About 125 of Rick Pennypacker’s former players gathered before Friday night’s game at the field bearing his name.
“That was the most emotional experience I’ve had in my coaching career,” he said. “To see the impact you’ve had on kids is something special. I was really touched by it.”
Pennypacker is stepping down as Pottsgrove’s head coach after 29 years at the end of this season.
An ex-player traveled all the way from Knoxville, Tenn., to be at frigid Pennypacker Field before the start of the PIAA District 1 Class 4A final against Upper Perkiomen.
In Pennypacker’s last home game, the Falcons rolled to a 38-14 victory over the Indians and claimed the program’s fourth district championship.
Pennypacker, who was a star offensive lineman and linebacker at Spring-Ford (class of 1972) and an offensive lineman at West Virginia, has been a coach for 41 years. At Pottsgrove, he has compiled 237 victories.
The Spring City resident played under legendary coach Bobby Bowden at West Virginia.
“I know Penn State fans will argue otherwise, but he’s the greatest coach in college history,” Pennypacker said with a laugh.
Pennypacker, 63, was also a high school head coach at Warren County (Va.) for six seasons and an assistant at Pocahontas County (W.Va.) for four years and James Wood (Va.) for two.
After his same-named father died in 1985, Pennypacker and his wife, Anne, who was his high school sweetheart, returned to Southeastern Pennsylvania a few years later.
“We both wanted to be closer to our families,” said Pennypacker, a physical education teacher at Pottsgrove. “And I wanted to be here to look after my mom [Doris].”
Pottsgrove has had only three head football coaches since a varsity program was established in 1958. Pennypacker’s predecessor, Ken Harclerode, also led the Falcons for 29 seasons.
Of coming to the Pottstown school in 1989, Pennypacker said, “Along with marrying my wife, it was one the best decisions I’ve made in my life.
“I’m truly blessed to teach and coach here. I love the community, the kids, the parents. And I couldn’t ask for a better athletic director [Gary DeRenzo] and superintendent [William Shirk].”
Under Pennypacker, an old-school coach with an intense sideline demeanor, Pottsgrove is 11-1 this season. It won nine straight games before losing to Perkiomen Valley, 43-26, in the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoff final.
The Falcons will take on District 11 champion Bethlehem Catholic (10-2) in the second round of the state tournament at 7 p.m. Friday at Spring-Ford.
“He’s got a big ego and he’s got a big heart,” DeRenzo said of Pennypacker. “Those are two of the things that make up a great coach.”
Rick and Anne Pennypacker have three children – Elizabeth, Ross, and Matthew – and three grandchildren. One of their grandkids, 9-year-old Sam, is a ball boy for Pottsgrove.
Ross Pennypacker, who played linebacker at Spring-Ford and Millersville, is a defensive line coach and recruiter at Villanova.
Rick Pennypacker will also retire as a teacher in June. He will then spend his time playing golf, traveling with his wife, and going to some of Villanova’s football games.
“I know I’ll miss coaching tremendously,” he said. “I just think it’s time for me to step back and do something else. Right now, I need a break.”