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“Mr. High School Sports” – Despite Great Honor, Render’s Legacy Not Cemented Yet

Jim Render

(File photo: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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By Matt Popchock

(mpopchock@kdka.com)

Jim Render has accomplished so much as head football coach at Upper St. Clair that it’s hard to imagine remembering his career for any single win. Perhaps it’s in the best interest of fairness the WPIAL Hall of Fame instead commemorates two.

His 1989 PIAA championship team, which featured 93.7 The Fan Pirates studio analyst Kevin Orie and Buffalo Bills executive Doug Whaley, was inducted over the weekend. Quad-A state runner-up Wilson High School was led by future Nittany Lion and NFL-er Kerry Collins, but the Panthers prevailed, 12-7, with Orie providing a key interception.

Not only did it make them the first WPIAL team to finish a season 15-0, it also made them the first from District 7 to win the PIAA Class AAAA championship, which, along with that of the other three classifications, was established the previous season.

But it wouldn’t have been possible without a 38-14 decision over perennial power North Hills at Three Rivers Stadium to clinch the WPIAL title. It was somewhat fitting USC, which ended 1989 as USA Today’s No. 4 team in America, had to first get through the “Big Red,” which had been tabbed No. 1 just two years earlier.

Still, as another legendary western PA coach, Chuck Noll, used to say to motivate his own players, you never peak. Honestly, though, Render is pretty darn close to one peak in particular.

He’ll enter the 2012 regular season as the third-winningest head coach in the history of the Commonwealth with 355 career victories. He’s also the second-winningest active coach in the state, though WPIAL contemporary Joe Hamilton isn’t far behind (333), nor is Frank Pazzaglia at Mid Valley (340). Only Jack Henzes Jr., who returns to Dunmore with 357, leads Render in wins by an active coach.

George Curry, who retired after spending the 2008 football season at Wyoming Valley West, is the all-time PIAA leader at 413 wins. That’s a difference of 58.

Render, whose tenure as a high school football head coach began in Carrollton, Ohio in 1969, has averaged 8.25 wins per year over its course. Therefore, if the face of USC football is not lifted until at least 2018, chances are, Render breaks the all-time record at that point.

As presently constructed, the PIAA football season lasts, at most, 16 games for any team. Not to put any pressure on the Panthers to become the first WPIAL Class AAAA team to win at least three straight PIAA titles, or anything…but assuming my grade-school math is correct (laptop calculator, don’t fail me now!), the earliest Render could best 413 wins would be sometime in the 2015 season.

In the meantime, if the Upper St. Clair school board is paying attention, I wonder if you folks could do me one small favor? (Well, okay, it was actually 93.7 The Fan Game of the Week/MSA Sports Network broadcaster Lanny Frattare’s idea, but anyway…) Rename the stadium after Coach Render.

I’m usually wary of the absolute power football coaches sometimes appear to wield in our society (see: Paterno, Joe). But let’s face it, if you’re looking for a timeless role model for the community, and, at the same time, someone people will immediately associate with the program, how does it get any better than he? His teams win, his kids go on to play at good colleges and have good careers, and although I’m certainly not a fly on the wall at every practice, Render always struck me as the kind of guy who will push and challenge any player regardless of status.

Shortly after I graduated from North Hills, it renamed part of renovated Martorelli Stadium in honor of ongoing head coach Jack McCurry. Enough said, right?

So, do the right thing, people with more political power than I. Buh-bye “Panther Stadium,” hello “Render Field.” Or something like that.

Oh, by the way, did we ever tell you what happened before Render led the Panthers to that state title in 1989?

Yes, we did, and so did Render himself. The PIAA Football Playoffs were originally an invitational tournament, and Upper St. Clair actually declined its initial invitation. Render joined us on “The UPMC Centers for Rehab Services High School Football Show” last fall and shared that story:

(Follow me on Twitter @mpopchock.)