Kearney impacted players, coaches in county football

·5 min read

Feb. 11—Rivals on the football field, Jim Henson and Joe Kearney were just as good friends off it.

"He lived across the street from me," said Henson, an Orwell resident. "Joe and I did a lot together."

Henson remembered his colleague and neighbor Kearney, who died at age 78 earlier this week after a long illness.

"I coached at Grand Valley and he coached at Pymatuning Valley," Henson said. "Back then, PV and GV was the game."

Henson recalls a 0-0 tie between the Lakers and Mustangs.

"We had the better team, but they played us tough," Henson said. "He worked at it. He cared about the kids and was a great story teller."

An Ashtabula County Football Hall of Famer, who was a positive influence on so many players and young coaches, Kearney spent 30 years teaching social studies and coaching football at several county schools.

The Warren G. Harding graduate spent most of his time at Jefferson Area High School, but he also had stints at Pymatuning Valley (twice), Harbor, Edgewood, and Lakeside, as well as Thiel College.

"He had fun, but when you were playing them, you better be ready," Henson said of Kearney, who was a history teacher.

Kearney was an assistant coach for Jay Corlew at Lakeside.

"Joe was one of the kindest, most caring persons I've ever been around," Corlew said. "We coached together at Lakeside and he did so much for those kids and they loved him."

Corlew said Kearney had plenty of great stories.

"He knew so many people and coaches," Corlew said. "His love for the game was something I'll never forget. I got to talk to him recently and he had such a great sense of humor. I love that guy."

Mike Hassett was an assistant at Harbor in 1983. He and Kearney were the only members of the coaching staff for two years.

"He was a phenomenal man and teacher," Hassett said. "He was my mentor. He taught me so many things. He would make you laugh. Joe loved to eat, and loved his pasta."

Harbor went 1-9 one season.

"We had to do everything ourselves," Hassett said. "We lost our quarterback [Benji Beckman]. We gave up less than 10 points per game. We had more players make first-team All-Ohio."

Hassett was head coach at Harbor and assisted at Geneva and Lakeside.

Scott Collins has known Kearney since he was a student at PV.

"I was fortunate to join his football staff at Jefferson in 1998," Collins said. "From there on, not only was a great head coach to work and grow under ... he became one of my closest friends.

"We would hang out a lot and talk on the phone for hours. A real mentor. I grew a lot as a professional under his guidance. He would give you anything and would bend over backwards to help you. He was that way with everyone. He helped so many young men who were going through a rough time, or helped them get a job, or into college. He was such a father figure. He was the most genuine person that I've ever known."

George Bellios worked with Kearney in the Ashtabula County Touchdown Club.

"We always respected his insight and professional advice regarding how to best recognize the high school athletes and Hall of Fame inductees," Bellios said. "I had a great deal of respect for him not only as a coach but as a person."

In Kearney's final five seasons at Jefferson, the team went 6-4 or better four times, clinched a share of the Northeastern Conference title in 1999 and made the postseason for the first time in school history.

Darren Ryan played running back for Kearney in the late 1980s at Jefferson.

"He would come to me and say, 'Listen, we're gonna put our faith in you,'" Ryan said. "That taught me leadership and helped me gain confidence in myself. He was such a great guy and earned our respect."

"My senior year, he started mental conditioning. It was visualizing yourself in the game and doing the play perfectly."

TJ Furman was in the Jefferson football program from grades 7-12 (1990-95).

"Words can not express the influence Mr. Kearney has had on me as a player, coach, teacher and friend," Furman said. "He was more than just a coach, he found ways to connect with athletes and students that no one could."

Furman started coaching with Kearney in the 1998 season until Kearney retired. Furman coached football until 2008, and currently leads the Falcons cross country, girls basketball and track and programs.

"The biggest impact that I got from him as a coach was that he truly cared about his athletes and students," Furman said. "Even after he retired, he would randomly call me just to see how things were going.

"He not only had a huge impact on me, but thousands of other kids in Ashtabula County. As a community, we were truly blessed to have him as a mentor for so many people."

Jason Root coached for Kearney in his last five years at Jefferson.

"I learned a lot from him in those five years," Root said."In Joe's last year [2000], he allowed me to be the defensive coordinator. I became head coach the year after Joe left. Joe positively affected the lives of thousands of athletes and students over the years. He was a very caring coach, with a great sense of humor. I cherish the time that I had with him at Jefferson."

At Edgewood, Kearney guided the Warriors to a 7-3 record in 2009, and earned Ashtabula County Coach of the Year and Division III All-Northeast Lakes District Coach of the Year.

"He was an integral part of the county," Henson said. "I'm going to miss him."