Ray Coleman – at the age of 96 – passed away on Sunday, Sept. 19, 2021. This spring, Coleman retired after 35 years as executive secretary of the Suburban One League. Included are comments from just a handful of those who crossed his path. Several of the comments were shared in The Documentary of Ray Coleman (produced by his grandson Chad Coleman) or sent to Coleman in an email. To view the documentary about Ray Coleman click on the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEh_Cc_bCZ0
By Mary Jane Souder
The name conjures up countless images for anyone associated with the Suburban One League. There’s Ray Coleman the athletic director, Ray Coleman the coach, Ray Coleman the official, Ray Coleman the executive secretary. The one common denominator in all those images is Coleman’s involvement and dedication to the Suburban One League and its teams.
“When you think about the Suburban One League, you can’t do so without thinking about Ray Coleman,” said Dennis Williams, Hatboro-Horsham principal and former president of the SOL. “Throughout the twists and turns of the league from expansion to conference and by-law changes, integration of new sports and 97 years of rich history, one thing is constant – Ray Coleman.”
For 72 years, Coleman has served the SOL in some capacity, small wonder he is referred to as ‘the face of the SOL.’
“I think about it sometimes – I can’t imagine this little old guy from Hatboro, originally from the hills of Tennessee, was able to be involved in all the things I was,” said Coleman, who also served on numerous PIAA District One committees. “I read my resume the other day, and I must have been awake 24 hours day.
“I’m fortunate. I had the opportunity to do a lot of things. The important thing was and my basic feeling always was – I just wanted to fight for what was right. That was with my students and my coaches.”
After 35 years as executive secretary of the SOL, Coleman, at the age of 95 (he turned 96 on August 12), recently retired. His resume is an impressive one that unofficially began at the age of 12 when he worked on a truck farm for 10 hours a day, six days a week for 10 cents an hour.
After graduation from Hatboro-Horsham High School, Coleman served three years in the U.S. Army’s Air Corp, 26 of those months in India. He went on to attend East Stroudsburg University on the GI Bill, majoring in health and physical education as well as history. A permanent substitute position that included coaching football and basketball at Abington Junior High School ultimately led Coleman to the senior high school where he taught history and safety education.
Three years later, he was named Abington’s athletic director, a position he held until his retirement in 1986. He also went on to become the chairman of the health, physical education and aquatics program and – during his tenure – served as boys assistant basketball coach and head coach of girls golf as well as girls swimming.
During his tenure as athletic director, he added seven new girls’ sports and three on the boys’ side.
“I’m out of college three years, and they asked me to be the athletic director – I’ll never understand that,” Coleman said. “The things that happened to me are really amazing. I really enjoyed my students. One thing - I was always very strict as far as the rules were concerned, but I was also very fair.
“One guy I caught smoking wanted to be suspended, but they ended up giving him 22 detentions. He’s still my best friend – he calls me all the time. I found that you can discipline, but they’ve got to understand you’re being fair and you’re willing to help them in any way you can.
“I was never afraid – which is unusual for a teacher. I made mistakes, I wasn’t perfect. If I did something I thought was wrong as far as a student was concerned, I would apologize.”
Coming as no surprise, Coleman earned the respect of the students.
“I was a soccer player at Abington, so he was the big boss at the time,” said Abington grad Gary Bisacquino, who went on to coach softball in the SOL. “He was the guy who took charge of the athletes and also the coaches and ran the athletic program, a guy who was respected.
“There’s not enough Ray Colemans around anymore. There was a guy that all he did was care 24/7 about athletics and the kids in general. It was not about him. It was about the kids. That’s how I first got to know him. He was very supportive of the athletes. If you talked to anybody from Abington and said, ‘Who would you know from Abington?’ I guarantee you probably the first name they’ll say is Ray Coleman.”
Coleman carried the straightforward, honest and fair approach he used with students into all areas of his life, and there’s no mistaking he was a difference maker in not only the SOL but the district. He was a driving force in the realignment of District One as well as the incorporation of what was once the Lower Bucks League and the Bux-Mont League schools into the SOL.
In 1982, Lower Bucks schools Bensalem, Council Rock, Delhass, Neshaminy Langhorne, Neshaminy Maple Point, Pennsbury and Woodrow Wilson were admitted into the SOL. Woodrow Wilson and Delhass combined and became Truman High School. Neshaminy Langhorne and Maple Point became Neshaminy High School.
Ray Kelly, then the athletic director at Neshaminy, had the opportunity to observe Coleman in action.
“I became Neshaminy’s athletic director in 1979,” Kelly said. “At that time, we were a member of the Lower Bucks League. In the early 80s, Ray reached out to us along with the whole league and talked about putting together a new league, which would include all the Lower Bucks schools. From that day on, Ray has been essential to the growth of the league.
“He really did get everyone together. I remember our first meeting was at Upper Moreland High School, and Ray was the cheerleader. Ray was the guy that kept it up, put it up, and he was such a great example. He was professional, and he ran a great ship as an athletic director. All you had to do was go over there as a visiting team and watch the man in action. He was a treat to see as the athletic director of Abington.”
In the fall of 1986, Bux-Mont schools Central Bucks East, Central Bucks West, Hatboro-Horsham, North Penn, Pennridge, Quakertown and Souderton as well as Springfield from the Bicentennial Athletic League were admitted to the SOL.
“That’s something I feel good about,” Coleman said. “The other thing I felt good about – I have a close relationship with all those schools. I would go to those schools, and even though we were opponents and we might disagree, we still had a good relationship. I really appreciated that.”
Kelly, who is currently an assistant football coach at Neshaminy, recalls Coleman as someone who was full of energy.
“He was tough, but he was fair, and he was positive,” Kelly said. “He made sure that your kids when you were visitors as well as his own kids were well-behaved. When you went to Abington, things were pretty well behaved.
“In our meetings, Ray was always a leader with all the athletic directors and principals, mainly the athletic directors because we got to know each other more than the principals got to know people. Ray was always the leader. We would go to Hershey once a year to the Pennsylvania Athletic Directors Conference, and Ray was always in the middle of our gang from the Suburban One League.
“We would have our own private meetings, and we would talk about what was going on in the PIAA and how it was going to affect us. Again, Ray has always just been the consummate leader from the first day I met him. He’s a wonderful guy. We still communicate, and he always has a kind word.”
According to Tim Donovan, Central Bucks West principal and former SOL president, Coleman has been the foundation of the SOL.
“His tireless and unselfish work has resulted in continual success for student-athletes, coaches, teams, schools and the league,” Donovan said. “His passion, integrity and leadership are unmatched. I am fortunate to call Ray and mentor and friend. His legacy in the SOL is great and he has set the standard and paved the way for all those that follow.”
Coleman served as the chairman of the SOL’s swimming committee from 1958-81 and chairman of the SOL boys and girls basketball committee from 1980-1986. He was president of the SOL 1961-62 and the executive secretary 1986 to 2021. In 1980, he received the SOL’s first Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I think one of the basic things in life is you can go by the rules, but you also have to do it in a human way,” Coleman said. “I always tried to deal with negative things in a positive way.
“I’ve always believed in doing what was right and was willing to fight for it regardless of the consequences. My coaches – I was the boss. I would listen to them, then I’d decide whether it was worth going on. If it wasn’t, I’d tell them, ‘Nope, we’re not going to do it.’
“The other thing that was so amazing – and this wouldn’t happen today – when I was at Abington, I went through six principals, six superintendents, and if somebody would come in and complain to either one of them, they’d say, ‘Go see Mr. Coleman,’ and whatever I came up with, they would support me. That’s highly unusual. You don’t find that.”
A member of the Hatboro-Horsham Hall of Fame for education and community service, Coleman also officiated football (25 years), soccer (15 years), basketball (5 years) and baseball (5 years). He also was an assignor for District One soccer and basketball championships.
Coleman was a catalyst in the Suburban One League’s Athletic/Scholarship program, and each year the Philadelphia Suburban Soccer Association presents a scholarship to a young man and woman called the Ray Coleman Soccer Scholarship.
“There aren’t many like Ray,” Williams said. “Despite scholarships awarded in his name, Ray never looks for any praise or personal recognition. He just goes about the business of the league and his desire to do what is best for the high school athletic programs throughout Montgomery and Bucks County. In turn, this allows the league to create amazing experiences for the student-athletes that attend those schools.”
Coleman’s impressive resume doesn’t begin to tell the impact of a life of service as an educator, coach and administrator.
“It’s so tough to encapsulate the impact Ray Coleman had, not only to student athletes in Abington during his years as athletic director but just the various roles he had in countless years in the Suburban One League,” Abington athletic director Todd Vaccaro said. “I’m very fortunate to serve in a role that Ray did as athletic director at Abington Senior High School.
“Countless alumni refer back to him, and at a memorial service for Rev. Bobby Bryant, Ray made an appearance with myself and our building principal, Mr. Angelo Berrios. People that haven’t seen Ray in days, years or decades came up with a hug, a smile, a laugh. It was just so great to see that and see that he had a lasting impact on generations of Abington kids who are now adults.
“He’s sharp as a tack into his 90s, he’s always there for a phone call and really showed how to be a servant leader, always asking what he can for you.”
When Coleman lists the four loves of his life, he points to his faith in God first (he has authored a booklet entitled A Higher Calling). His family is next and includes a Godly mother and father, Flo, Murray, Kandi, Brad, Debbie, grandchildren Ryan, Chad and Marissa as well as his brothers Will and Bill and their families. Third is his 36 years as a teacher, coach and athletic director at Abington High School, and last but not least is the Suburban One League.
“I enjoyed my years,” Coleman said. “What’s very important is I had so many good people who helped me and made me look good.
“I look at all the stuff and how in the world could I have done that? I was very fortunate. I loved what I did, I really did.”
That love is underscored by the fact that Coleman – who is still on the receiving end of phone calls with questions about the SOL - has seen over 7,000 high school athletic contests.
“One thing I’m happy about – I don’t get depressed,” he said. “If something is negative, I figure 10 seconds is long enough to think about it and you move on. That’s one thing I’m really pleased about. I leave everything with the Lord, and He takes good care of me.”
“I have known Ray since 1960 when I came to the Abington School District. He was the athletic director and interviewed me for the head cross country and assistant track coach positions. He was very instrumental in supporting both programs and had a lot to do with the success of both of those programs as well as all the other sports programs at Abington High School. Ray was always positive and adept at knowing how all athletic athletes and coaches were following the right educational commitments. When I stopped coaching and became involved as a soccer official in Suburban One and District One (1980-2015). He was instrumental in keeping contact, so that fair play and sportsmanship were constant between coaches and soccer officials.
“As the years went on, we – the Suburban One Soccer Officials – committed to naming a special award for the best soccer players (men and women) who had excelled in both their athletic and academic success. The award was named after Ray Coleman.
“Ralph Waldo Emerson states: ‘An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man,’ and Ray Coleman has cast a very long shadow on every aspect of what is good for the Suburban One and all its components.”
--Jim Gavaghan, Abington teacher 1966-2002/Former Abington cross coach country and track coach
“Ray Coleman has been a positive, driving force for the Suburban One League for many, many years. Ray embodies the ideals of sportsmanship, teamwork and the importance of maintaining a strong league for the benefit of our student-athletes.
“The student-athletes and member schools of the Suburban One League owe a debt of gratitude to Ray for his tireless efforts, guidance and support in making the Suburban One League a premier sports league for high school student-athletes in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. With gratitude and great appreciation, thank you Ray!”
--Jim Cairnes, Director of Athletics & Activities, Wissahickon High School
“Ray Coleman has been a mentor and encourager to all those who have been a part of the Suburban One League. He has been the league’s biggest supporter and has been a true servant leader.”
--David Babb, Former Pennridge High School athletic director
“When the name of Ray Coleman is mentioned, I think of two words--duty and service to his country and education. Many do not know that Ray volunteered at the beginning of World War ll to be in the U.S. Army. He served in India and Burma. Ray drove trucks on the Burma Road to take ammunition to our troops at the front fighting the Japanese.
“Returning from the war, Ray obtained his B.S. in Education. He taught, coached and was the Athletic Director at Abington High School for 36 years. From 1986 until this year, Ray served as the Executive Secretary for the Suburban One League. Over all of those years, he served on many committees at the league and district level to promote positive changes. Ray has been a mentor to so many of us as well as an exceptional friend. We wish him health and happiness in his retirement.”
--Sheila Murphy, Former Neshaminy High School athletic director
“I have known Ray since he was AD at Abington and I officiated basketball games there. He ALWAYS treated officials with the utmost respect. His coaches and players followed his lead. He was definitely a no-nonsense AD.
“He then became assignor of the District One boys’ basketball playoffs, and I had the pleasure of working many games for him. He was always fair. Fifteen years ago when he decided to give that up he called me to see if I would be interested in helping Tom Brady do the assigning. I have been doing it ever since. Five years ago when Walter Yost passed away, he called again this time to be Suburban One Assignor.
“He has been my biggest supporter. He talks to me about every other week, always giving me support and encouragement. Our talks are about everything but usually center on our careers as educators and involvement with sports. Ray is never at a loss for words. He has been a great friend for a long time and I appreciate all that he has done for me.”
--Tom Blackwell, PIAA Basketball Official/Suburban One League Assigner
“I had the privilege of working under Ray Coleman when he was the Physical Education Department Chair and the Athletic Director at Abington Senior High. From the first day I met Ray, I knew that he was a man who had maroon and white running through his veins. His love for Abington was only transcended by his love for young people. You have often heard people throw around the cliche ‘It’s not about winning and losing, it’s about how you treat the kids.’ Well, that was not a cliche to Ray, it was the basis for every decision he made as teacher, coach, and administrator.
“Anyone who has been a head coach at the high school level knows that you will have winning years and losing years. I can honestly say whether you had a championship season or losing season, Ray's attitude never changed. It was always about the athletes and how he could help you become a better coach. He probably wouldn’t be able to function in today’s school climate because he didn’t cave to the pressure of disgruntled parents. That wasn’t to say he wouldn’t kick you in the butt if you needed it or replace a coach if warranted, but it was on his terms. What a blessing to work as a coach for a man who ‘had your back.’
“Ray’s legacy can be summed up in two words: commitment and service. Ray was committed to the principles of good sportsmanship, hard work, and academic integrity. This is what he valued the most in high school athletics. The word service speaks to what is in Ray’s heart. His desire to serve others is what has motivated him these past 70 years to never stop having a positive influence in the lives of people. Personally, for me, Ray has been an outstanding mentor, a dear friend, and most important a brother in the Lord.”
--Doug Moister, Retired Teacher, Head Football Coach, and Administrator from Abington School District
“In 1992, I became the Athletic Director at Springfield High School. I remember attending the first meeting at Williamson’s Restaurant. I was a little nervous that day; however, Ray came over and gave me a hearty handshake and welcomed me. That began a 29-year friendship with him. We have shared many happy times. Breakfast at Lancers, district basketball games, visits to my office at Springfield and the numerous phone calls over the years. Ray has been a good friend, mentor and someone that I have always respected. He has touched many lives. I am a lucky man to have him as my friend.”
--Hugh McGovern, Former athletic director, Springfield Township High School
“Ray Coleman is a competent and courageous gentleman, the highest praise I can give for a leader. He has been the SOL.”
--Dr. Sam Varano, Principal, Souderton Area High School/President of the Suburban One League
“Ray was the glue that held the SOL together for so many years. I have known him for many years as he was the Athletic Director when I was in high school. He will be greatly missed.”
--John Reading, Central Bucks East Athletic Director
“I didn't know Ray all that well, but I found him to be incredibly gracious and sincere. As a brand new principal at my first ever SOL meeting, Ray sought me out afterward to introduce himself and wish me the best. In a room full of people, I'll never forget this gesture on his part. He will be sorely missed as a contributor to SOL, but more so as a human being.”
--Robert D. Schultz, Principal, Upper Dublin High School
“Ray is a role model in perseverance, dedication and commitment in an age where those things waiver. As the four-year president of the Suburban One League who had the opportunity to work with Ray closely, there are not many like him. He never hesitates to tell you how much you mean to him and is appreciative of the role that each person plays in helping make our organization run. At 95 years of age, his historical knowledge is obvious, but I am amazed at his wit, sense of humor, awareness of events and his ongoing commitment to others.
“Thirty-five years as the executive secretary of one of the most widely recognized leagues in Pennsylvania is an accomplishment that is unmatched. Ray will often tell you that he is fortunate to have been surrounded by great people. However, I am a firm believer that WE are all lucky to have had the opportunity to interface with Ray. It is with great honor and appreciation that I call Ray Coleman my friend.
--Dennis M. Williams, Jr, Principal, Hatboro-Horsham High School/Former President of SOL
“I’m sure it has been all said before but what an interesting, caring, lovable, kind man! He is truly a gentleman. He is awesome!”
--Kathy Zaletski, Neshaminy Athletic Office Assistant
“I met Ray at a Suburban One meeting when I was the athletic secretary at Souderton Area High School. Ever since then, he’s been like a father to me. He has a big heart, and he cares about everyone. He never has anything bad to say about anyone. He will always give whatever he has to anyone. I think he is the best friend, athletic director, man that I know. He always puts others first, and when it comes to the secretaries, he’ll always say it’s us that do the work, and he never takes credit for things even when he does them. He’ll always give other people credit for what they do. He’s just an amazing man, and I’m very honored to know him.”
--Terry Knappenberger, Former athletic assistant at Souderton Area High School
“Ray was always interested in the games and the kids, and (at games), we just had an opportunity to talk casually together but then talk about the job and difficulties of being an athletic director. Ray’s advice and years of experience helped all athletic directors, but especially me trying to navigate through some of the tough times you have as an athletic director. Obviously, with all Ray’s years of experience, when Ray talked, you listened because you know he’s been through it or some portion of it and just to have somebody give you not only work and career advice but life advice. I’m happy to say that through the many years I’ve known Ray, we’ve developed a very strong friendship that I’m very grateful for.
“I’ve only known Ray as the executive secretary of the Suburban One, so Ray’s tenure there was long before I was around or got started. I don’t know that I saw Ray blossom, but I certainly saw Ray as someone who was the rock of the Suburban One League and somebody who was the constant and the person you could always rely on and really be the foundation of the Suburban One League.
--Sean Kelly, District One Assistant Executive Director and former Central Bucks West athletic director
“I always was impressed with his compassionate nature with people. He can be tough as nails, but for the most part, he’s got a kind, soft demeanor. He’s a family person and is so family oriented, and he gets along with all the ADs and the coaches.”
--Lou Pacchioli, Former William Tennent High School athletic director & former District One Football Chairman
“Ray Coleman is the epitome of work ethic, passion and positive attitude. A role model for all. A great friend.”
--George Collins Jr, Former Harry S Truman athletic director
“Ray is an amazing individual and the heart and soul of the SOL. Thank you for all of your inspiration, support and dedication over the years. You are the best.”
--Lisa Becker, Principal Pennsbury High School
“Mr. Coleman, you have been an inspiration in the person I am today. I’m glad and proud that you are part of my success.”
--Bill Neely, Abington graduate/Abington cross country & track and field coach
“You have been so influential and inspiring to so many of us. Please stay in touch and continue to be that bright spot in our lives. I could not ask for a better person to have as a friend.”
--Carol Godfrey, Abington alum
“(Ray) has been a father to the whole Suburban One League for decades. God bless you for your ‘fatherly’ qualities. We are so lucky to call you friend.”
--Ray Kelly, Former Neshaminy Athletic Director
“I remember meeting you as a 10th grader, a 14-year-old basketball player at Abington in 1960. Your love for Abington and the student body, especially the athletes, was very apparent then and continued for decades. When I became a basketball coach and then athletic director at Upper Moreland, you were there for me with great advice and support.”
--Gary Kochersperger, PIAA District One Basketball Chairman/Volleyball Chairman
“What a tremendous contribution you have given to the Suburban One and the entire state of Pennsylvania. It is not just your hard work ethic or your time investment, it is your friendship, honesty and caring. You befriended me as a rookie teacher and coach a long time ago, and I am truly thankful.”
--Walt Snyder, Former Council Rock football coach
“Thanks for sharing and caring – you’ve touched many, many people in many, many positive ways over the years.”
--Jim Diamond, Former Abington Student