It was a time for celebration but also a time for reflection, an occasion that recalled precious memories but also served as a stark reminder of the inevitability of the passage of time.
On Friday evening, January 15, the Hatboro-Horsham High School Alumni Association honored four of the school’s coaching legends. Between them, Dick Ledyard (baseball), Bob Ayton (track and cross country), Dennis Steinly (football) and Ralph Wetzel (wrestling) won over 1,300 contests over a period that spanned parts of six decades, from 1960-2010. They also combined for 50 league championships of one sort or another.
High school sports has changed considerably in that span, not necessarily for the better in some respects. But the lessons these four men imparted, as coaches and as educators, are timeless and the former students, players, family, and friends who turned out in the Hatboro-Horsham gymnasium to honor them understood the evening’s significance.
Wetzel was in charge of the Hatboro-Horsham wrestling program from 1964-2001. On that span he compiled dual-meet record of 307-225-9 and coached an individual state champion. His first championship, which came in 1970, was the school’s first championship in a men’s sport in 29 years. His teams won five more Bux-Mont titles after that and another in Suburban One, but it’s the first one Wetzel remembers most fondly. “It had been such a long time (since the school had won a championship,” he said. “There was such a dry run in men’s sports.”
Most of all, Wetzel enjoyed working on the matt with his wrestlers. “The thing I enjoyed most about coaching was working with the kids in the wrestling room,” he said, “the teaching aspect.”
Ledyard spent 24 years as the Hatters’ baseball coach, compiling a record of 238-138 and winning for Bux-Mont titles. For much of Ledyard’s career the regular season was shorter than it is now and there were no postseason playoffs, although his team won a District One title in 1977 and went on to win the first-ever PIAA state baseball tournament.
Ledyard himself was a stickler for playing the game the right way.
“If I could be remembered for anything I guess it would be the attention to fundamentals,” he said. “Everybody says to a kid ‘Go out and play shortstop and I’ll hit you a couple and see if you can come up with them.’ But nobody actually teaches how to field a ground. That’s just an example of fundamentals coming first.”
Steinly served two tours of duty with the Hatboro-Horsham football program, from 1967-1988 (he was named head coach in 1972) and again from 1991-2000. His teams went 184-109-14 while winning four Bux-Mont League and seven Suburban One championships. The Hatters also won a District One title in 1992.
“We had a remarkable career,” Steinly said. “We had great players and great kids. You can’t do all that by yourself.”
Ayton was in charge of the Hatters’ track and cross country teams from 1969-2010. In that time his teams won over 600 dual meets in the two sports and 28 league championships (19 in cross country, nine in track). His cross country team won a District One title in 1981 and finished as high as third at the state-championship. He also had a number of individual state champions.
Ayton is still involved in coaching. After leaving Hatboro-Horsham he moved on to William Tennent for a time. Today he assists with the program at Calvary Christian.
After a long career as an educator and coach Ayton’s enthusiasm remains. But he has concerns about the trend of today’s student-athletes specializing in a single sport. “We had Brian Haupt, who was all-state in wrestling, football, and track,” he said. “Kids are focusing on one sport and they miss out on the friendships, they miss out on different coaches and their styles of coaching. They miss out on a lot of things.”
A portion of this article first appeared in The Intelligencer on January 15, 2016