Gregg Sarra Newsday Columnist Gregg Sarra

Gregg Sarra is Newsday's high school sports columnist and writer.

They dedicated the press box high above Garden City's multi-purpose athletic field Saturday in the name of Jack "Jake" White. The pre-game ceremony in honor of the statistician and historian who dedicated his life's work to his Garden City sports community was touching and appropriate.

It always was the Jake White press box, and now it was official.

Legendary football coach Tom Flatley, one of White's closest friends, pulled the cord that unveiled the maroon and white sign emblazoned with "Jake White Press Box, Class of '62."

When Flatley pulled that string to remove the white drape over the sign, it was as if he had tugged on the collective heartstrings of the entire community.

The symbolism was not lost on former Garden City athletic director Nancy Kalafus, a keynote speaker during a halftime tribute to White, who died in April at age 70.

"I'm trying to hold it together," said Kalafus, who retired after 18 years as the district's athletic director. "He was such a wonderful man and key component to our community. He had an unbelievable impact on generations of our athletes."

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White has impacted so much more than the people in the village of Garden City. For parts of six decades, he was a familiar figure on the sidelines, at the scorer's table or standing above the old rickety press box at Garden City.

"He would stand up there and look over the field and do his thing," Kalafus said. "And even when that old press box was rotted and probably not all that safe, there he was proudly standing on top collecting his information."

White, a Hicksville resident who graduated from Garden City in 1962 and taught social studies there for 32 years, became the reliable source for all historical and statistical information for all of Nassau's high school sports.

He became Garden City High School's statistician in 1966 and missed only two football games in the next 49 years.

"He was one of a kind," Flatley said. "It was right to name our press box after him and an honor to pull that string. He did so much for the Garden City program."

Richie Smith, who has coached the Garden City baseball team for the past 44 years and was a pallbearer at White's funeral, struggled to find the right words to describe White's impact in the community.

"It was one of the hardest things I've ever done," Smith said. "This is a wonderful tribute to a great person."

Smith said White put out game programs for various sporting events and compiled stat books from years of competition that are treasured by the coaches.

"He found everything and preserved everything," Smith said. "He had so much knowledge and helped everyone. It didn't matter who you were; if you needed him, he was there for you."

In a tribute to his mentor, statistician Joe Giannotti -- who worked by White's side for the past 12 years -- gave those in the media a special Jake White golden nugget Saturday.

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"Here you go," Giannotti proudly announced in the press box.

"Manhasset and Garden City football haven't played each other since November 18, 1972. Manhasset leads the series 18-17-1. Mr. White was my mentor, and this is something he would have had for the press when they walked in the door. So this little piece of interesting information comes straight from Mr. White."

One can see that White's enthusiasm has rubbed off on Giannotti. It was something that one could expect every time you walked into the Garden City or Hofstra press box.

"The man always had a smile and a good word," said Bobby Wihnyk, a close friend who also graduated in 1962.

"This was a selfless man, a truly extraordinary man, who touched most of us in some way in this community. We lost a dear friend with his sudden passing last April. He was a gentle soul that documented all of Garden City's records since the early 1900s."

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I met White for the first time at the inaugural Long Island Championships at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium in 1992. This is what I remember: He had a big smile and a firm handshake and was willing to help in any way. His knowledge was incomparable. He was a professional. His press box banter was insightful and thought-provoking.

When I walk into Shuart Stadium for the Long Island Championships this November, it won't be the same.