It’s almost been 20 years since Geroy Simon last was at a Greater Johnstown High-Bishop McCort boys’ basketball game.
Of course, Simon was more than a spectator on that Feb. 19, 1993 evening at the McCort gym.
He had eight points, including an acrobatic dunk, during Johnstown’s 57-49 victory in a Mid-Alleghenies Conference game.
Simon returns tonight as Johnstown hosts Bishop McCort in a game that will decide the LHAC Section 2 title and earn the winner a spot in Saturday’s conference championship. McCort won the earlier meeting against the visiting Trojans.
The Canadian Football League’s all-time career receiving yardage leader, Simon will be a guest of honor as the City of Johnstown proclaims today “Geroy Simon Day.” His alma mater will recognize him at halftime at Doc Stofko Gymnasium.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Simon, a three-sport star at JHS, where he graduated in 1993. “Obviously, Johnstown is a place where everything started for me. It’s a place where I can always come back and know people appreciate all the things I’ve done, not only here but also after I left and in the future and going forward.”
In 14 CFL seasons, Simon has 15,787 career receiving yards, the most in league history. A six-time all-star, Simon won two Grey Cups with the British Columbia Lions and was the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player in 2006.
Simon is so well known throughout Canada that his likeness was placed on a Canada Post stamp last year.
The 37-year-old slot back made big news in Canada last month when the Lions traded him to the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
“Geroy is a great supporter of our program,” Johnstown Athletic Director Tony Penna Jr. said. “What he represents to the kids is how all the hard work pays off.
“They see the 15,000 receiving yards and the records, but they don’t know all the trials and tribulations this guy has had throughout his career from Maryland in college, bouncing around the NFL trying to get his shot and then ending up in Canada.”
After a stellar college career at the University of Maryland, Simon tried to catch on in the NFL. He was on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers practice squad in 1997 and 1998 but never made the regular roster. In 1999, he signed with the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers, beginning his record-breaking career in Canada. He spent two seasons with Winnipeg before joining the Lions.
“Everybody sees the end results, but it’s that process that Geroy represents,” Penna said. “He’s a kid from their same neighborhood. He’s an inspiration to the kids. He’s been nothing but the best.”
Simon already was in Johnstown this week to celebrate his father’s birthday. Johnstown High seized the opportunity to honor one of its most distinguished graduates.
“They said they wanted to do something for me whenever I came home. I came in for my dad’s birthday. I was supposed to leave (today),” Simon said. “I changed my flight to fly out the next day.”
Back in Canada, Simon is adapting to a new organization as he prepares for his 15th CFL season.
“Obviously it’s a change,” he said. “I’m going to a team that I practically hated for the last 14 years. Now that I’m part of the team, obviously the mind-set has to change. You have to get used to wearing a different color. I’ve been wearing orange and black for the last 12 years.
“The fans were so welcoming and so happy to have me. I’m just really excited to have an opportunity to play in front of those fans and have an opportunity to win a Grey Cup.”
He’ll participate in a rivalry on the hardwood before he gets back to preparing for another football season.
“This is the first basketball game that I’ve been able to attend in probably 10 years,” Simon said. “Then, going to a Johnstown-McCort game ... I haven’t been to one of those since I left Johnstown in 1993. It’s going to be a great feeling to watch the kids play, especially with so much on the line. I can’t wait to be a part of it.”
Simon recalled the city rivalry. His senior season Johnstown swept the two-game series on the way to a 22-5 record that included a trip to the Class AAAA Western Semifinals, where the Trojans lost in overtime at Duquesne’s A.J. Palumbo Center to a powerhouse New Castle squad.
Joining Simon on that team was leading scorer Kelly Gunby, Devlin Herring, Cal Andrews, Terry Reed and Mickey Pekich, among others. Those 1992-93 Trojans won the program’s second straight District 6 Class AAAA crown (the next year’s team won a third straight crown).
“We set a precedent because Johnstown hadn’t won a district championship for almost 20 years (since 1974),” Simon said.
A quote in former Tribune-Democrat sports writer Sam Ross Jr.’s Feb. 20, 1993 story on the Johnstown-McCort game now holds a bit of irony.
“We had too many lapses,” former Trojans coach Paul Litwalk said in the article. “Geroy gets out on a break and makes a big dunk and we come right back and miss a defensive assignment and Pat Hollern buries a three.”
Hollern now is McCort’s veteran head coach.
“It was huge playing in that game,” Simon recalled. “Johnstown-McCort was the biggest rivalry even though we played teams from Pittsburgh, and we played Altoona and Hollidaysburg. Johnstown-McCort was a heated rivalry. For us, it was everything. You either went to Johnstown or you went to Bishop McCort.
“To be in those games, they were fun. You learned a lot about yourself in those games because it was loud and crazy and high stressed. It was fun to play in.”
That trend should continue with what is expected to be a packed house tonight.