By TOM WILLIAMS
John Cervino was an intense coach, the kind of coach you’d see in a Hollywood production.
During his four seasons as Ocean City High School’s football coach (1965-68) he was animated on the sidelines, almost always dressed in a suit and tie. He followed Andy Prohaska as Raiders’ coach after Prohaska went across the bay to coach at Mainland. And when Cervino left, in mid-1969, for another coaching job, a newly-hired assistant who had been coaching at Lenape – Mike Slaveski – suddenly became head coach.
Cervino had previously coached an unbeaten freshmen team at the University of Pennsylvania. Rick Owens, a member of that team, remembered him. “Coach Cervino was a one-of-a-kind coach. Every day we went to practice not knowing what he was going to do. He picked on QB Billy Creeden for not being able to call a play. One day he challenged us to a field goal kicking
contest — if you could beat him you could punch him in the mouth. When he asked who wanted to challenge him, no one raised a hand until Dennis Blake yelled, ‘I will!’ His response to Blake: ‘Get out of here.’
“Speaking personally,” Owens continued, “I never played on a team where I had so much fun
going to practice, preparing to win and then winning all our games. And what I am most proud of is the inscription on the 1964 Freshman Football Award. Instead of naming an individual recipient, as was traditional, it was given to the ‘Team.’ A truly great team.”
Cervino, who died earlier this week, had young talent when he took over at Ocean City – Jack Neall, Bob Glaspey, Jim Tarves, Larry Masi, Hank Adams, among them – and they won a combined six games in the first two seasons. One highlight of his first season came against Hammonton when John Henry scored five times in the first half. The first score came from 62 yards with the others from 55, 62, 64 and nine.
“It was one of the most remarkable halves of football I’ve ever seen,” Cervino said years later when Henry was recognized by the Ocean City Sports Hall of Fame. “I just stood there on the sidelines and became a fan. It was enjoyable to watch.”
As seniors, in 1967, those young athletes who struggled a bit in their first two years were 8-1 and Cape-Atlantic League champions, the first league title for the Raiders in 10 years. In his final season at OCHS, Cervino’s team was 6-2, losing to Hammonton and Pleasantville, and finishing third in the CAL.
“John Cervino was a great football mind,” said another OCHS coach, Tony Galante. “He was also one of the most colorful Ocean City football coaches in history. I was fascinated watching him in action as a young boy and became close friends with him years later. There are many stories about him but one of the best took place just a week ago.
“His family invited me to send a birthday greeting to him last Monday, one of 92 cards that would equal his number of years on earth. I arranged through Coach Kevin Smith to have his team wish him happy birthday via video. He was thoroughly delighted hearing from the players and was quite proud of this year’s team and their phenomenal success. John was a great guy and I will truly miss him. Peace, Coach.”
Bud Rinck knew Cervino before either of them joined the OCHS staff. “I knew him as a teacher at Ocean City High School,” Rinck said, “but also as a teacher and coach at Norristown High School. I did my student teaching under him while in college. Truly one of a kind. He taught me an awful lot about an awful lot.”
Mike Lombardi, who went on to a career in NFL management and football media, left OCHS to play for Cervino at Valley Forge Military Academy. “My life was blessed having known and played for John Cervino at VFMA,” Lombardi said. “From the moment I later reconnected with him on the beach in 1976 he changed my life forever. I will always be indebted to him for his kindness, his teachings, his humor and – most of all – his willingness to help make young men better. His spirit will always be with the many he coached. RIP, Coach.”
“His coaching style included providing great details,” said Bruce Beaver, a player on that 6-2 team in 1968. “When you lined up opposite that guy on the other team, you were sure you could beat him because of the information you’d been given. Jack Boyd was an assistant coach and did a lot of the scouting. We were so well prepared. Coach Cervino was a great teacher of football.”
But Beaver had a memorable off-field experience, too. As a junior, Beaver’s home caught fire and he was fortunate to escape. “After Coach Cervino found out about the fire,” Beaver said, “he came over to where I was staying and brought me some new clothes. I had lost everything in the fire and that really impressed me. It really made a difference.”
Though he coached at Ocean City for just four years, he obviously made an lasting impact.
John Cervino was 92.