Gatewood delivers a strong message

February 22, 1994|By Bill Tanton

It's too bad every young athlete in these parts couldn't have been at Martin's West yesterday for the State of Maryland Athletic Hall of Fame's annual induction luncheon.

They would have heard wonderful and inspiring speeches -- Bob Wade's touching comments as presenter for the late Reggie Lewis; jockey Phil Grove's sincere and humble acceptance; the gratitude expressed by Ralph Bogart, who has been winning golf championships for 56 years, and who, at 75, carries a 4 handicap.

But it was Tom Gatewood's message that probably would have meant the most. I'll remember that and a private conversation with Gatewood, who became an All-America football player at Notre Dame, and with the man who was his coach at City College, George Young, now general manager of the New York Giants.

Gatewood, now 44 years old and working in television in New York, told of a lasting remembrance of Young at City. This didn't happen on a football field; it took place on the basketball court.

"You know the little old gym at City?" Gatewood asked. "George used to go to the middle of the basketball court and sit in one of those silly little school desks with an arm on it that you slide into sideways. Every boy in the football program -- the JV included -- lined up to meet with Coach Young to go over their report cards."

What would Young do if one of his players was doing poorly?

"I'd give him hell," Young snapped angrily, "especially if his attendance was poor. I used to tell their teachers, if a boy is absent, tell me about it and I'll call their parents."

"You don't hear about stuff like that," Gatewood said. "George helped so many boys by staying after them and getting them to do their best in school."

The least of Young's problems was Gatewood. He was an honor student at City and then made the dean's list every semester at Notre Dame as a major in economics and sociology. All that began with Gatewood's mother, who died last year.

"She told me a B was not sufficient," Gatewood said. "She said I had to get an A."

Another member of the City team in those days who didn't mind the mid-court sessions with Young was the quarterback, Kurt Schmoke, now the mayor of Baltimore. Schmoke went on to Yale and Harvard Law and to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.

"At City," Young recalled, "Kurt couldn't understand the kids who didn't want to work in school. He used to say, 'Don't they realize that if they work hard for four years it'll pay off in the end?' I always told him, 'No, they don't realize that.' "

Young, who has produced two Super Bowl winners with the Giants, said his proudest moment is when he can present one of his former players who has succeeded.

"Tom Gatewood exemplifies everything we tried to do," Young said. "He did things the right way. Because of that he has been successful."

When Gatewood addressed the crowd he spoke of our "throwaway society." He talked about the need to stay with things.

"When my receivers coach at City, Mel Filler, sent me into a game," Gatewood said, "he didn't send me in for a few plays. He sent me in for 60 minutes. You have to stay in for the long haul. Hang in and try to get to the fourth quarter, because a lot of things may open up."

Speaking has never been a problem for Gatewood. Other members of Young's old City staff who came to honor Gatewood -- Filler, Joe Brune, Bob Patzwall, Ed Novak -- said Tom was quite articulate in high school. He was no shrinking violet at Notre Dame, where the quarterback was Joe Theismann.

"I never thought Joe would become a great NFL quarterback," Gatewood recalled. "He didn't have a quick release or a strong arm. That's how I set the Notre Dame record [for passes caught, 159, which still stands], by catching all those 8- and 9-yard passes from Joe."

After college, Gatewood was drafted by the New York Giants but injuries cut short his career.

For many, that would have been devastating. But because Gatewood had taken advantage of the education available to him at City and Notre Dame, he moved on to other things.

Kids should have been there. They would have been impressed to hear people who have made it big in sports talk so much about the importance of academics.

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