The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

May 25, 2013

A Don McCormack column: A leap of faith

Seventy-four years ago tomorrow, Bob Garvey won a state championship. But that didn't define his life

By DON McCORMACK - donmac@suite224.net
Sports Editor

— It has stood the test of time, not barely, mind you, but head and shoulders above the nearest challenger. How long has it stood, you ask?

Try a year shy of three quarters of a century tomorrow.

That’s how long.

And with each passing year, The Legend of Bob Garvey grows... by leaps and bounds.



A leap of a lifetime

On Saturday, May 27, 1939, Garvey, an 18-year-old senior at Harbor High School, turned in a remarkable effort in the long jump on the biggest stage possible — Ohio Stadium — leaping 23-25⁄8 to win the Class A (big-school) state championship.

And while several Ashtabula County records have been surpassed through the decades, Garvey’s amazing leap in an event, then called the “broad jump,” almost 75 years  ago — still stands.

“That... wow, that is incredible!” Jim Sanchez, the acclaimed coach of the Edgewood boys and the active dean of Ashtabula County boys coaches said when I asked him about Garvey’s record-setting effort.

“What a special, special record,” he said. “To think it was set back then... and no one I know of has come even close to touching that jump.

“It really is incredible.”

Sanchez can appreciate Garvey’s leap perhaps more than most. A 1987 Geneva graduate, he was a standout track-and-field athlete himself.

An excellent long jumper, or broad jumper, as it was known back in Garvey’s day, Sanchez, whose Warriors recently presented him with the 100th dual-meet victory in his decade and a half at the helm as coach at Edgewood, an impressive achievement itself, marvels at not just what Garvey did, but when he did it.

“My best in the long jump was 21-51⁄2,” the Ohio State University graduate and social-studies teacher said. “That was at the Mentor Relays my senior year.

“I hit that jump perfectly. I mean perfectly! I was so high, in fact, I admit it scared me. I almost tried to get myself to ground because I was so high... I felt like I was floating, almost out of control. That’s why it scared me.

“To think Mr. Garvey went almost two feet farther than I did... and did it three quarters of a century ago, wow... it’s staggering to think about.”



Also a champion at life

Though Bob Garvey was a state champion, that was not the highlight of his life.

Not by a longshot.

He was born the son of Troy and Monica (Roche) Garvey on Jan. 24, 1921.

Having grown up with brothers Thomas and Joseph and sister Mary (Buckey) during the Great Depression, he spent his life overcoming obstacles.

To the point he was a true American hero.

Garvey served as a captain with the combat engineers in the European Theatre.

For his service to his country, Garvey earned a Purple Heart, a European Theatre ribbon and two Bronze Stars.

Unfortunately, World War II did take its toll as it nearly claimed his life.

Garvey survived, but returned home having lost a leg in the conflict.

For many men, that would send them spiraling down a vast chasm of despair, but not the former Harbor standout athlete.

He refused to look back, choosing instead to get on with his life.

He married the former Helen Young on June 25, 1954 and the couple had a son, Patrick, who was born on Feb. 23, 1955.

The loss of a leg did not stop Garvey from working, as he was a supervisor at the Detrex and SCM chemical companies for years, retiring in 1980.

He also found the time to serve as commissioner of the Ashtabula Little League.

“I had the pleasure to know Mr. Garvey from when I started to play Little League baseball from 1965-1972,” Pat Giannell, who attended St. John High School said.  “Also, I got to know his son, Pat, very well.

“Pat Garvey was one of the best baseball players to come out of Ashtabula. His arm is legendary for people who played with or against him throughout his career.”

Despite knowing Bob Garvey and his son well, Giannell was not aware how his pal’s father ended up with a limp.

Because he never mentioned it.

“I knew Mr. Garvey all those years and did not realize the injury he sustained in World War II,” Giannell said. “All I remember is him and many other fathers working on the Little League fields so the kids in Ashtabula could play baseball.”

Patrick Garvey followed in his footsteps, becoming a tremendous high school baseball player for the Ashtabula Panthers.

The 1973 Ashtabula graduate was good enough to be drafted in the fourth round — the 96th player taken overall — by the Cincinnati Reds in the spring draft that year.

Unfortunately, arm injuries plagued Pat and he was forced to give up the game after spending three seasons in Cincinnati’s farm system.

Pat died tragically at age 46 on June 2, 2001 at his home in Marietta.

“If it were not for people like Bob Garvey, Walt Carle, Leonard Milano, Ray Peet and Red Mathews, to name a few, I would not have had the opportunities to play college baseball and develop the love for the game of baseball,” Giannell said.

“I played organized baseball until I was 32 years old because I played for ‘the love of the game’ that was instilled in me by a generation of unselfish, caring, great Americans.”

Even without knowing of Bob Garvey’s heroic service to his country, Giannell said Garvey was indeed a role model to the youth of this community.

“People like Bob Garvey and the above-mentioned others are the real heroes in our society,” he said. “I was so fortunate to grow up in Ashtabula because of the people who devoted their time to kids.

“Mr. Garvey was always around our American Legion games, even though his son, Pat, was in the Reds’ system.”

And it wasn’t simply respecting the game that Garvey and his peers imparted, Giannell said.

“One thing that stands out in my mind about the opening-day ceremonies at Cederquist Park when I was very young was the national anthem would be played,” he said. “And our coaches would always tell us to respect the flag and how to conduct ourselves when that song was played.”



‘Amazing’

Quintin Ratliff is one of the most versatile, talented athletes of this day and age.

The Pymatuning Valley junior, a 6-foot-2, 170-pound bolt of lightning is a standout in three sports — football, basketball and track — for the Lakers.

If there is a track-and-field athlete in Ashtabula County to ask about Bob Garvey’s record-setting leap, it’s the son of Mandy Ratliff and Todd Terino.

“Twenty-three, two and five-eighths? Are you kidding me?” he said. “That’s just crazy... amazing, you name it.

“And he did it in 1939? That’s unbelievable!”

Mind you, Ratliff is a spectacular athlete himself. He placed seventh in the long jump at the Division III state meet last year.

Still, the length of Garvey’s leap almost 75 years ago is difficult for even him to fathom.

“My best in the long jump is 21-111⁄2,” Ratliff said. “That was my sophomore year at the district meet at Lakeview.”

As Ratliff pointed out, that was also done with an all-weather running lane into a sandpit.

When told Garvey’s running lane was cinders and the landing pit was filled with sawdust, the Laker actually laughed, though in admiration.

“That’s just incredible... crazy!” Ratliff, whose best effort in the long jump this year as a junior is 21-3, though he has jumped only a handful of times because of a pulled left quad, said. “He did that back in 1939, right? Wow...”

His voice trailed off, at that point.

Ratliff, who has blazing speed on the field — he runs a 4.4 40-yard dash — and is excellent in the classroom — he carries a 3.20 grade-point average at PV — paused for a moment.

“Bob Garvey sounds like someone we’d both love to have a chance to talk to, huh?” I said.

“Oh, man, without a doubt!” he said. “I’d love to hear all about his story.”

Unfortunately, by the time yours truly stumbled upon Mr. Garvey’s legendary leap, and how he spent the rest of his life giving back to a world that was so hard on him and took so much from him, it was too late.



Home fires

Bob and Helen Garvey remained in the area, living on Holden Drive in Ashtabula Township until the time of his death, on June 1, 1990 at age 69 at Ashtabula County Medical Center.

Almost fittingly, it was a Friday... of the state track and field meet.

“I did not realize it at the time, but many of these men served our country and they were instilling a very important value to us — respect for the flag and pride in the greatest country of all,” Giannell said.

I didn’t become aware of Garvey’s state-championship performance until several years after his passing... and that saddens me.

It would have made for a wonderful story to listen to him describe his amazing leap, magnified by the equipment he had to work with back then.

Check out the taped-up track shoes he’s wearing in the photograph that accompanies this column. Check out the partially constructed bleachers behind him, most likely at wherever he and his Harbor teammates practiced back in the day.

Then, check out the state-championship medal around his neck. It appears to be about the size of a quarter.

But I get the feeling I would have been just as interested in hearing about the rest of his life... about growing up in the Harbor back in the 1930s... about going off to Notre Dame... about defending our freedoms in World War II... about overcoming the loss of a leg to live a happy and productive life... about the pride he must have felt for his son...

Mr. Garvey was a true hero... and one year short of three-quarters of a century after he set it, his Ashtabula County record still stands.

As does his legacy.

The Legend of Bob Garvey casts a long shadow.

A very long shadow.

McCormack is the sports editor of the Star Beacon. Reach him at donmac@suite224.net.