Since September 1958 Gil Thorp has been coaching football, basketball and baseball at Milford High. Readers of the eponymous daily comic strip will be relieved to learn that the square-jawed, eerily ageless Thorp will continue in his role as athletic mentor and social counselor to Milford's students, despite the death on March 14 of Gil Thorp creator Jack Berrill.
The Cal Ripken Jr. of comic strip artists, Berrill, who was 72 when he succumbed to cancer, never missed a strip in 37 years. On the day he died, in the little studio off the kitchen of his house in Brookfield, Conn., Berrill was putting the finishing touches on a story line that will wrap up this week with Milford winning the state basketball title. After that Gil Thorp, which runs in 68 newspapers, will be carried on by artist Ray Burns (who for most of the past three years drew the daily panels under Berrill's guidance) and a writer to be named later.
"My father was determined to have the strip continue," says Kevin Berrill, one of Jack's six children, who, along with Jack's wife of 49 years, Veronica, a high school English teacher, kept Jack in touch with the lingo and concerns of young people. "Even after all these years he felt there were fresh stories and problems to address."
Certainly Thorp, whose all-American moniker represented a tip of the cap to two of Berrill's heroes, Gil Hodges and Jim Thorpe, has enjoyed a successful coaching career. According to Matt Shaughnessy, editor of seven collections of Thorp strips, Milford's records under Thorp are 210-76-16 in football, with six Valley Conference titles; 589-255 in basketball, with eight state championships; and 498-395-2 in baseball (two games were postponed by rain and never finished), with three conference titles—for an overall winning percentage of .644. But it is off the field that Thorp has made the most significant contributions to the Milford community. Over the years he has shepherded kids through a range of problems not usually found in the comics, from the hot rods of the 1950s through teen pregnancy and the gay bashing of the contemporary high school scene.
Although he no longer sports the crew cut he wore when he first showed up at Milford (in September 1975 he adopted a Michael Landonesque pompadour), Thorp remains the same monument to common sense and decency he has been since the Eisenhower era. As Berrill put it in his introduction to the Gil Thorp Silver Anniversary Yearbook, published in 1984, "The high school playing field is the one unspoiled arena for sports, and high school coaches have the unique opportunity to influence the lives of the kids they work with." And, in Gil Thorp's case, the kids who read the comics.
Clean Out Those Lockers
The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., received a boost recently when the Springfield city council approved a measure that, pending state approval, will fund an $80 million expansion of the hall beginning this summer. Maybe some of the money should go to pay for a cable hookup so the hall's curators can actually watch some games. One exhibit on the main floor, described by a hall official as "featuring 14 current stars of the NBA," includes full-sized lockers containing displays dedicated to oft-injured Derrick Coleman, who is shown in a New Jersey Nets uniform, even though he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in November, and Toronto Raptors general manager Isiah Thomas, who retired as a player two years ago.