Gentle giant Decourley deeply loved his players

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The only thing bigger than Ernie Decourley was his heart.

Decourley stood 6-foot-4 but probably seemed a foot taller to the young grade school boys he coached over the past 30-plus years.

A rugged football player himself, Decourley was an All-Ohio Valley Conference selection when he was a star lineman for the Morehead State Eagles back when the school was Division I. His talents caught the eyes of the pro scouts and he was drafted in 1963 by the San Francisco 49ers.

Email newsletter signup

But to the former Central Giants and Ironton Eagles, the longtime sidekick of B.J. Hannon was as gentle as he was big. Decourley and Hannon have become the most legendary duo in the anals of Ironton’s grade school football.

Oh, you could hear his deep, loud voice cut through the air on occasions, but he quickly schooled the guilty player on what he had done wrong and then would give them a gentle pat on the back or helmet and offer words of encouragement.

The players loved Ernie. My son was fortunate to play for him as a member of the Eagles. When I told him big Ernie Decourley had died, he stopped and smiled. “He was a gentle giant. He yelled, but he did it for a reason,” my son Ryan said.

Ironton’s youth league football program will miss this gentle giant, and not just because he understood these young boys had to be handled differently than if they were high school players.

Ernie Decourley will be missed because he really cared. He loved the boys he coached. He was proud of

their accomplishments, and not just as football players.

After all, anyone with a heart that big had a lot of love to give.

Jim Walker is sports editor of The Ironton Tribune.