Early last month, students and staff from the South Shore High School-School of Leadership were the envy of professional football fans everywhere as legendary NFL coach Marv Levy, South Shore High School Class of '43, paid tribute to his alma mater.
Levy, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001, led the Buffalo Bills to 120 victories, eight playoff runs, and four Super Bowls. Levy returned to South Shore as part of the NFL's "Hometown Hall of Famers" program, which honors the roots of football's greatest players, coaches, and contributors by bringing a piece of Hall of Fame history to their hometown high schools. This partnership between the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate Insurance Company celebrates the personal stories of Hall of Fame members while honoring the places that bred their success.
"It was a very nostalgic experience for me," said Marv Levy of the event, "and one I'd really been looking forward to."
Prior to arriving at his alma mater on December 4, the much-loved coach toured the South Shore neighborhood. Reflecting on his time at South Shore High School, Levy admitted that he was not a very committed student in the early years. But as he continued on through high school, his grades improved substantially – a change he credits to the toughness of no-nonsense coaches and the extraordinary effort of a homeroom teacher by the name of Alice B. Conlon. "She had great initials for a teacher," he said. "ABC. I don't know how, but she really set me straight. Changed my whole outlook on education and what it would mean to me in my life."
Coach Levy worked hard to emulate this memorable teacher when speaking to the current students of South Shore at the ceremony. "I didn't want to overdo it or bore them," he said, "so I told them what I use to tell my players: 'Play hard, play clean, and play to win. Honor the game, your teammates, and your opponents.' I hope they took it as good advice for life, not just athletics."
One day after graduating from South Shore High School, Levy enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. "It was 1943, and the middle of World War II," he said. "So that's just what we did. Twenty-two from my class enlisted that day, and 19 of us came home."
After being discharged from the military, Levy attended Coe College in Iowa, and then completed graduate studies at Harvard. He coached college football at several schools, including the University of California at Berkeley and the College of William and Mary, and then joined the NFL in 1969 for a 28-year career that would land him in the Hall of Fame.
Levy's place in the Hall of Fame is what eventually led him back to his alma mater, which now proudly displays the plaque that he presented to school administrators and student athletes last month. "It's our way of helping Hall of Famers give something back to their home communities," said Brock Richards, Program Director for Pro Hall of Fame Enterprises. "The plaque is a piece of NFL history that can be part of their school forever."
Richards, who attended the ceremony on behalf of the Hall of Fame, unveiled the bronze plaque and presented it to the students and staff at South Shore-School of Leadership. "It adds one more layer to our school's rich foundation," said Principal Noreen Harris. "We will display it proudly in our main floor showcase."
South Shore High School-School of Leadership serves 379 juniors and seniors, many of whom attended the ceremony. The experience was especially meaningful to the student-athletes, who were excited at the prospect of meeting a Hall of Fame coach. "Getting to meet and hear from Coach Levy was inspiring to the students," said South Shore football coach Sherwin Jarvis. "They told me it made them want to work harder so that they might be able to achieve that kind of success."
Coach Jarvis opened the ceremony by speaking about Marv Levy – his career, his place in the Hall of Fame, and his roots in the South Shore community. Like Coach Levy, Jarvis attended South Shore High School and played on its football teams, so meeting Coach Levy was a thrill. "It was amazing to introduce a pro football legend," said Jarvis. "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Principal Harris was impressed with the message Coach Levy relayed to her students. "He encouraged them to always stay focused and keep their eyes on the prize," she said.
Coach Levy was equally impressed with his alma mater, and was flooded with memories as he walked the halls of South Shore – a school that was new to the neighborhood in the 1940s. "It was a brand new school back then, and we were so grateful to have it," he said. "One of my classmates wrote a school song called School of our Dreams, and that's truly what it was. Attending high school at South Shore was a magnificent experience for me. It's where I made the lifelong friends that are my best friends to this day. I was grateful for the chance to return."