Legacy Stories

Joseph Chernach

Joseph Chernach was a competitive and talented athlete from an early age, playing summer baseball, wrestling from the age of six throughout high school, pole vaulting in track, and played pop-warner, JV, and varsity football in high school. He won many medals and trophies from grade school through high school. After a long battle with depression, Joseph passed away at age 25. After his death, his brain was studied by Dr. Ann McKee at the UNITE Brain Bank. Research determined Joseph had stage 2 or 3 (of 4) Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). His family shared his story to bring awareness to CTE and football’s concussion crisis.

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By Debra Pyka

Joseph Chernach traveled to his next journey on June 6, 2012. With his Forest Park Trojan and Green Bay Packer jerseys, his difficulties and struggles with depression finally came to end at the age of 25.

Joseph was a competitive and talented athlete from an early age, playing summer baseball, wrestling since the age of six and throughout high school, a pole vaulter in track, and pop-warner, JV and Varsity football in high school. He won many medals and trophies from grade school through high school.

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He was the Michigan High School Upper Peninsula pole vault champion, Michigan High School state wrestling champion, named all U.P class D defensive back, all State class D defensive back, MVP of football along with senior athlete. He was proud to play in the Michigan High school state football finals in 2004 with the Forest Park Trojans.

His greatest accomplishment was graduating with high honors from Forest Park High School in 2005.

He also attended Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan with plans to graduate with a degree in Physical Therapy.

Joseph was baptized at the Northfield Lutheran Church, Hixton, WI, and confirmed at the United Christ Methodist Church in Crystal Falls, MI. His Facebook page reflects his religious views as “God Loves Me.”

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Joseph was fun, active and lived for making people laugh and his sense of humor touched many. He was a fan of the Michigan Wolverines, Milwaukee Brewers and Green Bay Packers. He loved to fish and deer hunt in Wisconsin on the family farm.

Joseph leaves behind many family and friends, father Jeffrey Chernach, mother Debra (Fred) Pyka, brothers Tyler (Michelle) and Seth, sister Nicole, step-sister Samantha, Grandmother Lolly, nieces Braylee and Layla and the Forest Park Class of 2005.

A yearly scholarship has been set-up in his memory.
Joseph Chernach Memorial Scholarship
Forest Park High School
801 Forest Parkway
Crystal Falls, MI 49920

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In Joseph’s final few years, he suffered with depression and unable to overcome all the struggles and difficulties with life. CTE was destroying his brain until he could no longer go on with life here. Looking at his headstone in the cemetery is very heartbreaking knowing he is gone. We will never see him graduate college, marry, become a father, and live a happy, healthy and successful life.

We will always wonder what he would have accomplished in his lifetime and we know he will be waiting to see us all again, until that time comes, we are left with the devastation of losing him and living our lives without him. We are all grateful for having him in our lives for almost 26 years. Until we meet again, our love goes with you and our souls wait to join you.

For almost 20 years, the NFL covered up and denied evidence to the connection between brain damage and football. How many people have died from this brain disease whose families are unaware? How much progress could have been made for research, a cure, and the safety and health of everyone had this evidence been made public 20 years ago?

I have contacted the news media, local congressman, senator, representative, the National Federation of High schools and the White House with my son’s story and concerns with sports, head trauma and CTE. The safety and health of our children are at risk. I hope someone will finally listen.

We love you and miss you Joseph and we’ll all be together again one day soon.

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We are grateful to the Concussion Legacy Foundation for the research and diagnosis to finally give us the answers to what caused Joseph’s depression and early death. Joseph never played college or pro-sports and we do not know of any concussions during his middle or high school years. This is the report we received from Dr. Ann McKee at the BU CTE Center in December 2013:

“Fixed tissue samples were received from Sacred Heart Pathology Department, Eau Claire, Wisconsin on 9/6/12. There were no obvious abnormalities. However, microscopic analysis of the tissue revealed considerable pathological tau deposits as neurofibrillary tangles throughout the frontal brain regions. There were also very severe changes in the brainstem, with numerous tau neurofibrillary tangles in the locus coeruleus, an area of the brain thought to play a role in mood regulation and depression. The changes in the frontal lobes and locus coeruleus were the most severe I’ve seen in a person this age. These findings indicate Stage II, possibly Stage III (with Stage IV being most severe) CTE and are particularly noteworthy, given the young age of the subject.”

Read more about Joseph and his story from his parents and BuzzFeed News.

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