BRADEN RIVER — Tucked away on an end table in his parents’ home, a single black photo album reveals one man’s story.
At first glance, it appears to be like any other. A single photo — one of him smiling as he stands on the sidelines at Braden River High School — graces the cover. It shows a coach doing what he does best — listening, teaching and helping to shape his players for what’s to come.
In many ways it’s the perfect photo to introduce this man’s story and yet it’s only just the beginning. After all it’s what’s inside that truly captures Pirates defensive line coach Doug Garrity’s spirit.
Only this album isn’t filled with family photos or football mementos. In fact you won’t find a single photo inside its pages. Instead, dozens of white 3-by-5 index cards fill the pages — each one a handwritten message from a player, student, friend or colleague.
He was the best coach and teacher ever … He taught us so much on and off the field … He pushed me to be stronger … You were an inspiration to us all … Helping me to become what I am today … I will win states for you … We’ll work harder like you want … The way you encourage me to get better every day … Taught me it’s OK to be yourself …
Now these inspirational words will serve as a constant reminder of the impact that Garrity had on his students and players. On Sept. 25, the Braden River family and the community gathered at the school to pay tribute to their beloved teacher, coach and friend.
Prior to the Pirates’ district game against Bayshore, the Braden River High Athletic Booster Club formally dedicated a memorial tribute, which has been constructed just outside the football stadium, in honor of Garrity.
The memorial features a Live Oak tree surrounded by a circular bench, a Superman-shaped flowerbed and a series of plaques honoring Garrity.
“I didn’t know Doug, but my kids knew him so it was more of a thing for the Garrity family and Doug’s students,” booster club member Mark Ventriglia said. “It turned out a lot better than even I thought it would, and I think the eternal thing is how long Live Oaks live. It should last 100 years — that’s the eternal part of the whole memorial.”
On hand for last Friday’s memorial tribute dedication were Garrity’s parents, John and Dehlia Garrity; his brother, Patrick; former Bayshore Athletic Director Mario Valcarcel; and coaches Willie Brown and Jim Cooper, some of Garrity’s former Bruins teammates; and lifelong mentor Robert “Pig” Goff.
John and Dehlia Garrity learned about the memorial tribute to their son during the Pirates’ first home game against Lakewood Ranch.
“It was very awe-inspiring that they would consider doing something like this for Douglas,” Dehlia Garrity said. “The thing that surprises me the most is that this is the booster club doing this, so it’s the parents who saw how Douglas affected their children.”
Her husband agreed.
“It’s one thing to know that your son is working with kids, but after the tragic accident all of these people that we didn’t know, all of the players, all of these kids… the support in the number of people that attended the services and the funeral … it’s kind of still going on,” John Garrity said.
During the tribute, John and Dehlia Garrity also presented the school with a plaque in memory of their son and in honor of last year’s football team, which recorded the program’s first winning season.
The plaque features a photo of Doug Garrity surrounded by the symbolic chain that was given to John and Dehlia Garrity during their son’s funeral, a football signed by all of last season’s coaches and players, a team picture, a list of all the players and coaches and the Pirates’ schedule from last season.
“On March 25, this chain was passed on to the Garrity family to keep close to their hearts the loss they had suffered, anchoring them to the Pirate family and holding them safe and secure until they were ready to pass it on,” Jeff Phillips announced to the crowd on behalf of the Garritys. “This chain is ready to take its rightful place at the home of the Pirates to continue its legacy of strength and achievement.”
John and Dehlia Garrity had been looking for a way to return the chain back to the players ever since it was given to them six months ago. But it wasn’t until Braden River linebacker Trevor Barnes’ father, Ben, approached the Garritys that the idea for the plaque was born.
“The last six months the (school and the community) have really helped us with our closure,” Dehlia Garrity said. “The plaque — it’s our way of saying ‘thank you.’”
“We just wanted to get the chain back to the boys because that’s where it belongs,” John Garrity said.
Ben Barnes talked to the players about what they would like to do with the chain, and the players responded by asking to turn the chain into a plaque to commemorate the 2008 football team.
“It turned out to be more than any of us could’ve ever imagined,” Trevor Barnes said. “It’s perfect. From now on, it’ll be in that trophy case and people will be able to look at it and know what our history is.”
It’s been six months since Doug Garrity, 27, was killed in a car accident. There’s not a day that goes by that John and Dehlia Garrity don’t think about their son.
Images of their son’s smiling face — from the photo of him standing on the sidelines to a portrait of Doug Garrity in his signature pink polo shirt — are sprinkled throughout the Garrity’s home.
Up until two weeks ago, John Garrity couldn’t bring himself to open the photo album filled with index cards. But with a box of tissues and his wife by his side, John Garrity was finally ready to read the messages left for his son.
“Each time is very emotional,” Dehlia Garrity said. “These are things that they would say about Doug or to Doug. These are the things and the people he inspired.”
After losing their son, the Garritys took up Doug Garrity’s commitment to his students.
“Our biggest concern is for those kids,” Dehlia Garrity said. “John and I know our loss and how we’re dealing with this and we’re adults. John and I are able to do this and get through this because we know that they’re doing this and getting through this.
“We need them to help us, and we know that they need to see us (strong) to help them,” she said.
John and Dehlia Garrity have attended every one of the Pirates’ games this season with the exception of the Venice game. John Garrity tries to attend at least one of the team’s practices each week and joins the team in the locker room for a pre-game prayer.
Following their victory Friday night, the players gathered on the 50-yard line as the defense presented John and Dehlia Garrity with chains of their own to remind them they will always be a part of the Braden River family, and that their son will forever be the link that holds them together.
“He’s with us every day,” Trevor Barnes said of Garrity. “He’s always here. He’s in every one of our hearts. He’ll always be here. He’s never going to leave this school.”
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].