Legends of Section IX: Gerard “Jerry” Davitt

By TED WADDELL
Posted 12/9/20

YOUNGSVILLE, NY — Teacher, coach, umpire, referee. These few consequential words define Gerald “Jerry” Davitt’s decades of involvement in local sports. After more than 60 …

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Legends of Section IX: Gerard “Jerry” Davitt

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YOUNGSVILLE, NY — Teacher, coach, umpire, referee. These few consequential words define Gerald “Jerry” Davitt’s decades of involvement in local sports. After more than 60 years in “the game,” he has had a major impact on the development of legions of scholar-athletes.

Davitt, 84, graduated from Waymart High School (now Western Wayne) in 1953. Right after getting his diploma, he promptly signed up for a two-year hitch in the U.S. Navy at the naval center in Baimbridge, MD along the Susquehanna River.

While playing on the hardwood, manning the soccer fields and running the bases at Waymart, Davitt was kept on the straight and narrow road of sportsmanship by Nester L. Chylak (1922-1982), another legend in the world of sports who umped at several games.

Before getting involved with calling games, Chylak served in the U.S. Army in WWII, was grievously wounded in the bloody Battle of the Bulge and was later awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star. Chylak then umpired in Major League Baseball (1954-1978): three league championships, six All-Star games and five World Series championships. In 1999, he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

While refereeing high school basketball games, Chylak must have seen merit in the young Davitt; after Davitt enrolled at East Stroudsburg State Teachers College (now East Stroudsburg University), he was contacted by the war hero and enforcer of rules. “[Chylak] got ahold of me and said, ‘I always thought you’d make a good official.’ He got me involved in starting to referee while in college,” recalled Davitt.

At college, Davitt played alongside future NYS basketball coach hall-of-famer Paul Zintel. Both future legendary coaches competed on the fields of soccer for four years, booting the ball from one fall season to the next.

In 1957, Davitt started umpiring in the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) after serving his country and a year before finishing his college studies. After they graduated from college together in 1958, Davitt got a teaching job in Liberty and Zintel was hired at Youngsville Central School.

A year later, Youngsville High merged with Jeffersonville, forming the Jeffersonville-Youngsville Central School District (JYCS), and Zintel started looking around for an assistant basketball coach after Wally Baims left for greener pastures.

During this time, Davitt was keeping his basketball skills razor sharp; he played 75-some games a year of amateur hoops with the Scranton Red Wings and the Callicoon Kiwanis. In addition to 33 years of teaching in the elementary school science classroom, Davitt coached numerous scholastic teams in track and field, basketball, baseball and football.

So, in 1966, Davitt and Zintel were instrumental in establishing the International Athletic Association of Basketball Officials (IAABO) board with the goal of providing basketball officials for high school games in Sullivan County.

Fast forwarding a couple of years, Davitt teamed up with JYCS Principal Robert Breffle to help create the Sullivan County Baseball Umpires Association (SCBUA).

Not one to rest on his laurels, in the 1970s, Davitt assisted in the formation of the Sullivan County Soccer Officials Association (SCSOA).

In recognition of his accomplishments with the local baseball umpires’ association, in 2012, the SCBUA selected him to receive the prestigious Tony DeVito Memorial Award, citing his “demonstrating excellence as an umpire by showing integrity, dependability and a high degree of professionalism.” Davitt then served as the first president of the SCBUA, holding that position for several years before later serving as vice president and secretary/treasurer.

In his decades of wearing an official’s stripes and teaching science to seventh- and eighth-graders, he picked up several other honors: Tri-County Baseball Coach of the Year (1987), Southern Science Teacher of the Year (1987) and being elected to the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in Wayne County.

“I recall that our jayvee basketball team only lost 21 league games in 20 years,” said Davitt. He also noted that, in 1987, he coached the JYCS Trojans varsity baseball team to the state finals—in the next season, they made it to the state semifinals.

“I was fortunate to officiate at the state level in three sports: basketball, baseball and soccer,” recalled Davitt.

While coaching basketball, Davitt helped Ron Bernhardt and his brothers, along with Dave Qualls and Hank Sandlas, fine-tune their game of buckets. Reflecting on these former stars of the hardwood, he said, “They were all real good basketball players.”

Bernhardt played two years on Davitt’s jayvee squad and wrapped up his high school basketball career by playing varsity as a point guard for two seasons under coach Zintel. After college, Bernhardt went on to coach at Delaware Valley, then on to SUNY Sullivan and, for years, taught and coached at Sullivan West, the “Home of the Bulldogs.”

In recent years, Davitt came back to the court, taking over the boys’ modified basketball program at Sullivan West, while Bernhardt and Rick Ellison helped lead the girls’ programs. And so, the trio of teacher/coaches completed the circle from one generation to the next.

“I had almost 60 years of reffing in a lot of sports,” said Davitt. When asked how the scholar-athletes of yesterday compare to the new generation, he replied, “Years ago, they played all the time, year-round; now you don’t see that... It seems to have changed so much. There was so much respect back then, and a lot more camaraderie years ago. I always had a bunch of kids in my backyard playing basketball.”

Asked what students gain from participating in sports, Davitt responded, “There’s so much education in sports. You have to get along with other people, you learn leadership... it’s hand-in-hand.”

But back to Bernhardt.

“Jerry and Paul developed the players, and like me were vertically challenged” – a politically correct way of saying they weren’t the tallest timber on the hardwood – “A lot of coaches wouldn’t play you if you’re short, but with them size didn’t matter.”

“It was all about hustling and the fundamentals, the basic stuff, they cared about the kids,” said Bernhardt, adding of his former coach’s philosophy, “Scout the other team well, play to your strengths, and don’t back down.”

“He taught us so many lessons,” he added, “Persistence, never giving up, different ways to get into the other team’s head, keeping your composure, and getting the other guys rattled.”

No sports scribbler would be worth his/her weight in words if they didn’t try to dig deep into the character of their subject, and try to get something somewhat controversial on paper.

Asked what Davitt was like as a coach, his former player and future helmsman, replied, “Jerry is a bit of a character, a lot of people will vouch for that, but that’s another story.”

One that is suitable for print revolves around the issue of boys wearing their hair on the long side, a style that was popular right after the Woodstock Festival.

“Jerry was big on hair back then, the whole country was blossoming, and a lot of high school kids had long hair, but if you wanted to play for him, it was crew cuts, and that was a bone of contention, he was a real stickler.”

Bernhardt continued, “I could tell you stories until the cows come home,” he said.

But that’s grist for the mill another day, in another edition. Perhaps.

Once the COVID-19 pandemic is brought to heel, Davitt hopes to get back to the hardwood, coaching young hoopsters in the sports he deeply loves.

“I plan on coaching modified basketball again, if we ever get back to it,” said Jerry Davitt.

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