John Harvill will be remembered as a football legend in Montgomery County. But to the hundreds in attendance at his Celebration of Life ceremony, his impact extended beyond the football field.
Harvill, a teacher and coach at Gaithersburg High School for almost five decades, was honored by former players, colleagues, rivals, cheerleaders, friends and family members Saturday at the school’s auditorium.
The coach led Gaithersburg for 43 seasons before retiring in 2000. He won two state titles, going undefeated four times and compiling a 312-108 record.
“His prowess as an outstanding coach is evidenced by his winning record but to me what is more evident is his impact as a role model,” Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz said. “… He represents all that is good about Gaithersburg.”
Approximately 600 people attended the two-hour event, according to Gaithersburg Athletic Director Jason Woodward.
“[The attendance] says a lot,” said former assistant and rival coach Al Thomas. “Former players, coaches, people in town. It says a lot.”
Seven of Harvill’s assistants became head coaches and four went on to win state titles, including Thomas, Gaithersburg coach Kreg Kephart, Urbana coach Dave Mencarini (with Quince Orchard) and Northwest coach Mike Neubeiser.
Players across multiple generations were in the audience, honoring their former coach.
Francis Beckwith, who played for Gaithersburg in the early 1960s, said he was influenced by Harvill to attend college (Bowie State) and coach youth sports.
“He taught so many things about respect and he gave me the opportunity,” Beckwith said. “I was a shy guy and he taught me how to look at people, how to talk to them, look them straight in the eye. How to be a leader.”
Beckwith recalled one time when Harvill offered him a ride home after he broke his ankle.
“He took me in his car and took me home. It was those kinds of things, that kindness, he did all of those things,” Beckwith said.
Harvill was named Gaithersburg’s Man of the Year in 1995. The city’s flag is being flown at half-staff this weekend in his honor.
“I think we all know that Gaithersburg High School is forever my dad’s second home,” said Mollie Harvill Haines, Harvill’s daughter.
Harvill died on Dec. 27. He was 88. He is survived by his wife, Betty, two daughters and several grandchildren.