Goodbye Coach Garry

I think there is no American institution that shows what this country is all about quite like the small town funeral. When someone in a small community passes, the funeral home becomes more than a place where a memorial service takes place. It becomes a meeting place, a place to share memories and a place where old friends are reunited – of course not under the best of circumstances.

Such was the scene at s funeral home in McDonald, Pennsylvania. Located in Washington county, McDonald is a small, rural community whose residents have lived there for generations. In this little community, Jim Garry coached high school for more than four decades. In small-town America, the football coach is second only to the mayor in terms of recognition – and sometimes overall importance. But Jim Garry was more than a football coach, he was a developer of young boys into men.

He coached at Fort Cherry high school – a small school in the smallest of classifications. All he did during his tenure was win 265 games and twice take his Fort Cherry Ranger team to the finals. He produced one WPIAL rushing champion and two NFL head coaches – Marvin Lewis and Marty Schottenheimer. But, once again, it’s how he molded young men during a turning point in their lives that will be his legacy. A legacy that was fully written upon his death at age 80.

I did not know coach Garry well, but I was treated to his kindness very early in my career as a sports anchor in Pittsburgh. During a story about a gambling scandal at Boston College, he was only to happy to talk to me and give me some very key quotes regarding one of the young men involved – a young man who he had coached. One of the few young men he coached that made a bad decision. It was a little thing, but it stuck with me and over the years I would do stories on the team and he would always take time to talk with me .. even allowing me over to his house one time for a discussion.

I went to his wake last week. There, I encountered a filled to overflowing funeral home. It was filled with flowers and well wishers and former players. Players who had not seen their coach in years and teammates who had not seen one another in decades. They shared stories of the man and stories about one another and their days on the football field. Leave it to coach Garry to bring back long lost friends and put smiles on their faces .. even in a time of grief.

Someone once told me that the true mark of a man is how many friends he has to carry his casket to its final resting place. Judging by the turnout at the funeral home and the love of the people inside, coach Garry’s casket didn’t need to be driven to the cemetery. It could have been passed along a line of former players, stretching from the funeral home to the grave site.

Goodbye Coach Garry. You will be missed — by not only your players but also your community.

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