Family, friends fondly remember longtime Laurel Valley football coach Jerry Page

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Monday, January 10, 2022 | 11:03 AM


The Laurel Highlands took a hit last month that was bigger, harder and louder than any collision ever witnessed during a Saturday afternoon football game in New Florence.

Rest in peace, Jerry Page. Your absence leaves a gaping hole in and around Westmoreland County.

Page, a former mathematics teacher who for 46 years coached football and for 35 coached baseball at the former Laurel Valley High School, was laid to rest Dec. 29 at West Fairfield Cemetery, just south of the school where his teams performed.

Page died Dec. 22 after being hospitalized in Johnstown with pneumonia. He was 89.

“My dad was my hero,” said Homer-Center football coach Greg Page, one of three sons of Gerald E. “Jerry” and Yvonne “Bonnie” Page, who were married for 60 years.

Another, Jeff, has served for years as the public address announcer at Ligonier Valley football and basketball games.

Hundreds of people turned out to pay their respects to Jerry Page, the Pennsylvania coaching legend who for decades was endeared to high school sports fans and local residents alike, even after his retirement in 2008.

Pointing through a doorway, Richard Stuart, proprietor of Kenneth A. Stuart Funeral Home on Ligonier Street and a lifelong New Florence resident, began to reminisce about his childhood days, when Laurel Valley’s football team used a field at the former New Florence Elementary School a few blocks away.

“My first memories were actually when he was assistant football coach, when the football field was down here,” Stuart said, gesturing in the direction of the site. “Me and another gentleman, who lives back the street here — his mother still does — when the Laurel Valley varsity played and practiced back there, we’d wear our little football uniforms from Sears and watch practice. I want to say I was 5 or 6 years old.”

Stuart later went on to play football for three years under Page’s leadership.

An obituary, published Dec. 24 stated simply that Page “spent his career molding thousands of students and athletes.”

“He was stern but had every player’s best interest at heart,” Stuart said.

Page even found time to serve as scorekeeper for the Laurel Valley boys basketball team.

This wasn’t just any man. Page’s exploits were iconic. For a time, he served as president of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association, which inducted him into its hall of fame, and during a marvelous 29-year run as Laurel Valley’s football coach, Page won three District 6 championships and suffered through just three losing seasons.

His teams compiled a record 206-97-5 from 1979-2008, playing in the postseason 16 times and claiming district championships in 1989, 1990 and 1993.

Laurel Valley closed and merged with Ligonier Valley in 2010 after the schools had operated separately for years under one school district umbrella.

“He was the epitome of Laurel Valley,” Ligonier Valley football coach Roger Beitel said. “That football program was everything. The (reputation) it brought was legendary. A lot of people can’t do that. Only three losing seasons in 29? That’s an incredible accomplishment.”

Admirers of Page lined up outside the funeral home last week to get a final glimpse of a man revered as much for his fierce, competitive nature as his dignified manner.

“He was always, always, always a gentleman,” said Beitel, whose team absorbed Laurel Valley’s roster following the merger with Ligonier Valley.

Page’s 82-year-old widow, Bonnie, was overcome by the outpouring of love and respect shown for her late husband.

The couple produced five children.

“It’s a tough thing, but we’re going to get through it,” Greg Page said. “First and foremost, we think of our mother. She’s 82. She’s a young 82. She doted after our dad for a lot of years. This is going to be a change in her life, and we’re going to try to help her get through the initial things first.”

Greg Page said Wednesday’s outpouring, particularly during an afternoon viewing, when, he said, hundreds turned out, “was good for her to see so many people because she knows them all, too. We just have to keep after her each day, you know, check in on her and things like that.”

Greg Page didn’t hesitate when reminded of the reverence his father commanded in the area and beyond.

“I felt a lot of joy seeing so many people, so many different age groups and generations going back to the 1950s,” he said.

Beitel led his football team to the viewing last week, bringing a smile to Greg Page’s face.

“That was a very nice gesture,” he said. “Coach Beitel recognizes the contributions that my dad made through the Laurel Valley area in all those years. It was very classy of them to do that.”

As role models go, Greg Page said he couldn’t have asked for anything more.

“I feel like every guy should feel about their dad the way I do because that’s a true father-son relationship,” he said. “He genuinely cared about people. It didn’t matter if you played for him or played for the other team, or if you were just somebody that he met on the street, he was incredible that way with people.”

Not only did Ligonier Valley’s Mounties incorporate Laurel Valley’s tiny roster, they inherited the Laurel Valley Rams nickname.

“What am I feeling? I don’t know,” Beitel said. “He was always ‘Coach’ to me, ‘Coach Page.’ Never ‘Jerry.’ He believed in ‘Ram Pride,’ and that’s something we’ve taken — it’s meaning — from his legacy, and we still use it today.”

Beitel said he never discussed the schools’ merger with Page, who, Beitel said, immediately turned his attention to Homer-Center, where Greg Page was coaching the football team.

Still, Ligonier Valley recognized Page at a 2020 football game, making him one of the team’s honorary captains for a night.

“I lived in New Florence for 16 years, literally a mile away from the stadium,” Beitel said. “We went to the Holy Family Catholic Church in Seward. We knew each other for a long time.”

Page’s funeral Dec. 29 occurred at the church prior to the short drive south on Route 711 to the cemetery. Page for a time was a Eucharistic minister at the church just four miles northeast of New Florence.

It’s conceivable Jerry Page was one of the most well-known, well-respected persons locally. Units from the Knights of Columbus in Johnstown New Florence VFW Post 7622 showed homage to Page during brief ceremonies at the funeral home.

Page was an Army veteran of the Korean War. He was a life member and past commander of the New Florence VFW post and a member of Bolivar American Legion Post 128 and New Florence Lions Club.

He earned the Judge Charles Marker Lifetime Achievement Award in Westmoreland County in 2009 and was inducted into the Indiana County Sports Hall of Fame in 2018, though he never lived in the county, which borders the Ligonier Valley School District.

“I just knew the minute I received notification (of Page’s death) that there would be a large outpouring from not only the New Florence and Laurel Valley communities, but even coaching fraternities and the other organizations ‘Coach Page’ was involved with,” Stuart said. “I knew there would be an outpouring of love and respect for ‘Coach.’ In New Florence, everybody seemed to know him.”

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