By David Caspole ’94
Westfield State staff, students, and alumni continue to mourn the passing of retired longtime track and field coach and Movement Science professor Jerry Gravel, who died last October after a long battle with cancer.
Inducted into the Westfield State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2004, Gravel served the longest coaching tenure in the history of Westfield State varsity athletics and is the most successful coach in the University’s history.
“Westfield State’s cross-country and track and field programs, Athletics Department, Movement Science Department, and our University as a whole have been enriched and positively impacted by the work and lasting legacy of the unforgettable Coach Jerry Gravel,” says President Ramon Torrecilha, Ph.D.
Gravel began the men’s track and field program upon his arrival to Westfield State in 1969 and developed the sport into a state and regional power before announcing his retirement in 1997 after 28 stellar seasons.
“It’s obviously a very sad time,” says cross-country coach Bill Devine ’74, who was a member of Coach Gravel’s earliest track and field teams. “Jerry was a father figure to so many people. I lost my father at 16, and I don’t think I’m alone in considering him a father figure.”
Mickey Curtis, Westfield’s retired sports information director, who worked with Gravel for 15 years, says, “He knew what it took to make a real collegiate athletics program. He put in the time.”
Gravel began the Westfield State men’s cross-country program in 1969 and built it into a conference perennial power, serving as the head coach for a total of 15 years. He also was a highly respected faculty member in the Movement Science Department. Upon his retirement, he was honored with faculty emeritus status as an associate professor of Movement Science.
Gravel retired to Oceanside, California, near San Diego, with his wife, Joan. He continued to teach as a professor of kinesiology at MiraCosta Community College, learned to surf, and enjoyed hiking and outdoor activities. A lifelong learner and teacher, he adopted Facebook as a primary communication tool with his scores of alumni and developed a website for his fitness book and to distribute workouts to the athletes with whom he continued to work.
In 2009, the University named the outdoor track in his honor, with a strong push from his former student-athletes, who provided testimony to the board of trustees and created an endowed fund that supports the track and field programs.
Gravel was deeply involved with the Dan Doyle Scholarship and fundraising golf tournament and the James Earley Scholarship and cross-country meet, and frequently returned to the University to visit friends and attend track and field, cross-country, and alumni events, most recently for a reunion of his former athletes in October 2018.