In terms of physique and athletic background, Todd Van Horn appeared to be a quite formidable person.
Those physical characteristics, however, contrasted with an engaging personality that left him well-liked in whatever circles he travelled.
That was the essence of Todd Van Horn: Star athlete, likeable and knowledgeable coach, admired educator and beloved husband and father. His was a life full of achievement and personal prosperity … a life ended all too soon this past Sunday, at the age of 51.
Van Horn made a name for himself as an athlete on the Phoenixville High and Miller University sports scenes in his earlier years, later achieving prominence in the region’s academic and coaching circles.
Gary DeRenzo, the Pottsgrove School District’s Director of Community Relations and Co-Curricular Activities, saw Van Horn’s passing as one of two involving well-known figures in the community in recent months.
“This is unequivocally the worst year I’ve ever seen,” the district’s former athletic director said. “First Paul Exley, and now Todd Van Horn. They are two of the biggest losses we’ve had.”
DeRenzo’s acquaintance with Van Horn dated back to the 1990s, when he worked in the Wissahickon School District and Todd was a coach and teacher at Souderton.
“He was big in promoting sports,” DeRenzo noted.
Jeff Madden, the high school’s head wrestling coach since 2008, remembered Van Horn as a valued and versatile assistant from the time he came on board in 2013.
“He was a big part of our lifting, conditioning, film and video activities,” Madden said. “He’d take video of our wrestlers in their matches and put them up on different sites.”
Steve Anspach, Pottsgrove High’s current Director or Athletics, referred to Van Horn as “Mr. Reliable.” He cited in particular Todd’s involvement with community youth football and wrestling clubs.
“He was always there, doing things for the district students,” Anspach said. “With boys lacrosse, once wrestling season ended, he was out on the field making an impact on the program.”
Van Horn’s calm demeanor and positive impact was also cited by Anspach.
“He was really involved,” Anspach said.
Pete Ventresca, Boyertown High’s head wrestling coach for 14 years, had Van Horn on his staff from 2005 to 2010. He described him as a “great assistant coach and person” who was involved in coaching eight state tournament medalists and two finalists in his time on the Bear staff.
“He was always a very laid-back and positive person who always helped to keep everything that happened during the season in the right perspective,” Ventresca said of Van Horn. “As a teacher, a coach and later as administrator, Todd has helped countless students and athletes to not just become better in competition, but become better people.”
Jack Ertell, Phoenixville High’s athletic director at the time Van Horn was in high school — he came on board during Todd’s sophomore year — remembered him as a “good student” and “extremely well-liked.”
“Something like this is frozen in my mind: A kid in high school,” Ertell said. “It’s a reflection not just of a gifted athlete, but the person he was.
“His loss has to be a tragedy for Pottsgrove.”
A 1987 Phoenixville graduate, Van Horn was a three-sport star in football, wrestling and track. A recent inductee into Phoenixville’s Sports Hall of Fame, Todd earned a total of nine varsity letters in his time there, in addition to being named the school’s Male Athlete of the Decade for the 1980s. He was accorded All-Pioneer Athletic Conference honors in all three sports, as well as District 1 recognition in wrestling and track.
Van Horn excelled on the wrestling mats his senior season. His 51-31-1 career record was bolstered by a 27-7-1 record, a Sectional championship, District 1 and South East AAA Regional runner-up finishes and qualification for the PIAA Individual Tournament,
In track, Todd competed in the throwing events for Phoenixville. He was a PAC champion in shot put.
“He was a phenomenal athlete at Phoenixville, in football and wrestling,” DeRenzo recalled.
Van Horn graduated from Millersville in 1992, earning a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics, Education and Teaching. He achieved considerable prominence in the Marauders’ football program: A four-year starter on the offensive line, team captain and Preseason All-American in 1990, a three-time All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference selection and key factor in Millersville three conference championship finishes (1988-90),
“Being a team captain … that’s unusual for a player on the offensive line,” DeRenzo noted.
Van Horn went on to earn his master’s degree in Education & Administration from Penn State University in 2006.
During his tenure as Pottsgrove’s Dean of Students, Van Horn was credited with impacted dozens of district athletes as a wrestling and lacrosse coach. He was also cited for helping hundreds more students and families, often credited with supporting them academically, socially and emotionally in their high school experience.
Van Horn was well-known on the Pottsgrove sports scene: An assistant and volunteer coach in wrestling and a head and assistant coach in boys lacrosse. On Madden’s wrestling staff, Van Horn oversaw the program’s conditioning regimen.
“He was invaluable to the program and the school,” DeRenzo recalled. “That was the beauty of Todd. He would let other guys be the paid assistants and be a volunteer.”
Van Horn’s coaching resume’ in football showed both quality and quantity.
He was a graduate assistant at Millersville in 1991, an assistant at Ursinus College from 1992 to 1997 and head coach at Souderton High from 1995 to 2005. At Souderton, he took over the program from long-time legend Drew Darrah as well as serving as assistant coach in track and field.
Todd’s extensive involvement as a wrestling coach included his stints at Souderton and Boyertown prior to Pottsgrove, He also logged time at Phoenixville Middle School as an assistant coach.
“His coaching pedigree in football and wrestling is vast,” DeRenzo noted. “He was a constant in boys lacrosse the last eight years, as head (2016) and assistant. Whatever the program needed.”
Van Horn’s sons left their own marks on the Pottsgrove sports scene.
Tyler, a 2016 graduate, gravitated toward boys lacrosse. Zach, who graduated this past spring, was a star in both football and wrestling and is currently attending Alvernia University.
Zach’s 85-41 career mark included a 30-6 record his senior year. He was a District 1-AAA North champion and South East AAA Regional sixth-place finisher at 220.
“He took Zach and other kids places for tournaments and was involved with them in club wrestling,” Madden said. “He was not only an assistant, but he was Dad, too.”
Madden was further impressed with Van Horn’s demeanor in the heat of wrestling competition.
“Obviously, the thing about Todd is he was a rock,” Madden noted. “You couldn’t anger him, or make him step out from who he was. He was just so rock-solid … no screaming or flying off the handle.”
In that, Todd offered a perfect complement to Madden’s own forceful personality.
“The kids would go to him with issues,” he said. “The last couple years, with me out of the district, Todd was on the scene in the district.
“Another thing: As a math teacher, he was a logical thinker. He put together lineups and different scenarios for matches. I depended on him a lot for information.”
A visitation took place Saturday on the football field of Pottsgrove High School, with a Life Celebration following. Prior to their football game Friday, Pottsgrove and Phoenixville held a moment of silence in Van Horn’s memory.
“Todd was a great assistant coach and person,” Ventresca noted. “He is someone who I will always personally look up to, and someone who will be sorely missed.”
Van Horn was born in Phoenixville July 7, 1969, the son of Ronald and Barbara (Gephart) Van Horn. He was the husband of Stephanie (Friscia) Van Horn, with whom he shared 26 years of marriage.
In addition to his wife and parents, Todd is survived by sons Tyler W. Van Horn and Zachary F. Van Horn; his sister, Janette Van Horn, companion of Ron Johnson; his sister-in-law, Laura Scalise; his nephews, Derrick Wickward, Maxton Wickward, and Gavin Scalise; his niece, Kimberly Wickward; and his father-in-law, Frank Friscia, companion of Brenda Mace.
He is predeceased by his sister, Kristine Wickward.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Todd’s memory to the Pottsgrove School District, Van Horn Memorial, 1301 Kauffman Rd., Pottstown, Pa. 19464.