High School Athlete and Coach
For many members of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, the mastery of a single sport has left a lasting impression on Buffalo sports fans. For a few, however, versatility has been the key to fame. The varied talents of Harvey Austin have not only landed him in the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame, but have earned him a niche as perhaps the most wondrous all-around high school athlete and coach that Buffalo has ever seen.
Austin first attracted attention in 1949 when he cleared 6 feet in the high jump competing for School 75. He bettered that mark by 1 � inches the following season as a freshman at Emerson Vocational High School, and soared the same summer to a height of 6 feet, 3 � inches to capture the title at the City of Buffalo Junior Olympics meet. That personal mark toppled at the National Junior Olympics later that summer, as Austin cleared the bar with a record-shattering leap of 6 feet, 4 � inches. For the young Austin, and for the bar, there was no place to go but up.
Austin repeatedly showcased his talent at the annual All-Vocational meet. In 1951, he won the high-jump title at that meet, and in 1952, he produced a stratospheric jump of 6 feet, 6 inches, only 1 1/8 inches short of the national high school record. Austin was touted as a future Olympian for the Melbourne games in 1956, but he was unable to leap a sizable obstacle: his basketball proficiency. A Buffalo Evening News All-High selection in three straight seasons (1950-1952), Austin led Emerson to the Yale Cup Championship in 1950 and 1951. He established a league single-game scoring record (46 points) in 1951, and set Yale Cup Series standards with 320 points in 1951 and 325 points in 1952. After a three-year stint in the Army, Austin attended Purdue University on a track scholarship where he also honed his basketball skills as a three-year starter. Austin’s arsenal featured a variety of shots, and he relied on uncustomary quickness to pierce defenses and drive to the hoop.
Versatility also marked Austin’s coaching career, upon which he embarked at McKinley High in 1963 as basketball, track, and cross-country coach. He wore all three hats at East High and Hutch-Tech as well, and produced impressive career records of 174-108 in basketball (including consecutive Yale Cups in East High in 1973 and 1974), 110-25 in track, and 115-47, with two city titles in cross-country.
Austin is warmly remembered not only for his own athletic achievements, but also for his selfless service to the youth of Buffalo. Austin found his greatest fulfillment as a father figure to the high school athletes he coached. He also worked in various programs for the New York State Divisions of Youth, the Erie County Department of Parks and Recreation and the City of Buffalo. The 2,000 Buffalonians who appeared in person to mourn his passing represent but a fraction of those whose lives were touched by the generosity of Harvey Austin.