Ex-PSU football player turns author
Gary Gray writes book about Levittown Little League champs
LEMONT — Former Penn State linebacker Gary Gray has taken a trip down memory lane over the past two years, researching the story of his hometown’s 1960 Little League World Series championship squad that he followed along the tournament trail with his father.
Gray, a two-year starter for Joe Paterno’s Nittany Lions in 1970-71, recently published a sentimental paperback book describing that magical summer of his youth.
“A Levittown Legacy: 1960 Little League World Series Champions,” contains interviews with several of the players on the Levittown American squad that put their community on the map by winning 13 straight playoff games, knocking off Fort Worth, Texas in the championship game at Williamsport.
Perhaps of more interest to Penn State football fans, Gray weaves in the story of his own athletic career.
Gray shares the excitement of playing on the 1968-71 teams under Paterno, who was in the early stages of what would become a Hall of Fame career. Gray mentions being turned down for a scholarship by Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian and then accepting Paterno’s scholarship offer.
He joined a dynamic recruiting class led by future All-Americans Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris, who later roomed with Gray for three years at Penn State, establishing a lifelong friendship.
When Harris caught the “Immaculate Reception” during his rookie year in the NFL, Gray tells the story of watching the game in a Colorado restaurant, screaming at the television, “That’s my roommate, that’s my roommate!”
Gray examines the hometown work ethic that seemed common to youngsters who grew up in the 1950s and ’60s in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
He reveals how Levittown was created as a prototype for living in post-World War II America.
Levittown is portrayed as a blue-collar town located not far from the Delaware River, dominated by a huge United States Steel Corporation plant that employed thousands of workers.
People came from all over Pennsylvania to work in that steel mill.
A long-time teaching professor in finance at Penn State, Gray, now 69, had his memory jogged when he met one of the Levittown American players, Craig Eisenhart, who lives in nearby Huntingdon and coached baseball for many years at Juniata College.
“We went fishing and started chatting about Levittown and Little League and reliving the championship game in Williamsport that I attended with my dad. That conversation got me thinking about the 1960 team,” Gray said.
In this 225-page book, Gray takes a detailed look at how the community of Levittown sprung up in the 1950s. He describes his own upbringing, playing baseball and football as a kid, learning the work ethic passed down by parents who wanted their children to have a better chance at life than they did.
Gray became the first member of his family to attend college.
“My mother often said to me, ‘You can be anything you we want to be, do anything you want to do, if you set your goals high and work hard to achieve them,”’ Gray recently recalled from his Lemont home, where he has lived for more than 40 years, raising six children with his wife, Katie O’Toole, a professor in the Penn State School of Communications.
Gray was 10 years old during the summer of 1960. He played catcher for the neighboring Levittown National Little League team. When the playoffs began in July, Gary and his father began following the Levittown American team as it captured the district and regional titles in the state tournament. Their travels took them to Long Island for the Eastern regionals and then to Williamsport for the final two games.
Gray’s book describes in detail every game along the tournament trail to Williamsport, including box scores of several games, while recollecting the two-lane highways that preceded Interstate-80, and the shared camaraderie of going on road trips with his father, Edward Gray, who would die of a heart attack 20 years later.
Interviews with key players like Eisenhart, Julian Kalkstein, Joe Fioravanti and Jim Grauel provided insight into the team’s strategy and its winning spirit. Gray describes how these boys of summer grew up to become successful in their adult lives, perhaps as a result of the confidence they gained in the summer of 1960.
“The American All-Stars were my idols,” he recalled. “They got me to thinking if they can do it, then so can I. Following these very good athletes opened up all kinds of possibilities for kids growing up in Levittown. By winning the World Series, they showed me that anything was possible if you worked hard enough and long enough. And that is how I played football at Penn State. I was short and light and slow (for a linebacker) but I really used my smarts to excel, and the Levittown Legacy.”
“A Levittown Legacy” is available on Amazon.com for $16.99. Mt. Nittany Press of Lemont served as Gray’s publisher.
Terry Nau graduated from Penn State in 1972 and served as sports editor of the Pennsylvania Mirror from 1972-77. He spent the remainder of his journalism career at the Pawtucket Times.