Brian Laffey got a call from above to become a football player.
A call from the superintendent of schools, that is.
“He asked me if I would play football,” Laffey said. “(Harbor) was coming off a losing season. I graduated in 1959, so I played (varsity) in 1956, 1957 and 1958.”
Laffey actually began his football career as a fullback and defensive linebacker, defensive back and defensive end in 1955, his freshman year. He and quarterback Bill Davidson led the Mariners to a freshman championship as Laffey recalls.
“He was a real good quarterback,” Laffey said of Davidson, whom he’ll join in the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club Hall of Fame when he’s inducted on Dec. 3 at Mt.Carmel Center. “He had a good arm. We threw and ran about half the time each.”
Laffey missed most of his sophomore year because of a knee injury, but got in several games at the end of that season. That prepared him for a successful season as a junior.
Led by Davidson at quarterback, Laffey at fullback, Gerry Gustafson at halfback and Fred Mannicola at wingback in Harbor’s wing-t, the Mariners went 7-2. Playing in the Western Reserve League against teams like Edgewood, Spencer, Jefferson, Madison, Chardon, Kirtland and Perry, that was not an easy task.
“I can’t remember if we won (the championship) or not,” Laffey said. “Those were all tough games. I think Perry beat us, I can’t remember who else.”
Laffey ran for about 600 yards that year.
That set a stage for a perfect, 10-0 Mariner season in 1958, with both Laffey and Davidson earning All-Ashtabula County recognition.
“That was a very successful season,” Laffey said. “Only two of us were returning from our junior year to our senior year who were starters. We had a completely new offensive line, since the old one had graduated. Plus we had two new halfbacks and a new head coach. Our new coach, Norm Soltys, said, ‘You know Laffey, we may not win a lot, but we’re going to have a lot of fun.’ I think we surprised everybody when we went 10-0.
“Toward the end of the year, we added Ashtabula (to the schedule). That was the first time we played them in many, many years. Ashtabula was so much bigger. I think we beat them, 16-7. Conneaut was a low-scoring game. We had a couple of those in there.”
Laffey also played basketball and ran track at Harbor. Playing center at 6-feet, he admits to being “just mediocre” at basketball. But he was better than that in track. Running the 440-yard dash, Laffey made it to state. But his 52.9 time at Columbus fell well short of the winner’s 46.6.
“(My time) was good around here, but not at Columbus,” Laffey said.
After he graduated, Laffey joined the Navy, serving as a radio man, a second-class E-5.
“I spent three years, 10 months and 25 days in the Navy,” Laffey said. “I even had a calendar (to count off the days).”
When he got out of the Navy in 1963, he began a career sailing on the Great Lakes.
“I started as a deck hand and worked my way up to captain,” he said. “I retired as a captain. My last ship was the James R. Barker, a 1,000-foot (freighter), the largest ship on the Great Lakes. The Edmund Fitzgerald was smaller and had a different design. We were a self-unloader.”
Captains on the Great Lakes ships, which carry iron ore and coal, have great responsibility.
“Now they have satellites,” Laffey said. “Then, they had courses to follow, but if there were storms, you had to draw up a different route. I was on duty all the time. Sometimes you were up three days at a time as a pilot, going through the ice. When you were in rivers or confined waters, you had to be up.”
The captains received weather reports. When the weather got bad, they had to make the decision whether to hide somewhere and anchor. Apparently, the captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald made the wrong decision.
Laffey spent 35 years on the Great Lakes, 13 of them as a captain, shutting down most years between Jan. 1 and Apr.1, when the weather got bad. He retired when he was 60.
He and his wife, Mary, have now been married for 48 years. They have four children.
Stephanie (Kubec), the oldest at 47, is now St. John’s volleyball coach. Kirsten, 46, is a nurse at the Ireland Cancer Center in Mentor. Brian Jr., 44, serves as comptroller for the Illinois Technical Institute, working in Chicago. Amy, 41, is a nurse at ACMC.
Larick, a retired Star Beacon sports writer, is a freelance writer from Geneva.
Harbor great answered the bell for his superintendent and his country
Brian Laffey got a call from above to become a football player.
Spartans knock around Dragons
After being cooped up in gymnasiums for the better part of the season so far, the Conneaut and Lakeside softball teams were just happy to get onto a diamond. Playing for the first time in nearly a week, the Spartans toppled the Dragons, 11-2, Thursday afternoon at Lakeside.
PV can’t get past Mathews
Thursday afternoon at Pymatuning Valley, the visiting Mathews Mustangs were able to do what every coach hopes for — execute. They played a clean game from start to finish in every facet of the game, and that carried the Mustangs to an 8-2 Northeastern Athletic Conference victory.
Matthews 8, PV 2
FRIDAY, APRIL 18
Geneva at Edgewood (11)
Niles McKinley at Edgewood (5)
Conneaut at Lakeside (4:30)
Madison at Euclid (4:30)
Madison at Edgewood (4:30)
Geneva at Mentor (10, DH)
Conneaut at Madison (4)
It was just four short years ago that Justin Butler was spending his fall on a soccer field.
A Don McCormack column: ‘Kids’ stuff’ spurs great responses
I’m often caught more than a bit off-guard by what stories, features or columns generate responses from you, Loyal Readers, much more so than those who do not.
For example, the column that appeared in this space a couple of days ago regarding things yours truly and my buddies did as kids prompted more than a few responses.
A sampling, many of which were posted on my Facebook page:
- GANG GREEN
THURSDAY, APRIL 17
Grand Valley at Maplewood (4:30)
St. John at Lawrence (4:30)
Mathews at PV (4:30)
Fairport at Perry (7:30)
West Geauga at Madison (4:30)
Harvey at Riverside (4:30)
Jefferson at Harding (5)
Pymatuning Valley graduate Olivia Holt had a distinct reason she chose to play basketball for Mount Union.
“They do have tradition,” Holt, the daughter of Gus and Michelle Holt, said. “I’m from PV. We had a tradition of winning and working hard there. I wanted to go somewhere that tradition mattered. I knew I was going to get better by coming here.”
A Don McCormack column: Spring has sprung one big leak
Paying a Wednesday morning visit to the variety store...
If this, um, err, uh... spring... feels a bit unusual for high school baseball and softball teams in Northeast Ohio, it is, to a point.
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- Spartans knock around Dragons