PV track coach Ron Livers remembered as world-class athlete, coach and human being

By DAVE KURTZ

GRATERFORD – Joe Petsko vividly remembers the day when a man emerged from the shadows to volunteer his services to the Perkiomen Valley High School track program.

“He actually showed up one day at Perkiomen Valley looking to be a starter for our dual meets,” Petsko said of his initial meeting with Ron Livers back in 2009. “We were looking for an assistant coach at the time so I asked him if he would be interested in coaching. Thankfully, he said yes.”

It turned out to be a landmark coup for Petsko, who had unknowingly hit the lottery with the stroke of good fortune that landed Livers on his staff as a full-time assistant coach for sprints, hurdles and jumps.

The new assistant, a Norristown native, was more than qualified, boasting an athletic resume that unhinged the jaw. It detailed a scholastic career that produced state championships and records in the early 1970s at Norristown High and later profiled his significant accomplishments at San Jose State (CA), where he became a three-time NCAA champion in the triple jump and future member of the school’s Hall of Fame.

While it had been nearly 30 years since his competitive days, it turned out Livers still had a thirst for athletic achievement and excellence. His new mission was to pay it forward to all the young athletes that would benefit from his vast wisdom and know-how.

When Petsko submitted the standard form to add Livers to his staff, the veteran PV coach remembers athletic director Larry Glanski nearly falling out of his chair while reading his new staffer’s credentials.

“I know my AD was very shocked when I forwarded him the resume for our new jump coach,” Petsko said.

That was the typical reaction when people learned of Livers and the rich legacy his family and classmates carved out on the track at Norristown High. Livers, 65, who passed away last Saturday (Dec. 19) following a one-year battle with brain cancer, forged a similar reputation as a dynamic coach during his tenure at Perk Valley.

“I was a freshman and we had our preseason track meeting (2009),” said assistant PV track coach Sean Hodgins, who had the unique distinction of being coached by and with Livers. “One by one, the coaches got up and introduced themselves, from the head coach (Joe Petsko) to all his assistants. Then Ron stands up, and all he said was, 'If you want to find out about me, just google my name.'”

One click and Hodgins was mesmerized, spending 30 to 40 minutes reviewing the endless data on his new coach’s glory days, which were plentiful. The other young Vikings followed suit and quickly learned of their highly decorated coach, who was a former PIAA champion in the triple jump (1972, 1973) and high jump (1973) while helping Norristown secure the state track and field title in 1973.

The triple jump was Livers’ gateway to track immortality. His leap of 51 feet, 7.75 still stands as the all-time Pennsylvania high school mark – the longest-standing state record still on the books in standard high school events.

Livers continued his meteoric career ascent at San Jose State, becoming the first man to capture three NCAA titles in the triple jump (1975, 1977, 1978). Also proficient in the high jump, Livers set the collegiate record by going 56-3.25 in the TJ in 1978 for his third NCAA crown.

Livers later made the Olympic team in 1980, but was denied the chance to compete when the USA boycotted the Moscow Games.

“He didn’t talk about it that much, but I know it bothered him to this day,” said Hodgins. “He had trained almost a decade for that, and it just didn’t happen.”

A lesser man would have been crushed, but Livers never let that disappointment consume or define him.

“The bottom line was he was one of the all-time great competitors in the high jump and triple jump but on top of it probably a better person,” said Ron’s older brother, Larry Livers, Jr., on papreplive.com. “He’s my brother but he was just a great, great person.”

Petsko had a similar perspective.

“Ron was an amazing person who touched numerous lives,” said Petsko. “He had a very down to earth demeanor and was always great with the kids. He could always get the best out of everybody and had a positive effect on everyone he met. He was always very humble with an infectious positive attitude and I feel very blessed to have had him in my life.”

Like all the great coaches, Livers worked quietly and without a need for recognition. The accomplishments of his athletes were the only rewards he required or desired.

“It’s fitting how he was a national champion and he went on to coach a national and state champion in Christina,” said Hodgins. “He also had a state indoor champion in Cole Peterlin (high jump).

“From a technical standpoint, he worked with the athletes on the mechanics of the jump, showing the correct steps and fine-tuning everything. He never said that much before a big meet, but he would make eye contact and the kids always seemed to respond.”

Warren, now a sophomore at Arizona State, captured three PIAA Class AAA state titles and two indoor state crowns in the triple jump under Livers’ direction, adding a state hurdles championship to her impressive resume. Warren posted a personal best of 42 feet, 3.75 inches in the triple jump, grabbing the gold at the 2019 New Balance Nationals Outdoor championships.

“It’s unbelievable that you can translate the talent you have into another young athlete and see it grow and progress the way you want it to grow and progress,” Livers said after presenting Warren with her first-place state medal on the podium at Shippensburg University in 2019.

“Ron and Christina had a great relationship,” Petsko said. “He was a legendary triple jumper and passed on a lot of knowledge about the event to her while he was coaching her.”

In recent years, it was apparent that life had come full circle for Ron Livers, who competed with twin brother Don Livers at San Jose State, upholding a family tradition. Growing up on Willow Street in Norristown, he learned at an early age that running and jumping and competing were part of his DNA. His father Lawrence A. Livers Sr. had sent the tone by competing in track at Norristown in the 1940s, and the Livers' boys were soon to follow led by oldest brother Larry Jr., a track and basketball athlete at Norristown and later Villanova.

“I know it’s a cliché but the guy was a world-class athlete and a much better human being,” said Joe Maccolini, the retired executive director of the Patrician Society, on papreplive.com. “I know it sounds too cliché-ish but in his case it’s actually the case.”

One of the early track athletes that benefitted from Livers’ tutelage was Hollis Coleman, a 2011 PV graduate who earned a partial Division I track scholarship to Temple University as a sprinter and jumper.

“There wasn’t a single day that Coach Ron didn’t show up with more excitement and enthusiasm than everyone on the track,” said Coleman. “He made practice fun but also brought unmatched track knowledge that myself and the athletes before and after me were lucky to have.

“When coach Ron came to PV he made my track goals and aspirations possible. He helped set the trajectory for my track career in high school and later at Temple University. I’ll never forget his kindness and am forever grateful to all he has taught me.”

A viewing for Ron Livers is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 28 at Ebenezer Methodist Church in Norristown from 3 to 7 pm.