MEDINA — The line of people waiting to pay their respects extended out the door at Waite & Son Funeral Home on Sunday during visiting hours for longtime Medina resident Sam Gorfido, who died Wednesday at the age of 85.
Several hundred people also were in attendance Monday for Gorfido’s funeral service, which was fittingly held inside Medina High’s Richard H. Clevidence Gymnasium.
What likely would have pleased the 2012 Medina County Sports Hall of Fame inductee and Bees sports enthusiast most, however, was that, an hour before his service, aspiring volleyball players were finishing a summer workout in the same gym where Gorfido spent countless hours attending events.
“In one word, he was loyal,” said Medina boys basketball coach Chris Hassinger, who attended the service along with most of the returning members of his team. “Win or lose, he was still coming (to watch), and he always had something positive to say.”
Gorfido, who earned two letters each in football, basketball and baseball before graduating from Medina in 1951, attended virtually every football game and boys and girls basketball game, home and away, for decades. In the spring, he often could be found at track meets and baseball and softball games.
Always seated in an area labeled “Sammy’s Section” for basketball games, Gorfido didn’t show up just to watch the varsity. The longtime masonry worker was also in attendance prior to the start of the freshman and junior varsity contests, with many young athletes coming to know him by name.
“That’s so unique,” former Medina trainer and coach and current basketball public address announcer Jim Wienczkowski said. “To have been here this long, for kids to be so aware of him and his contributions is amazing to me. Everybody knew Sam.”
Gorfido’s three surviving children — wife Virginia (Karshner) and daughter Becky Backus preceded him in death — spoke eloquently about their father before and during the service, detailing his love of family and sports while emphasizing he was a man of principle.
“Family was his No. 1 love,” son Angelo said. “Everywhere we went, he was so proud to introduce me to all his friends. (Sunday) night, I shook hands with so many people I hadn’t seen in years, but I knew and remembered them because of him.”
In addition to his support of all things Medina, Gorfido was a big fan of Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Paul Brown and Cincinnati Bengals and Massillon High football. His beloved Mustangs of the youth football league he helped form in the area wore orange, black and white uniforms for that reason.
“A coach never dies,” son Michael said of his father. “A coach is always a coach. Dad has always been and always will be, through us, a coach.”
“Live in the present,” daughter Cheri Harney told those in attendance. “Pick up that gauntlet that my dad has laid down.”
About 40 years ago, Reggie Campbell did just that. Like his coaching mentor a mason by trade, Campbell took over the Mustangs when Gorfido stepped down, with Campbell’s first offensive line coach being none other than Kathy Eckert, Gorfido’s niece.
“She knew football,” the 74-year-old Campbell said of Eckert. “All the Gorfidos did.
“Sam was looking over my shoulder for a while to make sure everything was cool,” he added with a laugh. “Winning was not No. 1 with him. He liked to win, but he wanted to build character and teamwork.”
One of seven children — brother Leo survives and James, Angelo, Tresa, Marge and Pete preceded him in death — the 5-foot-7, 135-pound Gorfido quarterbacked the run-oriented Bees to a 7-1-1 record and Southwestern Conference championship in 1950.
Sports were always a way of life for Gorfido and his close-knit family, with a number of women reenacting the “We are the Mustangs, mighty, mighty Mustangs” cheer during his funeral service.
There was a lot more to the man than that, though. He had breakfast with friends almost daily in his later years, doted on his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, took great pride in the work he provided through his masonry business and always had time to listen.
“He had a social schedule like a teenager,” granddaughter Carrie Karim said.
On the day he died, Gorfido had just stopped to inspect the new field turf at Medina’s Kenneth Dukes Stadium, only to suffer a fatal heart attack on the drive home.
The news hit hard, with 2015 Medina graduate Zeke Martin, now playing football at the University of Illinois on a full scholarship, and 2016 grad Jon Teske, a basketball player at Michigan, among those sending text messages to Hassinger and asking him to extend their condolences to the Gorfido family.
To honor the man who supported Medina athletics for so long, Hassinger will institute the Sam Gorfido Award beginning next season, which will be given annually to a player who exemplifies all the positive aspects of sports.
“You never heard anybody say one bad word about Sam Gorfido,” said Hassinger, whose players were asked to gather around Gorfido’s casket by son Michael near the conclusion of the service “Most people aren’t even aware he was a stud athlete.
“It was his personality. It was how he made you feel. It was the relationships he had with kids, with adults. People were willing to do just about anything for Sam. That’s pretty special.”
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