By: Ken LaVicka
It's been decades since Mike Jarvis left Cambridge, but the pride he takes in his native city has always held strong.
Jarvis hasn't lived in Massachussetts for over twenty years, but through college basketball coaching stops at George Washington, St. John's, and now Florida Atlantic, he has never forgotten about his roots just north of Boston. In fact, he's done nothing but brag about the town he was born and raised in.
“The People's Republic of Cambridge!”
That's Jarvis' favorite correction to those who dare simply say he's from Cambridge, Mass. The city is too unique to just go by the name “Cambridge”. It's a wealthy, affluent community of over 105,000 citizens that houses both Harvard and MIT, featured notoriously poor neighborhoods like “The Coast” during Jarvis' childhood, and was where he met Connie in the ninth grade, his next door neighbor-turned-wife of over 40 years.
Last Monday, Jarvis was attempting to put the finishing touches on his sixth recruiting class at FAU when horror struck the Boston Marathon. Twin blasts near the finish line, just yards apart from each other, rocked the iconic event, casting an unescapable pall over the always celebratory Patriot's Day. Three were dead. 180 were injured.
“The very first thing that comes to your mind was just the fact that it was in Boston. Who would've ever thought that anything, anything like that could happen in Boston?” asks Jarvis. “It's not even thinkable.”
“The fact that people died, that people have been crippled for life, families that have been crippled forever. The tragedy of it, and the severity of it, it makes you bring tears to your eyes just thinking about people losing their limbs.”
Like many who hail from the Boston area, Jarvis had personal connections to the tragedy.
“My brother and his wife were there, less than one hundred yards away from where the bomb went off, just waiting to see his daughter-in-law cross the finish line. My nephew's parents were sitting in the staging area where the bomb went off. Only through the grace of God they had gotten up and went across the street to the viewing stand, and in the time it took them to go across the street, and you know the streets are not that big, the bomb went off.”
As evidence began to get pieced together the world learned of the Chechen-born Tsarnaev brothers, accused of planting duffel bags containing pressure cooker bombs along the race route. As the faces of 26-year old Tamarlan and 19-year old Dzhokar began filling television screens, it was discovered that both men resided in Cambridge.
The epitome of evil lived in Jarvis' beloved hometown.
“They weren't from Cambridge, they were from Chechnya,” Jarvis says unflinchingly. “They weren't from Cambridge.”
It was only a year and a half ago that Jarvis was back in Cambridge giving his FAU basketball players a bus tour of his old stomping grounds prior to a game against nationally-ranked Harvard. For 45 minutes on a chilly yet sunny December afternoon, a glowing Jarvis made sure that each guy on his roster saw his and Connie's childhood homes, the restaurant where he used to work, even the baseball diamond where he'd set up behind the plate as a catcher in neighborhood games. The place he holds so close to his heart is now linked to the perpetrators of the most heinous terrorist act on American soil since 9/11.
“I take great, great pride in the city of Cambridge,” says Jarvis. “That's home.”
“I know what a great city that is, so it's sort of like any one of our family members committed a crime, went to jail, or committed a murder, you'd feel an extra sense of shame. You feel even worse because you know what a great place Cambridge is.
“We're talking two of how many millions and millions of people. Two guys, two brothers, and we don't really know where their heads really were at. They just happened to have their bodies in Cambridge, but their head and hearts certainly weren't there.”
Not only were the Tsarnaev siblings residents of Cambridge, they also attended the high school where Jarvis first made a name for himself: Rindge and Latin.
Jarvis earned his diploma from Rindge School of Technical Arts in 1962, a school that allowed to Jarvis to cut his teeth on basketball, a precursor to what would be accomplished nearly 20 years later.
With Rindge merging with Cambridge High & Latin, Jarvis returned to his alma mater in the late 70's to take over a soon-to-be national high school hoops powerhouse. The success was unparalleled. With Jarvis leading names like Patrick Ewing and Rumeal Robinson, Rindge and Latin stockpiled an unprecedented 76-1 record from 1978-1981, dominance that helped Jarvis to his first Division 1 head coaching job at Boston University.
In addition to Jarvis and Ewing, celebrities like Ben Affleck and Matt Damon have received degrees from Rindge and Latin. It's an institution known for producing talent and success. The school is being prominently displayed in the media, but it has nothing to do with achievement. It's for all the wrong reasons.
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was a heralded wrestler at Rindge and Latin, thought so highly of that he earned the role of team captain in his senior year. He went on to compete in the state championships and was considered an example, a role model by coaches and teammates alike. Because of his prowess in the classroom, Tsarnaev was given a scholarship from the city of Cambridge to continue on with his educational endeavors. He was the personification of the American dream.
Something went terribly wrong.
With authorities working diligently to discover what turned Dzhokar and his brother dark, Jarvis refuses to let the suspected terrorists alter how people view his school.
“You can't tarnish the name of Rindge and Latin because of those two guys,” Jarvis says emphatically. “We're all related, it's just that some of us are influenced by God and some of us are influenced by Satan, the devil, and obviously their influence comes from the devil.”
“You're either on the good side or the bad side. Most people, fortunately, are on the good side. One bad apple is not going to ruin the whole batch. The same thing would go for Cambridge Rindge and Latin.”
Federal investigators are doing their best to communicate with the only surviving Tsarnaev brother, hoping they can discover what delusional, inconceivable motive led the siblings to commit the heart-breaking acts that captivated the country and paralyzed one of the nation's most vibrant urban areas. Through it all, eyes will continue to drift back towards Cambridge, the home base of two vile human beings who opted to kill rather than cope with whatever demons had overtaken them.
For Mike Jarvis, it's all about recalling what made, and makes, Cambridge great. His city may have housed these criminals, but it didn't spawn them. No way.
Jarvis hasn't resided in Cambridge for many, many years, but his heart remains in the town that shaped him.
“Most people, when they think of Cambridge, aren't going to be thinking of their two crazy dudes that killed and maimed innocent peole. They're going to think of all the great people that were born and raised and lived in Cambridge and went on to become very productive citizens in the United States of America.”