Thursday, August 25, 2005

Character Revealed

I'm back from a brief sabbatical in Tahoe for the wedding of the most lovely Becky Webster and Aaron Dolberg and return bearing the fantastic news- from my completely biased, nepotistic perspective - of my grandfather's induction into an Ohio sports Hall of Fame. Yours truly was tapped to write the induction text, which I have enclosed here for your eyes only ....

Basketball’s most successful coach, the great John Wooden, professed that “Sports do not build character … they reveal it.” Similarly, football’s most revered leader, the legendary Vince Lombardi, once remarked that his game “is like life, it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work and sacrifice.”

It is fitting then, that Percy Squire’s accomplishments on the athletic fields of the Mahoning Valley are reflective of the same great character he has demonstrated both as an exemplary family man and as a pillar of the Youngstown community for more than 80 years. Perseverance, hard work, denial and sacrifice … these are the critical, if unglamorous and often undervalued traits required to excel on the hardwood, on the gridiron and on the baseball diamond.

More importantly, these are the same attributes required of a man whose childhood was set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and an era of institutionalized discrimination. These are the same values required of a man who labored inside the hot, fiery belly of a blast furnace for more than 40 years. Most of all, these are the qualities that have defined the life of Percy Montgomery Squire – both inside and outside the lines.

This extraordinary life, remarkable not for its exotic or unusual nature, but for its honest persistent, upright dignity, began on the First of November, 1921 in the tiny hamlet of Garysburg, North Carolina. Two years after the birth of their second child, however, the Squire family departed this Appalachian village for opportunity; opportunity that went by the name of Youngstown, Ohio, the booming steel town Percy would call home for the rest of his life.

The early years of that life were spent on the family’s west side homestead, where Percy was reared under the watchful eye of his mother, Florence, and his father John, and where he played with his older brother John P. and his sister Ethel McMullen, née Squire. Time would soon carry young Percy onto Stambaugh Elementary school, and later to Chayney High, where he lettered in football and basketball, starring at right halfback on the gridiron and at guard on the hardwood.

Immediately after receiving his diploma from Cheney, Percy underwent a rite of passage common to men of the Mahoning Valley at that time – he exchanged his graduation cap for a hardhat at the Carnegie-Illinois plant that would later become known by a more familiar moniker – US Steel. Percy gave 40 years of blood, sweat, tears and toil to the company, turning in his hat only when the company pulled stakes from Youngstown in 1981, while offering him a new job at its Cleveland facility. A Mahoning Valley man to the last, Percy refused the offer, opting instead to spend more time with his family, which by this time included his wife Ruth, whom he married in 1943; two daughters, Florence and Cheryl; one son, Percy; and a quartet of grandchildren: Joy, Troy, Reva and Deidre.

In the years between his first Carnegie-Illinois paycheck and his final blast furnace shift, Percy gave of himself ceaselessly, both to his family and to the community. His was a regular face at Price Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church; he was a stalwart member of McGuffey Center; a volunteer with Hospice; saxophonist with the VFW Marching Band, a member of Youngstown’s Northeast Homeowners’ Association and the East High Boosters’ Association; and a beloved leader and Institutional Representative for the Boy Scouts, Troop 18.

Those civic accomplishments indicate a love of life and an appreciation for the ethos of sacrifice and teamwork that carried over to the Youngstown playing fields where Percy distinguished himself as a stellar performer on numerous softball and baseball teams. Whether he was starring in the Cisco Playground or Double-A softball leagues, claiming the championship of the West Federal Street YMCA Industrial League, taking the field for The Whale Inn, or representing Local 1330 in the Tri-State Softball League, Percy’s feel for the game, fast bat, quicksilver speed and silky fielding allowed him to ably man that most demanding of all positions, shortstop. His skills were so undeniable that even legendary professional franchises came calling on his services.

In 1943, the Birmingham Black Barons, former employer of the incomparable Satchel Paige and future employer of the man often cited as the greatest player in the history of baseball – “Say Hey” Willie Mays - invited Percy to tryout for their team. This was no mediocre squad, as evidenced by the fact that, later that very same year, the Black Barons advanced to the Negro World Series, where they faced the mighty Homestead Grays. Yet, even an illustrious outfit such as this one, stocked with future Hall of Famers, thought it could benefit from the addition of one more special talent.

In characteristic fashion – we are reminded once more of those core values – self-denial, hard work and sacrifice – Percy declined the invitation in order to further his career at the mill and devote himself to his new wife, Ruth Squire, formerly Ruth Gatewood. So, it is entirely appropriate that, on this day, Percy receives his long overdue reward and joins the likes of Mays and Paige by earning entry into the Hall of Fame - not the one in Cooperstown, but the one in Youngstown - the city that shaped the timeless, priceless values that define the man and his legacy.

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The nut (pun fully intended) does not fall too far from tree Tbone--and damn what a fine, proud, solid, stately Oak it is! You stand and stare from upon mighty shoulders/branches my friend.

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