.

Accompanied by his father, the young man fled on a train headed toward the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, Austria. At the border, his father bade farewell. It was the last time Jurak saw his father.

Formed handball team

He adapted quickly to New York after arriving in December 1956, those who knew him said. In Queens, he formed the New York Hungarians handball team to play a sport he grew up with and relished for its fast pace. At one point, he got temporary work unloading trucks for the Gigante mob family, which paid the princely sum back then of $50 a night for no questions asked, his son recounted.

For decades, Jurak worked several jobs at once. For example, during much of his school tenure, he was the tennis coach in Garden City’s recreation department and handball instructor at Adelphi University.

At The Waldorf School, where the soccer field is named after him, Jurak instituted a curriculum rooted in building core strength. He taught students a wide range of sports, including javelin throwing.

He had a “cool” vibe that attracted pupils, said high school principal Roland Rothenbucher. “My favorite memory of him is seeing him throw the ball out to the students. … There he was in a semi-reclined position on the ground, with his sunglasses and his hat on, as if he was lying on the beach, calling out instructions to his team.”

Students respected him as a demanding but good-hearted leader, who ensured boys without fathers got onto his sports teams.

“He didn’t give a lot of compliments but did give a lot of colorful and hilarious insults to our athletic ability,” recalled Nathaniel Robin, a 1981 graduate. “They were always good-natured and always had a point to them. ‘Use your other left foot’ or ‘If you had brains, you would be dangerous.’ He taught me that even in the tough talk, there was always wisdom trying to make you better.”

Jurak’s greatest legacy is the brotherhood of hundreds of former students and athletes who keep in touch, no matter their ages, said longtime friend Bill Harrison. “It’s amazing how one person impacted so many people and the circle of friends that grew out of it.”

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife, Ingrid Jurak, whom he met at a dance shortly after he arrived in New York, and grandson Alexander Jurak, of Dix Hills.

A wake was held March 8 at the Park Funeral Chapels in Garden City Park. A service was held March 9 at Church of St. Joseph in Garden City, followed by cremation.

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