Courage and dignity defined Plum's Boynton
Jeff Boynton was inducted into the Plum High School Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, and, he admitted at the time, he felt a little uneasy at first about the whole thing, including all the attention he would receive.
The 1978 Plum graduate enjoyed one of the most outstanding careers in the history of Plum athletics, and he was more than deserving of the hall-of-fame honor.
The Mustangs four-sport athlete was headed to West Virginia University on a full football scholarship after choosing the Mountaineers over several other Division I offers that included Pitt and Miami (Fla.), but those plans were shattered when he suffered a severe spinal cord injury during an all-star football game in the summer of 1978 and was paralyzed.
Boynton warmed up to the hall-of-fame honor more and more, and the thought of receiving induction with fellow 1978 Plum graduate and football teammate John Garcia, he said, even strengthened his views.
He was celebrated that night in November 2008 not only for his athletic exploits, but also for his determination to not let his injury keep him from living a full life.
Boynton died on Jan. 1 from injuries suffered in a September automobile accident. He was 54.
The weekend visitations and Monday's funeral were opportunities for friends, family, classmates and others who's lives Boynton had touched over the years to gather and reflect on his life and his impact.
“He was always about doing the right thing. His positive outlook and his never-quit attitude rubbed off on everyone,” Jeff's younger brother, Chris Boynton, said.
Jeff Boynton competed in baseball, basketball and track and field, but football is where he made the biggest impact.
His quickness, speed and strength helped him put up big points for the Mustangs and helped him claim several awards and honors, including the Keystone Conference Most Valuable Player as a senior.
Boynton, Plum High School's Most Valuable Athlete for the 1977-78 school year, scored three touchdowns three different ways in one quarter — a 97-yard kickoff return, a 70-yard punt return and a 6-yard run.
His No. 22 jersey is the only one ever to be retired by the Plum football program.
“Plum lost a brave, tough kid when Jeff left us,” said Andy Sebastian, Plum football's public address announcer for more than three decades.
“He was a warrior on and most definitely off the field. That man fought the fight indeed. God bless Jeff and the Boynton family. We will always remember No. 22.”
“Jeff was one of the greatest athletes to ever play for Plum,” said Plum 1974 graduate Marty Scarano, a 2012 Plum High School Hall of Fame inductee.
Jeff and his father, Alan Sr., were involved in a collision on I-79 on Sept. 30, and both found themselves in intensive care.
In November, Jeff was transferred to LifeCare Hospital in Monroeville to continue his recovery.
He battled through ups and downs the past couple of months, said Dave Derry, a friend and classmate.
“With life, it's such a delicate balance,” Derry said.
“He definitely fought the good fight. The family made a very strong point to remind everyone that despite his injury and being in a wheelchair for 35 years, he lived a very full life. We saw pictures of him during holidays and at the beach with his family. He was a great guy who loved his family and friends. The thing that everybody is holding on to now is that he left that wheelchair behind and no longer needs it.”
Boynton's memory and legacy will live on in a new scholarship in his name started by several of his Plum classmates.
A spaghetti dinner fundraiser on Dec. 29 at Johnny's Restaurant in Wilmerding, Derry said, was very successful and raised more than $10,000 for the scholarship.
“The family is all behind it,” he said.
“We want to identify the key traits Jeff displayed, not only (as a student-athlete) at Plum but over time as he faced obstacles through his (football) injury and in the most recent accident, and incorporate those same traits in determining the scholarship recipients. Jeff was supportive of that knowing the scholarship would help current and future student-athletes from Plum get to the next level and have a chance to succeed there.”
Derry said there will be fundraisers and events each year to raise money for the scholarships.
All memorial gifts in Boynton's name are to be designated for the scholarship fund.
Send a gift or donation to the Jeff Boynton Scholarship Fund, 5134 Harvest Drive, Murrysville, PA, 15668.
“He had a lot of support not just from Plum but from the whole city of Pittsburgh,” Chris Boynton said.
Trib Total Media staff reporter Debra Erdley contributed to this report.