Jason Mackey Column

Fort Cherry weightlifting story could’ve been better

A mea culpa, of sorts

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I’ve been proud of the majority of what I’ve written since starting at the Observer-Reporter July 23, 2012.


Monday’s story on the Fort Cherry football team does not fall into that category.


Yes, it recognizes kids working hard, which is something I always strive to do.


But I didn’t do a good job reporting the whole story.


As many of you know, Jim and Tim Garry coached the Fort Cherry football team for more than half a century, nearly twice as long as I’ve been alive.


When I was told this was the first time Fort Cherry had an organized, offseason weightlifting program, sirens should have gone off in my head.


They did not.


I wrote the story, taking what I was told at face value, without doing due diligence to find out whether that was, in fact, true.


(Which, as you will read, it is; there was an offseason program in place.)


By doing this, it hurt the quality of the story, but worse, it painted the many who’ve had a positive impact on Fort Cherry’s football program in a not-so-flattering light.


I wish I had realized the potential for negative impact before I had written the story.


I did not. And for that, I’m not only wrong but sorry.


Same as we all make mistakes and have things we wish we could have done better, I wish I had used my brain more on this one. I will say this, though: Nothing that was written was meant to harm; I was simply trying to tell the story of the current group looking for a competitive edge.


My errors were pointed out by former coach Tim Garry, who rightfully stuck up for his staff and players.


He explained to me the history of Fort Cherry’s lifting program and provided ample details of the prior offseason plan.


I would like to share a few of those with you, hopefully to provide a balanced account of this story – even if it’s two days late.


• Ray Johnson, a defensive coordinator for Jim Garry, was really the first to implement weightlifting at Fort Cherry, dating back to the 1970s, one e-mail stated. In 1975, the school bought an 11-station universal gym, and players would lift during activity periods in school.


• A separate e-mail touched on how the program was staffed and supervised by coaches. “We were there, took attendance daily and every kid had a packet with his name on it with that day’s lifts clearly dated and detailed with what they had to do,” the e-mail read. It also points out that those same coaches made phone calls and sent letters to prospective players, letting them know the weight room was open three days a week and providing contact numbers if they had questions.


• Garry said he and his staff took as many as 20 kids to DiCesaro Spine and Sport in Canonsburg for speed-training two nights a week for three years before he resigned following the 2011 season.


• Jim Garry donated several years’ worth of his salary back to the school, in order to upgrade the facilities.


All of this disproves what I implied: that the previous offseason program was not a big deal.


It was.


If I had made an extra call, I would have found that out.


There are certain word choices in my story for which I am regretful. “Dungeon,” while it was not something I wrote but a quote I used, is not entirely accurate.


Fort Cherry’s weight room has plenty of free weights, machines, and it’s adjacent to the team’s locker room. It’s well-lit, there’s a speaker system in the ceiling, and it’s a facility that any high school player would benefit from. The word “dungeon” was used more to describe the type of place with a lot of hard work, a lot of sweat, but I don’t think that message was conveyed.


I also used the term “secret club.” This was done for effect. As I have learned, this was anything but a secret club.


Fort Cherry’s coaches did have a weightlifting plan in place, and I was wrong for assuming something I knew nothing about.


Those coaches, especially the Garry family, should not have their reputations tarnished because of mistakes on my part.


Like the lessons they’ve taught for many years in that weight room and on the football field, they’ve taught me one the past few days, too.


Jason Mackey can be reached at jmackey@observer-reporter.com.


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