They’re truly one of those South Hills “sports families.”
When football season rolls around, Mike Cramer will be on the field, coaching youngsters. So will his dad, Gary Cramer. And his brother, Matt Cramer. And his uncle, Jimbo Cramer.
Years ago, his grandfather, James Cramer, patrolled the sidelines.
Coaching has been the Cramer way for years. Decades, even.
At one level or another, at least one member of the family has been coaching a sport somewhere in Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs since the 1960s.
“It’s been part of my life from when I was young until now,” said Gary, a longtime coach and teacher in the Brentwood school district. “That’s why I got into teaching, to be a coach. My dad coached us when we were young, and it was something that was sort of there all the time.”
Sports being “there all the time” clearly rubbed off on the next generation as well.
“For me and my brother, it started when my dad was the head coach and we were water boys back in the early 80’s,” said Gary’s son Mike.
The coaching tree began with James in the late 1960s when he started the Midget Football League in Belle Vernon.
His youngest son, Jimbo, played on those teams; Gary was too old to play in the league at the time, but helped coach those squads.
Gary was a star athlete at Belle Vernon High School where he excelled in football, basketball and baseball. He had more than 50 football scholarship offers and a tryout with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He played college football at Pitt. After graduating in 1970, he was hired as a teacher at Brentwood and immediately began coaching football in the district.
He was the Spartans’ head coach from 1978 to 1982 and also had stints as a head basketball coach at Brentwood and an assistant football coach at Mt. Lebanon.
He’s a member of the Mid-Mon Valley Sports Hall of Fame and the Belle Vernon Area Football Hall of Fame.
These days, Gary — a middle school health and physical education teacher at Brentwood — coaches varsity golf, middle school basketball and middle school track. He also volunteers as an assistant football coach at St. Bernard Elementary School in Mt. Lebanon.
His younger brother, Jimbo, was a star at Belle Vernon, then later at Thomas Jefferson, from which he graduated in 1972. He still is regarded as one of the Jaguars’ all-time greats.
He also played Division I football, first at Ohio State, then Pitt, where he was a member of the 1976 national championship team.
After a tryout with the Seattle Seahawks, Jimbo went on to coach as a graduate assistant at Pitt, and later as an assistant at Brentwood.
He also coached softball and basketball at the community level while his three daughters were growing up.
These days, he is a volunteer assistant football coach at St. Louise De Marillac Elementary School in McMurray.
Gary and Jimbo’s third brother, Jesse, also played at Belle Vernon, then later coached the Leopards. He managed to shake the coaching bug, though, and had a 30-year career as a district magistrate.
That sports bug — particularly the coaching bug — was passed down to the next generation in a big way.
Jesse’s sons Jesse and Josh were multi-sport athletes at Belle Vernon; Jesse went on to play Division I baseball at Duquesne.
Gary’s twin sons — Mike and Matt –—were star athletes at Mt. Lebanon, and both have followed in the family’s coaching footsteps.
Mike played football at Dayton, Westminster and Washington & Jefferson. He is the head track and field coach at Brentwood, and this fall he will embark on his second stint as an assistant football coach at Mt. Lebanon.
Matt, who was a star quarterback and running back at Mt. Lebanon, also played at W&J. He coaches elementary school football at St. Bernard.
All of the Cramers view coaching as not only a passion, but also as a way to support the communities in which they live.
“I was fortunate that I didn’t have to pay for school, so I always wanted to give back a little,” Gary said.
Jimbo expanded on that point, talking about what the game of football has meant to his life.
“I really like helping the little kids,” he said. “Those are important years.
“I’ve coached kids who went on to play on national championship teams, and they’ve come back and told me they had as much enjoyment back then as they did on those national championship teams.
“The bonds you form with people playing the game of football last forever. The game of football, so many life lessons go with it.”
Mike and Matt have nine children — all boys — between them. Chances are the Cramer coaching tradition won’t end any time soon.
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.