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Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

Dick Harmon: A visit to Greenwich, the place that hatched Hall of Famer Steve Young

By Dick Harmon, Deseret News

Published: Mon, Sept. 1 5:20 p.m. MDT

 Greenwich High School assistant headmaster Rick Piotrzowski says good-bye to a couple of Utah sports writers after a quick visit and tour.

Greenwich High School assistant headmaster Rick Piotrzowski says good-bye to a couple of Utah sports writers after a quick visit and tour.

(Dick Harmon, Deseret News)

GREENWICH, Conn. — Steve Young’s old high school is cut out of a dense wooded area, nestled in an exclusive enclave known for its wealth and celebrity, both things Young has actively shunned during his lifetime.

This past week, I joined colleague Jeff Call for a 90-mile ride down the freeway from Hartford to this border of the great state of New York on the outskirts of New York City. It was a quest for a glimpse at the high school where the NFL Hall of Famer, Super Bowl MVP and BYU All-American hatched his athletic career.

We arrived at Greenwich High unannounced and without an appointment — a mistake in this day and age because we threw assistant headmaster Rick Piotrzowski into a small panic.

“Hey, no big deal,” I told the school official. “We’re just here to take a peek at where Steve Young went to school, maybe look at the trophy case and walk into the football stadium. We’re not looking to interview anybody or take anyone’s time,” I told Piotrzowski.

It took a few minutes and a long look at the radiant humility of Jeff Call and the harmless grandfather I appear to be to settle Piotrzowski down a little. These days, school officials can’t be too cautious when strangers mingle with kids. We got our guest badges and Piotrzowski was kind enough to take a few minutes to personally walk us around to the athletic hall and the football field.

Greenwich is a unique place. It has a sleepy look, a tinge of New England culture mixed with a little New Yorker attitude. It’s been called a little snobbish. After all this is, per capita, the wealthiest community in the United States. Young’s parents moved to Greenwich from Provo when he was in elementary school.

Back when Young attended Greenwich High, only 2 percent of the students were on the assisted lunch program, now it is 12 percent. Back when Young went to school here, it had primarily a white student body, now it has more diversity. Some kids at this school live in million-dollar homes. Others live in back houses located on these million-dollar estates because their parents work for the millionaires.

This is a town that is not in awe of celebrity because many residents are celebrity.

Young is easily the most famous sports alum who once called himself a Greenwich Cardinal. Another famous alum is "Today Show" host Matt Lauer. Greenwich doesn’t display its famous because it tends to be overkill. These folks are who they are. At the school’s first-ever induction to its Hall of Fame, Young was there of course, but so was Olympian Sue Merz and Zeke Bella, a former New York Yankee who died just days after the ceremony.

At the time Young was named MVP of the Super Bowl back in the mid-90s, some of the famous residents included Pat Riley, then coach of the Knicks, Frank and Kathie Lee Gifford, Bobby Bonilla, Tom Seaver, George Foster, Lee Mazzilli and Craig Swan.

At that time, only Young and ice skater Dorothy Hammill, gold medal winner in the 1970s, were the local celebrities, according to the New York Times.

Approximately 72 percent of youths in Greenwich go to public schools, the other 28 percent attend private boarding schools. “And that hasn’t changed over the years no matter what is happening with our economy — it’s the last thing people give up here,” said the assistant headmaster.

We stopped at the office of the current athletic director, Gus Linde, who came on faculty four years after Young graduated. I asked him if we approached coeds in the halls — not that we would — and asked if they knew who Steve Young was, would they know?

“Probably not. But the boys would and I’m sure the football players and other athletes would,” said Linde.

“Steve is well respected in this community and has done a lot in representing our school and we are grateful for him, but he does keep a low profile.”

Piotrzowski took us past a trophy case that had a football signed by Young and a few pieces of hardware linked to his era, but it was down low. In more than 30 years, nobody had taken the time, energy or money to make a big deal of Young or dress up anything in that display case.

The football stadium features artificial turf and it is cut right out of an outcropping of thick woods. Above the press box, however, the name Steve Young is displayed prominently, almost like a billboard.

Now that was what we were looking for.

It took a few minutes to build some trust, but Piotrzowski, a native of Indiana, kind of warmed up to these two foreigners from a land called Utah. He got a little chatty and shared some facts and figures with us. When we left, we shook hands and I felt like we’d made a friend.

I first wrote about Young during his senior year at Greenwich and interviewed his coach, Mike Ornato, now long since retired from Greenwich High.

"Steve was never outstanding as a passer and did not have a particularly strong arm, but he was a great, great runner,” Ornato said in a pre Super Bowl interview. "He had excellent speed, and he was a deceptive, slashing type of runner."

Then he left. The rest is history.

Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at dharmon@desnews.com.

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1. BlueCoug
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"Steve was never outstanding as a passer and did not have a particularly strong arm, but he was a great, great runner," Ornato said in a pre Super Bowl interview. "He had excellent speed, and he was a deceptive, slashing type of runner."

hmmmm, sounds similar to the reviews a certain BYU QB was getting last season.

btw, Young was at one time 8th on BYU's QB depth chart.

On a side note, my daughter's missionary companion used to babysit Steve's kids. Steve took her and my daughter out to dinner while they were serving in Italy. He was very gracious.