County to honor GHS' Coach Harvill
May. 12, 1999

May 14, 1999

by David Udoff

Staff Writer

Some leaders motivate by using fear and intimidation. Others use love and compassion. John Harvill has another tactic he believes has served him well for many years.

"I use pride," said Harvill, the longtime head football coach at Gaithersburg High School. "Pride for their community, pride in everything -- uniform, conduct off the field, just pride in your general appearance, what you do in your classes. Without pride, people are lacking a lot of things."

Harvill, 74, has a lot to be proud of these days, and many in the Gaithersburg community are proud of him. On May 17, Harvill, who has coached the Gaithersburg Trojans for 42 years, will be bestowed with the 1999 Path of Achievement Award for Sports and Fitness from Montgomery County. The county presents these awards every year to older individuals for their achievements in that category, plus advocacy, arts and humanities, community service and workplace contributions.

While much about the game of football has changed over the last four decades, Harvill's status as a legendary figure in Gaithersburg has been a constant.

"The best word to describe John is that he's a legend and that he's had a tremendous amount of positive influence on many athletes that have come through Gaithersburg High School," GHS principal Fred Evans said. "And that goes back to the '50s."

In February, State Sen. Jennie Forehand and three delegates from the Maryland General Assembly submitted their nomination for Harvill and detailed his many accomplishments over the years. The assembly members wrote of how Harvill has led his Trojans to the state championships four times -- winning twice -- and has won so many county championships that he has lost count of them. "These accomplishments are those of a man who has devoted his entire life to football and the men who play the sport," they wrote.

But these state officials know John Harvill is more than just a great football coach.

"His influence on his young players is immeasurable," they added. "He has taught them not only how to play the game well, but has stood as a role model for them in terms of fairness, inspiration and principles for their future endeavors in life."

A native of College Park, Ga., Harvill attended high school in Washington, D.C., but has kept his soft-spoken southern drawl. At Tech High School in the District, he was All-Metro in both football and baseball. After three years in the Army Air Corps, he attended the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. He later signed a minor league baseball contract with the Boston Red Sox, where he made it to Class A.

After his professional baseball career, Harvill returned to school and got his master's degree in education. In 1951, he was asked to join the faculty at Gaithersburg High School, where he would teach history, math, science, psychology and physical education. He joined the football team staff as an assistant coach and also was the head coach of the Trojans' baseball squad. In 1957, Harvill relinquished his baseball job and replaced Carroll Kearns as head football coach.

Many in the Gaithersburg community know the rest. In 1966, the National Education Association named Harvill Coach of the Year in Maryland, for which he won a bronze statue of a coach and his player. Five years later, he became a charter member of the Sandlot Hall of Fame. In 1973, he was awarded the Brookland Club Award as the year's Outstanding High School Coach, and the year after that he was named Man of the Year by the Gaithersburg Chamber of Commerce.

Harvill's achievements on and off the field earned him more accolades in the 1990s. In 1991, he was named National High School Coach of the Year by the National Athletic Coaches Association. The city of Gaithersburg voted him Distinguished Citizen of the Year in 1995, and the Washington Post gave him the Donald Huff Award as High School Football Coach of 1998. In 1996, Gaithersburg High honored its longtime coach by naming the football stadium after him. And in April, Harvill was inducted into the Maryland State Football Coaches Hall of Fame

Harvill's Trojans went undefeated four times during his career. The team won the state championship in 1986 and 1992 and made the state finals two other years. Harvill's record at Gaithersburg HS is 308-129-5, for a career winning percentage of .696.

And by all indications, he is not finished yet. At an age when most football coaches have already called it quits, Harvill will once again be the head man on the Gaithersburg sidelines next season, and possibly beyond. He has not set a timetable for retirement.

When asked how much longer he would coach, Harvill said, "For as long as it feels good. When I can't remember last week's plays, then I'll get out."

Harvill gives the credit for his coaching success to his players, many of whom went on to receive scholarships to Division I-A schools such as North Carolina, Syracuse and Maryland. "We've always had a wealth of talent in Gaithersburg," he remarked. "We've had some great athletes." Some of Harvill's former players have even played in the National Football League, like Jim Ward (Baltimore Colts), Anthony Greene (Buffalo Bills), Jim Joyce (Denver Broncos), Ron Pearson (Chicago Bears) and Phil Livingston (Oakland Raiders), to name a few.

Harvill once said the greatest thrill of his coaching career was "the association through all the years with such great young men." He said the way to influence his players has been to "just try to treat them the way I was treated by 99 percent of the coaches I've dealt with. Some you reach and some you don't, but most of my players have become great citizens."

As for his own influences, Harvill said his father was a great role model. "All he did was work his tail off to keep our family fed," he remarked. Harvill also credited the Boys Club of Washington as a "great influence in my life." A man named Ollie Dryzer, who was then the director of the Boys Club, was Harvill's inspiration for wanting to be a football coach.

Harvill said he is not nervous about receiving the Path of Achievement Award, which will be given to him at a ceremony Monday at the Strathmore Arts Center in North Bethesda. But he said he's not going to say much about it either when he does receive it.

"I'm not much of a speaker," he said. "I might speak for a few minutes, say what the award means to me."

Harvill said he was deeply honored to be receiving the Path of Achievement Award, and indicated he was a little surprised as well. "I never assumed that in coaching any one of us might be involved," he said. "It's really one of the greatest honors I've ever received."

For someone who has received so many honors already, that's saying a lot.

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