LOWER POTTSGROVE >> Moments after his team won the District One Class 4A championship for the second straight season, Pottsgrove head coach Rick Pennypacker wouldn’t accept the trophy from athletic director Gary DeRenzo.
‘I can’t take it from you, I don’t want to,’ Pennypacker insisted with a wide grin, ‘let the players take it from you.’
That’s Pennypacker’s historic coaching career summed up in one brief moment.
It’s always been about his players … never himself.
Pennypacker quietly announced to his players in the beginning of the season that he’d retire as head coach at the end of this season. And after 28 years at the helm, Pottsgrove’s longtime head coach shut the gates at Rick Pennypacker Field one final time Friday night with a 38-14 win over Upper Perkiomen for the Falcons’ second straight district title. With the result, Pottsgrove becomes the first team in program history to pick up back-to-back district championships, and earned a second straight trip to the state playoffs.
“This was a night that I’ve dreaded my whole life, my entire career,” said Pennypacker, giving a sigh and scanning the field he’s called home since 1989. “Not many coaches can go out on their own terms — they’re either fired or let go. I’ve been able to go out on my own terms — it means a lot to me. I’ve been blessed to be able to work here.”
Naturally, Pennypacker was quick to give all the credit to his players, though, most importantly his 21 seniors on this year’s team.
“I’ve been blessed to have great coaches, great administrators, great parents,” he said, “but most importantly, great players. They did this — every one of them. They accomplished all of this together.”
Throughout his career, Pennypacker has been known as plenty more than just a play-caller with a clipboard and khaki pants on the sideline. To some, he’s been a motivational force while to so many others, he’s become a lifelong mentor.
That’s why it was so easy for yet another Pottsgrove football team to band together this fall, just as they have done all these years.
“Coach Pennypacker is like a second father to me,” said senior two-way lineman Ephraim Hurt-Ramsey. “His relationship with the team is unreal. He loves all of us, he wants to see all of us do our best. Most importantly, he makes us all better people.”
And that’s been a driving force for the Falcons all season.
“We wanted this for him,” said senior wide receiver/linebacker Desmond Austin. “Being his last year here, we wanted to send him out with something special. Especially with our senior class, we’re all tight with Coach Pennypacker. So this is for us and him. Perfect way to end our careers together.”
The night opened with a tribute to Pennypacker, as nearly 100 former players took the trip out and formed a tunnel for him to enter the field one final time. The gesture was a closely guarded secret by the Pottsgrove faithful, one of the few times Pennypacker has ever been caught off guard on a football field.
“The turnout of my former players that came back, that meant more to me than this win did,” said Pennypacker clutching the trophy. “The win was great, it’s good to have this trophy. But to see those guys come back and come together, that means everything.”
The win aside, the outpour from his former and current players Friday night is what Pennypacker will always take away from Friday night’s game.
“I had kids text me all day,” he said. “As a coach, you don’t know the influence you’ll have on the kids. I’d never dreamed in my entire life that I’d have kids do all this for me. I’m grateful. I love every one of them and I always will.”
And by the looks all of the smiles scattered across Pennypacker Field, his players will always be able to say the same.
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