Call of duty
Palmerton teaching and coaching legend Art George is shown with his wife Mary Ellen during his Palmerton Sports Hall of Fame induction earlier this year. RICH GEORGE/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS.
Art George Jr. knew from a very young age his destiny was to live a life of service.
"Everything I've done I felt was my duty to do," he said. From his schooling to his participation in sports to the Army reserves to his coaching and to his post career dedication to the athletic history of Palmerton High school, much of his 81 years of life have been spent serving his country and his community.
Raised in Palmerton, George played baseball, basketball, and track at Palmerton High School. For the longest time he held the discus and shot put school records.
"Back then, our coaches did not encourage their athletes to go to college like they do today," he said. "So I went to Lancaster Vocational School for three years."
George admitted that he was still unsatisfied about not going to college so he applied and was accepted to Millersville University where he earned a degree in industrial arts. He would soon get a job teaching at Coplay High School in 1963. Two years later, George happily agreed to teach industrial arts at Palmerton High School.
A few girls asked George if they could take shop classes. The school offered no provisions for them.
"I kept after the administration until they allowed me to teach the girls mechanical and architectural drawing, which they really enjoyed," George said.
At Palmerton, George coached baseball, football, basketball and track with outstanding success. His teams won several league championships.
One day while he was coaching boys' track, another group of girls asked him if they could join the boys' track team. Again, the administration said there were no provisions.
"I said just get me some blue shorts and maybe a couple of T-shirts," George recalled. "That's how we started the girls' track program in 1975.
That team began with big success. Seven girls qualified for the district meet and one, Debbie Rodriguez, broke the school and then the state record in the long jump. In the years to come, the girls track team would win titles in the Lehigh Valley, Centennial, and the Colonial leagues.
But it wasn't the championships that George remembers best - it was the student athletes he got to work with on a daily basis.
One of George's fondest memories is of a girl on his team who could barely make it into the pit on her long jumps.
"She practiced every single day. We finally let her jump at a meet. She didn't place, but she did land in the pit."
Another girl on one of George's teams was such a slow distance runner that at one meet, the race was over yet she was still on the track doing her final laps.
"The official told me to get her off the track so they could start the next event. I ran over and told her and she looked at me and said, 'I want to finish my race.'" George convinced the official to let her finish. He was so proud of her determination.
His call to duty was far greater than just coaching, however.
If one of his athletes was having trouble in the classroom, George would meet with the teacher to help his player get back to good academic standing. Sometimes after practice, an athlete would be left waiting for a ride home that would never come.
"Again I felt it was my duty to be responsible for him so I would take him home," George said.
Following his long teaching and coaching career, George said he felt it was his duty to stay involved with the high school's sports.
There were no trophy cases in the school and he wondered where all the awards that had been won through the school's history had gone.
"Without the principal's permission, I went upstairs into a storage area and found boxes and boxes of broken trophies. I could have cried," George said. "There were damaged trophies and plaques from teams coached by Palmerton greats Bill Wilhelm and Don Holland to name a few.
"The trophies were from as far back as the 1930s and ranged all the way through the 1960s."
School administration said there was no money for trophy cases, but George discovered that they could be purchased through a large grant that had been awarded to the school district. He made sure that Palmerton got the cases and that they were filled with the school's trophies and plaques.
Since his retirement in 1997, George has kept statistical records of nearly every Palmerton High School sports program that dates back to 1917. He and a team of dedicated friends continue to research old newspapers and yearbooks to try to find stories about the school's past athletes and teams.
"I think it's important to acknowledge what the athletes, coaches, and teams have accomplished at Palmerton," George said. "My wish is that I pass these records on to the school archives."
Throughout all his time spent teaching, coaching and maintaining school records, George's family has been behind him with their support. He will celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary this June with his wife, Mary Ellen, who "has always been by my side."
He enjoys spending time with his children, Art, Wendy, and Gail, as well as his 10 grandchildren.
Nowadays, one can find George hunting in the woods or fishing at the lake. He still attends high school sporting events, especially boys' basketball games, and is researching and compiling records.
One statistic that you won't find in the record books of Palmerton High School is a list of its most dedicated fans.
But if there was such a list, at the very top of it would be the name of Art George.