From the Sports Editor: QB Ralph Jean, leader of 1977 Dover champs, is mourned

Quarterback Ralph Jean holds up the state championship trophy after Dover High won the Division I football state crown in 1977. (Submitted photo)

Quarterback Ralph Jean holds up the state championship trophy after Dover High won the Division I football state crown in 1977. (Submitted photo)

The thing about winning a championship is that the title lasts forever.

And so do the friendships that come with it.

“It’s something you all did together,” said former Dover High football star Mike Meade. “It carries, I guess, right up until the day that you do meet your maker.”

The sad truth of that statement hit home again a few weeks ago when Dover High’s 1977 Division I state championship football team unexpectedly lost its leader.

Ralph Jean, the quarterback of that ‘77 squad, died of an apparent heart attack on June 27. He was only 55.

A celebration of Jean’s life was held on Saturday in Malvern, Pa.

Jean was a good enough athlete to be drafted by the Oakland A’s as a pitcher after he graduated from Dover in 1978. But, after spending the summer with the A’s farm team in Bend, Ore., Jean went back to football, eventually earning a degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

Around Dover, though, he’ll always be remembered for the way he led that Senators’ state championship team his senior year.

“We had a lot of very good players,” said Joe Spadafino, who was a sophomore lineman in ‘77. “I just remember him being a leader on the field.

“Like every team, things don’t always go perfectly. And when things went awry, he’d call everybody together and say, ‘Come on man, let’s fight through this.’”

“He wasn’t afraid to voice his opinions,” said Meade, who had been friends with Jean since middle school. “So he could be the vocal leader when he had to be. I guess you could Ralph had a level of maturity that was a little bit above and beyond everybody else.

“My man was sporting a full beard in like eighth grade,” Meade joked.

The strong-armed Jean even dealt with being a dropback passer in an offense that switched to a run-oriented veer his senior season. But he still threw the ball effectively, tossing a scoring pass for the Senators’ first touchdown in the state finals.

Jean had three sons — Eddie (19), Peter (18), and Scott (15) — and he was a regular at all their games in Chesterbrook Pa. He served on the boards of the Devon Strafford Little League and the Conestoga High School Football booster Gridiron Club.

Jean had a successful career in sales, moved to the West Coast for a while and earned an MBA from Syracuse. He also ran a sporting goods store in Hockessin.

At the time of his death, Jean was living in Smyrna to help care for his mother, Merle.

Both Spadafino and Meade kept in touch with their old teammate, getting together a few times a year.

“He always put you first, ‘How’s the family? How’s so-and-so?’” Spadafino said about his conversations with Jean. “He was never one of these guys to brag about himself.”

Meade talked to Jean just a week before he died. He said the former QB was always there for him.

“Ralph helped me, no questions asked,” Meade wrote in a Facebook post. “When I asked him for some physical labor, we took it half speed. But never a question or judgment when I was experiencing some rough times, just nothing but ‘Let’s just turn this around, Mike,’ and with his help I did.

“Cherish your good friends and family … and live each day to the fullest cause you just never know…”

Kuhl shines in spotlight

It’s not like anybody would forget their Major League debut.

But Chad Kuhl’s first big league game two weeks ago was pretty memorable by any standard.

In a nationally-televised contest, the former Middletown High and Delaware pitcher earned the win as the Pirates edged the Dodgers, 4-3.

Kuhl gave up only four hits and three earned runs while striking out five in five innings. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the first inning and tagged a runner out at the plate in the fifth.

The fact that Pittsburgh beat L.A.’s three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw was just a bonus.

“It’s really something special,’ said Kuhl. “That’s something to dream about, my debut was against Kershaw, so that was incredible.”

Kuhl was the first former Blue Hen pitcher to start a Major League game since Dallas Green in 1965. Kuhl has since made one more appearance for the Pirates, earning a no-decision.

He’s given up five runs in 11 innings.

“I thought it was fun to watch him out there,” said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle. “Talk about a guy rolling up his sleeves and going to work. There was probably a lot going on inside, and I thought he channeled his emotions well . . . Regardless of what happened, he stayed aggressive.”

“This is great for our program and for our state,” Delaware coach Jim Sherman. “Chad has worked for this day since he first stepped into our program and then continued his progress in pro ball.

“This is truly a dream come true for him. There was no doubt in my mind that he would make the big leagues someday.

Odds & ends

•Dover Little League will again host the Big League baseball Eastern Regional, starting next Saturday. The host District I all-stars won the tournament a year ago to reach the World Series in Easley, S.C.

•Former Seaford High baseball standout Derrik Gibson is playing second base with the New York Mets’ Class AA team in Binghamton.

This is the 26-year-old’s ninth season in pro ball. He’s batting .283 with 42 runs scored and 28 RBI.

Tommie Neubauer officially takes charge as the executive director of the Delaware Interscholatic Athletic Association on Monday.

•The Delaware football team has added Will Stephenson, a transfer punter from North Carolina State with one season of eligibility remaining.

The Blue Hens were left without a punter when Eric Enderson decided not to use his final year of eligibility.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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