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School Named After Vince Lombardi

January 21, 1998

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) _ On a hill on the west side of town rises a brick building that stands as a testament to how much this community loves the Green Bay Packers and its legends.

Lombardi Middle School is named after Vince Lombardi, who coached the Packers from 1959-68, an era that included victories in the first two Super Bowls and three other NFL championships.

Nancy Croy, the principal for 1,120 students in grades 6-8, believes it’s the only school in the country named after a professional football coach.

Eighth-grader Kristine Neff, 13, smiled when asked about her school’s unique name Tuesday as she hustled between classes.

``I am going to a school that was named after a famous coach and I like going to a school of a coach of the Packers. It is really cool,″ she said. ``He was coach when they won the first Super Bowl. He was really a good coach.″

Eighth-grader Nick Marnhart, 14, said he knows about Lombardi from ESPN, a sports cable television network. Going to a school named after the coach is ``cool because he is like football history,″ the teen said.

Let there be no doubt that more than Lombardi’s name is attached to the building.

The school’s motto is ``We’re inVINCEible.″ A gigantic black and white photo of Lombardi in deep thought, seemingly reflecting on life, hangs in the foyer. Printed on the walls of the gymnasium _ like banner headlines in a newspaper _ are some words of Lombardi wisdom: ``Leaders are made, not born.″

It’s not hard finding ties to Lombardi in the school, either.

Larry Cumber, 62, the head custodian, keeps a 1959 newspaper clipping in his desk of a picture of him patting Lombardi on the back after the Packers beat the Chicago Bears.

On Friday, Cumber plans to dress up as Lombardi for a school pep rally two days before the Packers play Denver in the Super Bowl in San Diego. As he arrives in a darkened gym, a spotlight showing on him, Lombardi’s words of what it takes to be a winner will boom out for the students to ponder.

``It is quite an honor really,″ the janitor said. ``One teacher said he has got a trench coat for me.″

Amazingly, Cumber even has some of Lombardi’s rough, chiseled looks.

Assistant Principal Al Breitlow has Lombardi’s autograph in an album at his home. He got it after a practice in 1961.

Croy, who has given at least 20 media interviews in the past two years as the Packers returned to NFL glory, has no qualms defending the importance of her school being named after a fiery, gap-toothed, Brooklyn, N.Y., son of Italian immigrants who believed winning wasn’t a sometime-thing, it was an all-the-time thing.

``Vince Lombardi stood for hard work, the kinds of qualities we want in our kids _ perseverance, what makes a good leader,″ Croy said, her office adorned with a picture of the coach, his arms clenched behind his back, a look of satisfaction and contentment on his face.

``Leaders are made, they are not born, and they are made that way through hard word, like everything else in this country. That is a good message for kids to have,″ the principal said.

The school was built in 1963 and originally named Southwest Junior and Senior High School. It was renamed Lombardi Middle School in 1972 at the urging of Martha’s Coffee Club, a group of staunch Packers supporters, after Lombardi died in 1970.

``I have not ever heard of any resistance to that,″ said Croy, a pin shaped like a football with a green ``G″ inside clipped to her lapel.

Down the hall, outside a language arts classroom decorated with green ``show your spirit″ posters, students Nichole Witek and Erin Rose penned their version of The Packer Pledge:

``I pledge the Super Bowl to the team, of the wonderful town of Green Bay.

``And to the fans, that cheer them on, loved by God, inVINCEible.″

With the Packers favored by 13 points over Denver, a new coach could soon rival Lombardi’s two Super Bowl victories. A Packers win Sunday would give coach Mike Holmgren two, too.

Could there be a school named in his honor someday?

``In the Green Bay School District, they don’t name schools after people until they are deceased,″ Croy said, laughing. ``So it is not really something that we would want to happen soon.″

Holmgren is 49.

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