Obituary: William 'Rip' Scherer / Former running back at Penn State knew value of hard work

Oct. 24, 1925-Dec. 28, 2012

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The athletics staff must have been astounded.

Who was this nobody standing before them without a nickel of a sports scholarship to his name -- and asking for a spot on the Penn State University football team?

This was not the way it worked, even in the 1940s. But if William B. Scherer knew that, he didn't care.

The North Side native made the Penn State team as a walk-on, worked his way through the ranks and eventually played running back during the school's inaugural Cotton Bowl appearance in 1948. From then until his retirement after decades of coaching high school football, he knew that hard work always came first.

Mr. Scherer, who went by his nickname "Rip," died Friday in his Moon home. He was 87.

For 22 years, he worked as Moon Area School District's director of athletics and physical education. Before, during and after, he taught football in more ways than one, coaching a high school team, directing summer camp at Penn State or just helping his players understand what it took to win.

"He would always tell the parents, 'Not everyone can always play top-shelf football, but I will get your son a scholarship where he can play ball and still get an education," said Robert "Bones" Scherer, his younger brother. "He always spoke the truth, whether it was heard or not."

The oldest boy in a family of seven children, Mr. Scherer learned to love athletics early. His father managed an amateur baseball team, and a number of his players made it into the majors.

Mr. Scherer played football at North Catholic High School, and also enjoyed baseball and basketball. It was in high school that he earned the nickname "Rip," his brother said -- his mother teasingly called him "Rip Van Winkle" after he nearly overslept for a Saturday game.

He'd return to North Catholic after Penn State, this time as a coach. Even after he left, he'd volunteer his time and talent. Half a century later, his alma mater would induct him into its hall of fame.

"He always said, 'I owe them more then I could ever give them,' " his brother said.

After two years at North Catholic, Mr. Scherer moved on to Norwin High School, where he spent another six years. After a brief diversion to New Jersey, he returned to Western Pennsylvania as high school football coach in Moon, the district where he would spend much of his career.

Soon, he had seven children of his own. He'd met his wife, June, years earlier during a double date with his brother, who snuck Rip a hand signal that she was a good catch.

He loved his children and raised them as he was raised. Some followed his footsteps: A son, William "Rip" Scherer Jr., is quarterbacks coach at the University of Colorado.

Mr. Scherer stayed in touch with Penn State, growing a friendship with head coach Joe Paterno. From 1975 until two years ago, he coached every summer at Penn State's football camps in State College.

At the same time, he also served as a summer and weekend player personnel evaluator for the Steelers. When he retired from Moon in 1991, he worked full time as a scout for the Indianapolis Colts.

Needless to say, he was a busy man.

"I always thought that Rip was an overachiever," his brother said. "He was an overachiever for what he possessed naturally. He worked so hard at being better."

And it paid off. In addition to his recognition at North Catholic, Mr. Scherer has been honored by Norwin High School, Moon Area High School, the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Association and the Western Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame.

He is survived by his wife, sons William "Rip" Scherer Jr. and Scott Scherer, and daughters Cynthia Scherer, Christine Scherer, Sandy Scherer, Connie Shipp and June Matt.

A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. today in St. Margaret Mary Catholic Church in Moon. Memorial contributions in his name may be made to the North Catholic High School Scholarship Fund.

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Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.


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