Family, community and town sports played a significant part in Jeff Gordy’s life, and when he died last week at the age of 65, the outpouring from the hundreds of people whose lives he touched reflected his more than four decades of service to the community and its children.
Gordy played football, basketball and ran track for Laurel high school. He continued his love of sports into adulthood, coaching his own children in Little League and Pop Warner, and was a founder of the Laurel Youth Basketball program. He ran youth basketball for 30 years.
One of three brothers, he recruited within the family when it came to coaching. He roped his brother Steve into helping out and the pair coached together for years.
“It's one thing that definitely brought us close together and we enjoyed doing it, just like giving back to the kids,” Steve Gordy said. “For many years, he or I, mainly him, he didn't have any kids involved in the program, but he was still out there coaching.”
According to Steve, Jeff helped reimagine the way children were taught football in Laurel, and as they grew, it was a significant part of the town’s success in the sport.
When the Pop Warner league inaugurated the Mighty-Mites, (a league for children aged 7 to 9 years old) it asked whether Jeff would be interested in coaching. Steve’s son, Chase, was old enough to play.
“We coached Chase for two years together, and when Chase moved on to a different level he and I continued coaching for another 11 years together,” Steve said. “Eventually he got Chase into coaching as Chase got older and got into high school. Chase eventually took over for Jeff as the coach of the Mighty Mite football team.”
Eventually Jeff’s grandkids got involved and he always enjoyed watching them play. His oldest son, Brock, now helps run the basketball program. Beyond his own volunteerism, Jeff had helped inaugurate a family tradition that has survived him.
Don't get 'The Boot'
The outpouring from the community upon hearing the news tended to skew football. Grown men who played their first games under his tutelage sent posted heartfelt messages about how deeply his influence affected their lives. Many if not most remember “The Boot.”
“Jeff always wore these ankle-high boots to practice,” Steve said. “Whenever a child did something wrong or they jumped offsides or they held somebody, Jeff would say, ‘OK, you owe me one,’ and they would kind of bend over a little bit in front of him, and he'd tap him on the behind with his boot. It kind of became a game with them.”
It went from game to legend, with kids mostly pretending to fear “The Boot” as they told other kids about it. Of course, it was in such a good-natured way that the kids relished the attention as much as they wanted to play error-free.
Among the most fundamental ways Jeff Gordy helped change Laurel football was his desire to teach the kids fundamentals from the ground up. For example, a significant part of teaching the kids is showing them where they’re supposed to line up and how to react to a snap count.
When he first started, most coaches would line the kids up one by one at the beginning of each game as well as between plays. But the Laurel kids always knew where to go without needing constant direction. With that small part out of the way, they were free to learn more about playing, and Jeff's coaching eventually raised the bar among other teams.
“Jeff taught the game the way it should be taught, and he taught the kids to be disciplined. It was just amazing to see the difference in coaching styles and how far advanced our kids were,” Steve said. “Jeff was there for the kids to help them succeed, to learn the game, to become better people, to improve their quality of life and give them a foundation to grow on.”
Jeff finished out his working days as a warehouse manager for Utz, and was also known for his produce stand, but aside from his family his enduring legacy will be his contribution to Laurel sports.
According to his obituary, Jeff is survived by his wife Marie; children, Brock and Jami Gordy, Josh and Ann-Marie, Joseph and Kaleigh Zarrello, Anthony and Meghan Zarrello, Ashley Zarrello and Rick Passwaters, Courtney Gordy and Trez Kane; brothers, Benny and Jayne Gordy, and Steve and Melissa Gordy; grandchildren, Zoe Gordy, Brayden Zarrello, Jaxon Gordy, Carson Gordy, Devin Gordy, Adalynn Zarrello, Kiersten Passwaters, Ricky Passwaters, Emmett Gordy, and Kali Kane.
Friends of the family have set up a GoFundMe to help with final expenses.
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