Remembering the day Coach Novak came to the rescue of Larry Gibson | READER COMMENTARY
For The Baltimore Sun|
May 08, 2020 at 3:53 PM
In 1954, my parents, looking for work, moved our family to Baltimore from Beckley, W. Va. The day after Labor Day, I started classes in the eighth grade at the old Clifton Park Junior High School. I was 12 years old, a short 90-pound weakling and a hillbilly with a strong southern West Virginia accent. I was a target. On my first day, in physical education class, we boys were outside on the grass of Clifton Park next to the school. At some point, a student about twice my size pushed me down on the grass, jumped on my back and started pounding on me. I was terrified.
Suddenly, Coach Robert “Ed” Novak Sr. who was tall and broad-shouldered grabbed the bully by his gym shirt, yanked him up and ordered him never to touch me again. After that, Mr. Novak always looked out for me. When I went to Baltimore City College in the 10th grade, Mr. Novak was there teaching at his former alma mater. He knew I had not an ounce of athletic ability so he asked me if I would be a manager for the varsity soccer team he coached and I said yes. Then, in the spring, he was the assistant track and field coach under Jerry Nathanson and asked me to be a manager for that team. I, of course, agreed.
During one track session, Larry Gibson, who was a terrific hurdler, tripped when jumping over one of the hurdles and broke his wrist when he hit the track. Mr. Novak told Mr. Nathanson that he would take Larry to the nearest emergency room which happened to be at Union Memorial Hospital on 33rd Street. When Mr. Novak took Larry into the ER, the doctor in charge refused to treat him because he was black (this was in the late 1950′s). A young resident doctor working in the ER happened to be a City College graduate. He walked over to Mr. Novak, who was wearing his City class ring from 1944, and said to him, “Coach, I’ll take care of him,” and put a cast on Larry’s wrist.