On Tuesday afternoon, legendary Cheltenham girls’ basketball coach Bob Schaefer announced that he will not be returning next season. Check back for a complete feature recapping Schaefer’s remarkable career.
Bob Schaefer called a team meeting on Tuesday afternoon.
There was nothing especially unusual about that since spring leagues will be getting underway shortly, but this meeting wasn’t about spring leagues.
For the past 31 years, Schaefer has been the face of Cheltenham girls’ basketball, and although his passion for his sport has not waned, the veteran coach – as well as long-time assistant John Rogalski - decided it was the right time to step down. They broke the news to the players on Tuesday.
“I still love the game, I still love coaching,” said Schaefer. “It certainly wasn’t anything where I felt I had to get out. There certainly wasn’t any pressure.
“We’ve been cruising along and having great records, but because of the number of kids we have – we had that lapse of two years in terms of numbers.”
There were seven seniors on this year’s squad, three juniors and one sophomore.
“This will truly be rebuilding year, so if I was going to leave, it would either be now or three years from now,” Schaefer said. “The thought of leaving came up a year or two ago, but the thing that keeps you staying is you have certain players that you want to see through. CC (Andrews) was part of the reason – I wanted to see what she could become and see what she could accomplish at Cheltenham – and a few of the other girls on the team as well, so we have done that.”
With a promising freshman class that will provide the nucleus of the team for the next three years, Schaefer believes it is the perfect time for a new coach to take over the program.
“They can institute their style, their philosophies, and they’ll have the young kids for three years,” he said. “They’re all going to be sophomores next year, and by their second or third year, they’re going to be a good team. There are some nice talented kids there if they make the commitment to the program.”
In 1981, Schaefer took the reins of a struggling Cheltenham program that boasted a combined record of 3-57 in the years before his arrival. It took no time at all for him to turn things around. The Lady Panthers were 8-12 in his first year and have never had a losing season since.
Twice Schaefer’s squads have captured the ultimate prize – winning PIAA Class AAAA state titles in both 2000 and 2007. Twice the Lady Panthers were the state runner-up (1999 and 2005). Four times during Schaefer’s tenure, the Lady Panthers were crowned district champs (1996, 1999, 2001, 2002.).
In 1984, the Lady Panthers advanced to districts and states for the first time in program history. That was just the beginning. They have been to districts 29 years in a row and to the state playoffs in 27 of the last 29 seasons. They have advanced to the final four in the state in 11 of the last 17 years.
Schaefer’s teams have had 20 wins or more in 27 out of the last 29 seasons, and the Lady Panthers have won league championships in 24 of the last 26 seasons.
“I was telling the kids – winning the games was nice, but that’s not what this is about,” Schaefer said.
For Schaefer, coaching has always been about teaching life lessons.
“I am confident that most of our players leave Cheltenham and are ready for whatever they undertake in life partially because of the many life lessons and discipline they learned playing basketball,” he said.
As he bid farewell to a program that has worn his signature for 31 years, Schaefer admits he had mixed feelings.
“I’ve never considered it work, but it’s a relief to know I don’t have any obligations as far as opening the gym, coaching spring league, coaching in the summer, staying in communication with the kids, keeping them working and practicing,” he said. “It’s a nice feeling for a change just to not have that hanging over my head, but it raises some concern because it has been what I do. Coaching basketball is something that I do. Between coaching and playing basketball, this is something I have done since I was eight years old. That’s certainly going to leave a big vacancy, but it will give me time to find myself and do things I really haven’t done in a long time.
“I hopefully will get out and see games. I don’t know what will happen as far as basketball goes.”
The Lady Panthers compiled a 26-4 record in Schaefer’s final season. They captured another SOL American Conference title and advanced to the Elite Eight in the state.
Appropriately, when Schaefer said his good-byes on Tuesday, he was surrounded by members of his Cheltenham family, including former players Shayla Johnson, Brandi Butler, Nicole Pender, Ashley Gale and Ashley Webster.
Basketball has always been a family affair at Cheltenham, and that is just part of the legacy Schaefer, who compiled a dazzling 757-163 record during a stellar 31-year career, leaves behind.