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He Broke Records And His Family Broke Barriers: The Push To Memorialize Somerville Olympian Phil Reavis Sr.

SOMERVILLE (CBS) - If you live in Somerville, you probably don't know much about Phil Reavis Sr. Somerville native Matthew Hoey says you should.

"When I hear those words 'Somerville Pride' I've yet to come across anybody in my life in Somerville that I think captures that like Phil Reavis Sr.," Hoey said.

A master of the high jump and the first man to jump a foot over his head, Reavis Sr. began breaking records as a teenager at Somerville High.

But Hoey says Reavis is more than a celebrated athlete but also a public servant. That's why back in March, he filed a proposal before Somerville's Memorialization Committee to consider publicly honoring Reavis' legacy. If the committee approves it, Reavis would become the first person of color in Somerville to be recognized with such a tribute.

Phil Reavis Sr.
Phil Reavis Sr. on the cover of Sports Illustrated February 24, 1958 (WBZ-TV)

"At face value you would say this is amazing we had an Olympian from Somerville, and the first world record breaker at any sport, but it's the way the story comes full circle," said Hoey. "Not a single person of color Black or brown has their name on anything. Not a street sign, not a room in a school, nothing. To think that there's so many Black and brown kids in the city who don't have a face that looks like them to find inspiration from saddens me."

Hoey believes the gym or the track field at the new Somerville High School is a great opportunity. Reavis Sr. became a track star there, breaking records that got him recruited by Villanova. As a college athlete, he'd earn international acclaim and his own Sports Illustrated cover, before competing in the 1956 Summer Olympics. After missing the medal by inches, he'd return to Somerville to become a teacher and a mentor. Reavis Sr. is now 84-years-old, lives in China and plays in jazz band. One would say he's his ancestors' wildest dream.

But perhaps his most celebrated legacy is that of his family. Reavis' grandfather was born into slavery in North Carolina and moved to Massachusetts after his emancipation in the late 1800s. A job as a janitor at MIT allowed him to buy a home and raise nine children. The multi-generational family still lives in Somerville.

"It would be such an honor to have dad recognized by the city of Somerville," said Phil Reavis Jr. "Reflecting the honor of George Washington that came and settled here and bought the house. My grandfather and his family grew up on that house on Elmwood Street. It would be fantastic."

A spokesperson for Somerville tells WBZ-TV there is currently no proposal to memorialize Reavis with any project. But the committee will meet next Tuesday to discuss naming opportunities for the new Somerville High School.


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