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No Other Place to Be: A Tribute to Coach Mike Garvin

by Carolyn Garvin & Wes Peavy (’75)

“You’re either with me or without me, there’s no other place to be!” Thus echoes one of the many “Garvinisms” for which Mike Garvin was famous. “No other place to be” might have referred to time with his family, to speaking to his students, or to locker room talks with his teams, but for sure, one place that he meant as no other place to be was Mount de Sales Academy.

His path to Mount de Sales was fortuitous, maybe even predestined, and that has made all the difference for Mount de Sales and its students, past, present, and future. The son of Calder and Anastasia McKenna Garvin, Mike was born on July 5th, 1934 in Macon, Georgia, where he and his nine siblings lived within walking distance of Mount de Sales Academy, a little Catholic high school up on a hill, a boarding high school for girls. His five sisters attended Mount de Sales, but boys were not admitted until 1959, so Mike and three of his brothers attended Lanier High School for Boys. Mike’s youngest brother, however, was in the first class of boys admitted to Mount de Sales in 1959. Public high schools in Macon were segregated by both race and gender until August 1970.

As the fifth of ten children, Mike learned the role of responsibility and the value of hard work at an early age. Family responsibilities, like de-feathering chickens for Sunday dinner, and personal responsibilities, like taking care of his paper route and serving as an altar boy at St. Joseph’s Church, taught him what it was like to have others depending on you, thus laying the foundations for the philosophy that developed his guiding principles.

Mike attended St. Joseph’s Catholic School where Sister Martina Joseph, one of several Sisters of Mercy, helped ground him in his Catholic faith. While in high school at Lanier High School for Boys, teachers like William Brake (Math), Cotton Harrison (Coach), and most especially, Tom Porter (Math and Coach), helped shape his desire for a future in teaching and coaching. Inspired by these educators, he enrolled at Mercer University, thus defying his mother, who, according to his sisters, preferred that he attend Georgia Tech. The story goes that during the debate, he climbed up on the dining table and declared, “I’m going to be a teacher and a coach, and I’m going to Mercer!” Whereupon his mother declared, “Then, you’ll never be a success!” Many years later, of course, she admitted before a crowd at a Mount de Sales athletic banquet that she had been so wrong. She then went on to explain saying, “Mike is a success in every way that counts!”

Mike pursued a degree in mathematics at Mercer, with a two-year break to serve in the Signal Corps of the United States Army near the end of the Korean Conflict.  After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1956, he returned to Mercer, taking advantage of the GI Bill to complete work for his bachelor of science in mathematics, graduating in 1959. While working on his degree, Mike coached everything from Tee League Baseball at Vine Ingle (which he helped start up with George Jones) to grammar school football at Alexander IV, taking those teams to two Pony Bowl Championships, leading his team to a state championship in 1961. Coaching was definitely in his blood!!

Upon graduating from Mercer, Mike started his high school teaching and coaching career at Willingham High School for Boys, working with and learning from legends like Billy Henderson, Bobby Brown, and Henry Middlebrooks. In 1963, he began dating Carolyn Pierce Robertson, a sixth-grade teacher at Joseph N. Neel Elementary School; that marked the beginning of an amazing relationship and a 49-year marriage. The manifestation of the love and commitment that they shared with each other is evident in the legacy of their three sons: Michael, Rob, and Matt. It was not unusual to see these three little towheaded boys trailing after their mom to support dad at every sporting event, whether football, basketball, baseball, track, or whatever else it might be. It wasn’t just “Friday Night Lights” for the Garvins’ sons, it was whatever field or gym necessary until they had the opportunity to participate as Cavaliers themselves. The Garvins’ love of family was extended to three bonus teens during that 49-year marriage: Joey Pascullis and Ben Zambiasi, who lived with the Garvins while seniors at Mount de Sales, and Sally Thomas Proffitt, the long-suffering babysitter who essentially became their daughter upon the death of her mother. The well-being of these young people was important to the Garvins. Also important to the Garvins were their extended families, their church, and their professions.

Sr. Mary Fidelis, then principal at Mount de Sales where both Mike and Carolyn were teaching, recognized their selfless commitments and their admirable marriage.  So impressed, Sr. Fidelis urged Mike and Carolyn Garvin to create and teach a special religion class, appropriately called “Marriage.” Though reluctant to present their relationship as a model for others, Sr. Fidelis eventually prevailed, and the class was team-taught by the couple until Carolyn Garvin left Mount de Sales to teach at Mercer University in 1991.

Mike Garvin had his own unique way of thinking, and there is no doubt that his moral compass was locked on True North. He was a man of strong principles and a man of unwavering faith. Those two things shaped his philosophy of work and play. He played by the rules. He was intense. He was a consummate teacher. He taught and coached with fire and passion. He easily commanded respect and admiration in the classroom. He was a student of the sports he coached and of the mathematics that he taught. He could often be found watching films of games just played by the Cavaliers or films of games played by future Cavalier opponents.  In free time or leisure time, he might be found working math problems – just for fun! He was among the first math teachers to allow the use of calculators in the classroom. When computers became mainstream, he was among the first to have a computer at home and was instrumental in starting a computer program of study at Mount de Sales.

During his tenure at Mount de Sales, Mike was named “Star Teacher of the Year” four times. To say he loved teaching math is an understatement. Coach Chester Pierce once said of Mike, “He was a great, great teacher. He absolutely loved teaching math.” It was said by many of his students that Coach Garvin could teach math to a fly on the wall! That math brain applied simple arithmetic to drive his coaching philosophy, “If they don’t score, we can’t lose.  Stop your opponent from scoring and find a way to score some points. Some points beat no points!”

According to Joe McDaniel, who was coached by Mike at Willingham and who then coached alongside Mike at Mount de Sales, said, “For Mike, coaching was teaching in its purest form.” Coach Mark Farriba said of Mike, “He would probably tell you he was a math teacher who also coached football – and he was pretty good at coaching football.” In 24 seasons as the head coach of the Cavalier football team, Coach Mike Garvin recorded a 172-71-5 record. The Cavaliers won GHSA state championships in 1970, 1971, and 1973, as well as five region championships in the GHSA. After joining the GISA, the Cavaliers won another five region championships. In addition to coaching football, Mike also started and coached the first girls’ basketball team at Mount de Sales. He led the Cavalier track team to a GISA state championship in 1985. Mike Garvin wasn’t just any coach, he was a coach who studied the game and who drove himself hard. You might hear him say, “Just work hard and the rest will take care of itself. Work always precedes success except in the dictionary!” That work brought him many honors from his fellow coaches, from local and state government, and from his school. To name just a few, he is a member of the Mount de Sales Sports Hall of Fame, the Macon Sports Hall of Fame, and he received the Macon Telegraph’s prestigious Sam Burke Award for contributions to athletics.

Today, not many can recall what Mount de Sales was like in 1967 when Mike Garvin first showed up as a teacher and coach. It was just a little Catholic school up on the hill. Since then, however, there has been so much growth; in size, in facilities, in academics, in literary achievement, in athletic programs, and in community involvement. In many, many ways, Mike Garvin is responsible for the growth of that little Catholic school up on the hill. What an amazing legacy he helped create.

So wake up the echoes from the Mount! “You’re either with me or without me, and there’s no other place to be!” Mike Garvin is to be remembered – not only as a man who believed in God, who believed in human decency, and who believed in and loved his family but for the role he played in making Mount de Sales the “place to be,” because he worked his heart out for that good cause and we stand on the broad shoulders of his legacy today – as reflected in these words by Vince Lombardi – who Mike often quoted and admired greatly:

“I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour, the greatest fulfillment of all that he holds dear, is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.”

Godspeed Mike Garvin – In His divine wisdom, The Lord blessed Mount de Sales Academy with your presence.

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