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O'Leary hailed as one of county's football greats

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By Robert Howey

Phil O’Leary is being remembered as one of Barr Street High School’s all-time athletic greats.O’Leary, one of four former Golden Tigers’ football stars to play pro football, died Thursday following a long illness due to complications with diabetes. His funeral was Saturday at Pleasant Ridge Presbyterian Church.O’Leary, who played in the old World Football League, along with the late Jim “Butch” Duncan (Colts), Benny Blocker (Saints) and Bill Belk (Forty-Niners), advanced their football careers to the pro ranks following outstanding careers at Barr Street High School.Barr Street High School is the former all-black high school in Lancaster prior to total integration with the 1970-71 Lancaster County school term.O’Leary, a state champion hurdler in track, rates as one of the top athletes former Golden Tigers’ coach W.C. “Pap” Lewis coached in his 45-year coaching career.“Phil was one of the best athletes I ever coached,” Lewis said. “He could run. Phil had outstanding ability and he loved to play.“What he competed in, he wanted to be a winner,” Lewis said.O’Leary, a 1969 Barr Street graduate, played football, basketball and ran track. He made his mark in football and track.He held Golden Tigers’ records for yards in a single game (232), longest kickoff return (97 yards) and longest rushing touchdown (80 yards). O’Leary, in his senior season, also won the 1969 low hurdles state championship.The Barr Street football staff included Lewis along with assistants Floyd White, the late Taylor Clinton and Allen Cole. Clinton, also reputed as one of the best to ever play for the Golden Tigers, is a member of the Lancaster Athletic Hall of Fame.White compares O’Leary, who was raised by his grandmother, the late Arlean O’Leary in Van Wyck, to another great athlete to come out of the northern Lancaster County community – Olympic champion Shawn Crawford, who starred in football and track at Indian Land High School.“Phil had similar speed and I’d say he was right there with Shawn in that caliber of an athlete,” said White who coached O’Leary in track and football at Barr Street.“Phil was a natural sprinter,” said White, who also coached track at Lancaster High School. “When he got started, you weren’t going to catch him. If he got behind you, he was gone and there was no catching him.”White called O’Leary a “complete player.”“Some running backs run the ball better to one side as opposed to another side,” White said. “For Phil, it didn’t matter. He could go right, left or up the middle. Just give Phil the ball and he could make it happen.“Phil ran to daylight and once he got to the outside, he wasn’t going to be stopped,” White said.One of O’Leary’s trademarks was his painted white cleats.Lester Belk, a former Golden Tigers’ teammate of O’Leary’s, recalls a game where O’Leary’s white shoes made the opposition see red.“We were playing one of the Columbia area school, C.A. Johnson, and they went after Phil real hard that night because they focused on those white shoes, but he weathered the storm,” Belk said. “Phil had the ability, and some size and he was very fast, which was his forte.”After graduating from Barr Street, O’Leary played football at the University of Nevada at Reno, where he fashioned an outstanding football career. He used his success at Reno to play in the World Football League with the Honolulu Hawaiians.“Phil was a great running back with great speed,” Belk said. “He was a gifted athlete and I’d put him in Lancaster County’s top 10 greatest athletes.”