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Jerry Page dispelled the myth that “nice guys finish last”

Jerry Page in his Laurel Valley coaching regalia: Photo Tribune-Review

.… more than a coach, he taught the lessons of life

Leo Durocher never knew Jerry Page, so when the late Brooklyn Dodgers manager scoffed at the New York Giants and their leader back in the 1950s, he never fully understood the proper role of coaches — or managers.

Jerry Page was a young man in the 1950s, but he fully comprehended that the coach of young people should first be a mentor, a teacher, a leader, someone to emulate.

And he was all of those — and more.

Not a “Leo the Lip.”

Coach Page passed away last week at the age of 89, but when people who played for, coached with, or coached against him talked about his legacy last week, they told stories about the man and what he meant to those whom he mentored.

Certainly, Page was very successful as a high school football coach at the former Laurel Valley High School, winning 206 games during those years, leading his team to the PIAA state semifinals in 1993 when they won 13 games.

Nevertheless, he was more than that — a quality human being.

“A gentleman”

The word that I read most often after reading about Coach Page’s passing was that he was a “gentleman,” not a word that Leo Durocher would have ever understood. He was, quite simply, a class act on every level.

I first met Coach back in 1964 when I was the quarterback of a football team that had just defeated Laurel Valley by six points on a late September afternoon in Lilly. After the game, one of the LV assistant coaches shook my hand and said, “Nice game, Conrad.”

I had no clue who he was, but my dad did, and when he returned home from refereeing his college football game later that day, he told me the first Jerry Page stories.

Jerry grew up in Portage Township and my dad knew him as a player and young man. He told me what a great guy the young coach was, and that was certainly true.

I competed against him as a high school coach, worked with him to recruit some Laurel Valley players to St. Francis when I was a coach there, and interviewed him on many occasions as a journalist.

Jerry never changed.

Always the classy guy.

Always the gentleman.

Always a winner.

“How you treat people”

The quote that resonated so well with me was one that his son, Greg, now the high school coach at Homer Center High School in Indiana County, gave to Mike Mastovich of the Tribune-Democrat, when asked about the most important lesson he learned from his father and mentor, a man who coached football at LVHS for 46 years,

It was how you treat people. You have to have an open mind to deal with people from a lot of different backgrounds – young, old, rich, poor. Teaching at a rural school like Laurel Valley, he loved it.

If you show people you’re going to treat them right and work hard, you’re going to have the respect factor and have a positive impact on people. People saw that, and that’s what I think is important.

Mike Mastovich, “ ‘Passing of an era’,” Tribune-Democrat, December 23, 2021

His teams also reflected the values and demeanor of their head coach, who served from 1979 to 2008. He also coached baseball for the Rams for 35 years. They fought hard during the game, but afterwards, they were classy.

Bonnie and family

For 60 years, Jerry was married to the former Bonnie Gentile. Both had similar roots as they were graduates of Portage Area High School. They were the parents of five children: Scott, Jeff, Todd, Greg, and Elaine.

After a game, Jerry always wanted to see Bonnie and kiss her before doing the post-game interview. [What I did not know until I was an adult that Bonnie was a friend of my sister’s during high school.] I heard a few stories about the courtship of Jerry and Bonnie, some from Jerry himself, but I cannot remember the details.

In the final analysis, to him, family was very, very important.

Jerry taught math at Laurel Valley, and he then continued to coach after retiring from teaching.

Honors, activity show how respected he was

Jerry was inducted into the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Hall of Fame and the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame. He was one of the founding members of the PSFCA Hall of Fame and was very active over the years.

In addition, he was very religious and involved with his community. According to his obituary,

Jerry is a member of Holy Family Catholic Church, Seward where he previously was a Eucharistic Minister, and member of Knights of Columbus. He also was an Army Veteran of the Korean War. Life member and past commander of New Florence VFW Post 7622, member of Bolivar American Legion Post 128, and New Florence Lions Club.

Stuart Funeral Home, New Florence

Antithesis of Leo Durocher

Jerry indeed was not the type of person who fit the typecast of Durocher, who said this about the New York Giants manager, Mel Ott,

“Nice guys! Do you know a nicer guy than Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? And where are they? The nice guys over there are in last place!”

Richard Cuicchi, “Leo Durocher to Mel Ott: “Nice Guys Finish

Last,” Crescent City Sports, March 13, 2021

Jerry Page was the antithesis of Durocher, since the high school coach was a person who treated everyone with respect and yet demanded a great deal of them on the field. No one ever called Durocher “a gentleman” at his passing, like those who eulogized Jerry, who was successful on and off the field.

Jerry and his son, Greg: Photo Tribune-Democrat

That is what I remember with Jerry.

I had to ask him an extremely difficult question after a football game that had nothing to do with the game. One of his former players had been killed in an accident that morning, and he handled that with sympathy, compassion, and class, like he always did.

My sympathy to Bonnie and Jerry’s family who were so special to him. They will never forget the man who meant so much to so many — and to them.

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