Community remembers Liberty legend Jack Ferrill

Photo by Tony Kukulich

Community members, seen here singing ‘Hail Liberty’ packed Liberty High School’s gym last week to honor district icon Jack Ferrill, who died in December at the age of 93.

Jack Ferrill’s influence on Liberty High School is immeasurable.

When former colleague Roy Ghiggeri tried to count the number of students Ferrill impacted during his 68-year Liberty Union High School District career, he gave up at somewhere in the tens of thousands.

“I just stopped (counting), because it was ridiculous,” Ghiggeri said during Ferrill’s memorial service last week inside a packed Liberty High School gym. “It's safe to say we will never match the commitment that Jack had for this district and this community.”

Ghiggeri’s anecdote was just one of many shared during a moving ceremony remembering the legendary teacher, coach, athletic director, physical education chairperson, assistant principal and principal. Ferrill died in December at the age of 93.

“Jack had all the elements of great leaders, of great men,” said Floyd Reese, a member of the Ferrill-coached 1965 undefeated Liberty football team.

The committed, motivational, respected, memorable figure cemented his Liberty legacy during a 39-year stint at the school that concluded with his first retirement in 1990.

Some two weeks later, he was back — across the street from Liberty, helping establish Independence High School’s physical education program, which he was part of until 2019.

Those combined 68 years in education — including an illustrious 23 years coaching basketball, track, swimming and football — generated lifetimes of lessons, memories and laughs, attendees confirmed during the memorial.

Former Liberty coach Jerry Miller, who worked beside Ferrill for 22 years, praised him as a master motivator, teacher and mentor.

“Perhaps Jack’s greatest trait was his ability to make others feel like they could do anything they put their mind to,” he said.

Ferrill’s influence shone through in Liberty students like Reese.

The 1960s Liberty football star admitted during the service that he'd thought he was destined for a career as a steel mill worker, but then he played for Ferrill and turned that experience into a career as a NFL executive with multiple teams, including the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans and New England Patriots.

“Jack took this short, fat guy and taught him how to play football, made him do it right, made him be a better player than he probably deserved,” Reese said.

Reese wasn’t alone.

Other former players and coaches lauded Ferrill’s motivational skills, which he used to will his players to prepare, work hard, care for teammates and never give up.

Ghiggeri recounted one time Ferrill ordered cupcakes for his football squad — pretending to be from an upcoming strong and undefeated future San Ramon opponent that hinted the Lions were as soft as the baked goods.

The tactic worked —Liberty handed San Ramon the only tie of its entire season.

“His players went to a level that was unbelievable,” Ghiggeri’s said. “That was the only blemish on San Ramon’s record.”

Ferrill didn’t stop at molding students into fine adults and athletes. He made sure that many would be remembered forever by establishing the Liberty Union High School District Athletic Hall of Fame in 1990, which features an annual ceremony to reunite past greats and add new company.

“In my eyes, mostly as a result of (Jack and his wife’s) passion and work ethic, this is the best high school hall of fame around,” Miller said.

To nobody’s surprise, Ferrill also left his mark outside Brentwood.

The lifelong Stockton resident, World War II veteran, devout husband and father of four was a sixth-degree black belt in judo and ran the Stockton Judo Club; headed the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame; and served as a Stockton lifeguard for so long the Stockton Record newspaper proclaimed him the oldest lifeguard in America.

But Ferrill always returned to Brentwood — if not to teach, then to watch Liberty football.

And like clockwork, a gaggle of Ferrill fans, mostly past students and community members, would return as well, seizing the opportunity to reunite with the legend at his field-level seat.

“It was a sight to see, because everyone wanted to talk to Jack,” Ghiggeri said. “He was truly an inspiration to everybody.”

Jack’s physical presence may be gone, but his memory will live on forever.

In a parting nod, the school board has announced that Liberty’s future aquatics center will bear Ferrill’s name.

“He was the greatest Lion of them all,” Miller said.

To read more about Ferrill’s career, visit bit.ly/2VIrW00.

To read his official Liberty Union High School District Athletic Hall of Fame biography, visit bit.ly/2VLeSac.

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