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Lyle's career path led to football success

| Monday, April 28, 2008

In 1962, quarterback Garry Lyle and Verona High School proved that size wasn't everything.

Despite being one of the state's smallest schools with an enrollment of 72 boys representing a town of one-half square mile, the Panthers won on the WPIAL's biggest stage, bringing home the Class B football championship.

On Nov. 16, 1962, Verona defeated Apollo, 12-6, at Ken High Memorial Stadium in New Kensington.

Lyle, who missed part of the game with a hip pointer, returned in time to throw a 27-yard touchdown pass to John Bouch to tie the game, then scored the game-winner on a 6-yard keeper to send the tiny community into a frenzy of impromptu victory parties that lasted into the night.

On May 17, Lyle will be one of eight inductees into the A-K Valley Sports Hall of Fame during the 39th induction banquet at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington.

"You don't know how small you are until you get out into the world and talk to others," Lyle said. "We're pretty proud that just about every boy in the school played ball for us."

Before coming to Verona early in his high school career, Lyle resided near New Martinsville, W.Va., in the similarly small community of Paden City. He started first grade in a school of eight students, but when segregation in education was outlawed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1954, Lyle and his fellow third graders were able to go to a much larger elementary school.

Following graduation from Verona, Lyle also helped break racial barriers at George Washington University in the Southern Conference, becoming the school's first black athlete to be named All-Conference quarterback. GWU was then a NCAA Division I program.

"My decision was down to Colorado, West Virginia and George Washington," Lyle recalled. "I had a sister who lived in Washington, D.C., so I decided to go to George Washington."

Despite lingering segregation in some parts of the South, Lyle was allowed to stay in the same hotels as his teammates and eat in the same restaurants. But the environment still wasn't all rosy.

"Yes, we had some redneck-types who didn't appreciate us being in football -- there was some verbal and physical abuse," Lyle said.

After being selected to several All-America teams as a junior, Lyle entered the NFL Draft. He was selected in the third round by the Chicago Bears. He played as a rookie under legendary coach George Halas as a backup running back to Gale Sayers.

When All-Pro safety Richie Pettibon retired, Lyle moved to the secondary. It proved to be a good move. His first of 17 career interceptions came off Colts' Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas. Lyle was playing in a defense led by Hall of Fame linebacker Dick Butkus.

After his NFL playing career ended in 1974, Lyle was hired by the Xerox Corp. He serves as Vice President of Public Sector Administrative Operations based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Lyle has a daughter, and twin sons who both played major college football. Keith Lyle was a safety for the St. Louis Rams and played in back-to-back Super Bowls.

Lyle will join his Verona High teammate, Harold Mauro, and his coach, the late Joe Zelek, in the local hall.

Additional Information:

A-K Valley Hall of Fame

A-K Valley Hall of Fame induction banquet

When: 7 p.m. May 17

Where: Clarion Hotel, New Kensington

Tickets: $20. No tickets sold at the door.

Contact: Al Uskuraitis, 724-727-7259

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