Anthony Percival: a legacy beyond the track

Sports

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Jackie Robinson said it best: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”

That’s the way that Anthony Percival lived his life.

Percival, a longtime teacher and coach at Cleveland Hill, left an impact on students, teachers and coaches alike throughout his career.

“The biggest thing about Tony was just his enthusiasm for life and doing things the right way,” Cleveland Hill head football coach Glen Graham said. “He was able to help to encourage that in his students, whether they were athletes or just kids in his phys ed class. Everybody’s remembering his enthusiasm and the smiles he brought.”

Percival passed away at the age of 59 on Tuesday morning, but his legacy has and will continue to be felt by generations of Eagles.

In his 26 seasons as the head coach of the Cleveland Hill boys track team, Percival turned the Eagles into a perennial powerhouse, leading them to 18 division championships and 11 Section VI championships.

But quite possibly the most impressive thing Percival did for the sport of track and field at Cleveland Hill is that he recruited athletes within the school to run track for him, and they learned to love track because of him.

Graham says Percival had an impeccable eye for talent. He could see a kid walking the halls or playing a different sport, and he could project exactly what kind of a track athlete they would be.

“And he almost never missed,” Graham laughed. “Once he got you out, his enthusiasm, his ability to motivate the kids individually or as a team, just the structure of how he put the program together.

“He made it fun, and that’s really hard especially when you had teams that had 60, 70 kids on them, to make it fun where they just wanted to stick around and you had to kick them out at the end of three hours. It was a special gift that he had.”

A selfless teammate, leader and coach, Percival focused more on what the team could do to be successful. Graham got a first-hand seat on this leadership style for three decades: first as a teammate when both played at Cleveland Hill, then as a fellow coach for over a quarter of a century.

“That enthusiasm and that high energy that he brought with him every day, it just made being with him fun. It was just fun to show up every day and to work with him and to work with our kids,” Graham said. “A lot of those kids are now adults, and I’ve been getting a lot of messages over the last few days about how they appreciated his mentorship and his enthusiasm for them.”

Percival was named to the Cleveland Hill Wall of Fame in 2018, and his name and legacy will forever be associated with track and field dominance in Western New York. But the winning traditions of the Eagles is not the only place that his legacy is felt.

Many track and field coaches around Western New York got their start working under Percival. His core principles for creating a winning track program have spread around the area, and will continue to spread. When you look at some powerhouse high school track teams in WNY right now, you can see the Tony Percival method at play.

“He showed up every day, he gave it everything he had, and the kids gave it everything they had, and that was the gift that he had that was unfortunately taken away from us.”

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