Never mind the record, Summit Academy’s Steve Sherer was an impactful coach
MIKE WHITEPittsburgh Post-Gazette firstname.lastname@example.org
Old Bishop Boyle High School in Homestead produced two mighty fine football coaches in Mike McCarthy and Steve Sherer.
Maybe you’ve heard of McCarthy, the Green Bay Packers coach who has a Super Bowl title on his resume. Maybe you’ve never heard of Sherer, who has coached mostly at the high school level and his winning percentage as a head coach is only .268.
But Sherer’s value as a coach can’t be measured by wins and losses. His success should be quantified in the number of troubled teenage lives he has impacted. Heck, just the fact that Sherer lasted 18 years in his current coaching job is a marvel in itself.
It’s not easy to coach at Summit Academy, a school for adjudicated youth near Butler. In fact, it’s extremely difficult. Sherer has done it for 18 seasons, but he will walk off the field for the final time after Saturday’s game against Mohawk. Sherer, 67, is retiring as coach and also an administrator at the school. To show you what Sherer has meant to Summit, the school last week named its field “Stephen J. Sherer Field.”
In three weeks, Sherer will be in Colorado with his wife, Adele, starting a new chapter in their lives, permanently living near their three sons. In terms of wins, Sherer hasn’t left an everlasting impact on WPIAL football like a Bob Palko at West Allegheny or Bill Cherpak at Thomas Jefferson. There’s a good chance Summit Academy will finish without a win this season (the Knights are 0-9 heading into the final game). But Sherer should still be remembered as one great coach — and man. Just for putting a team together every year and trying to make a difference in the lives of some troubled youth. Kids are sent to Summit who have committed minor to moderate offenses, and many simply lack a direction in life.
“We’re like doctors that deal in the realm of cancer. Only this is a social cancer,” said Sherer. “We are not going to be able to save every kid out there. But the kids we can save, why not give it our best shot?
“Even with the kids who have come
to our place and still failed, some of those kids remember us even more.
I’ve had some really touching letters from kids who were incarcerated at some point after they left. They say, ‘We should’ve listened to you and [assistant coach] John McCloud.’ Some of those kids have come back and spoken to our teams.”
Sherer laughs when he says, “I’ve gotten calls from former players over the years who say, ‘Do you need me to come out there? Is there anyone who doesn’t respect you? I’ll come up there and straighten them out.’”
Summit Academy is located in the countryside of Herman in Butler County. At one time, the place was St. Fedelis, a Catholic seminary.
Summit Academy opened in 1996 and started a WPIAL football program in 1998. After three winless seasons, Sherer took over as coach. He had experience coaching at a similar school, working five years as the head coach at Glen Mills, another school for adjudicated youth near Philadelphia. Sherer was a football standout at Boyle in the late 1960s and went on to play club football at Duquesne University under coach Dan McCann. Club football was a bigger deal back then and Sherer was the stud running back for the Dukes when they won a national club championship in 1973. The title game against Mattatuck Community College (Conn.) was played at Three Rivers Stadium.
Many people don’t realize that simply putting a team together every year was a huge challenge at Summit. Rarely did Summit have players for more than one season. Students did their time and then left. It was pretty much a new team every year. Try putting a team together from scratch every year, trying to develop team chemistry, teach X’s and O’s and then play a WPIAL schedule against teams that have players who had been playing together since elementary school.
Often, Sherer used players who
had never played organized football. This year’s team has about 35 players.
Sherer certainly had some rough years, but the Knights were often competitive.
They were 3-7 in his first season and actually made the WPIAL playoffs twice
(2013 and 2016). They were 5-5 in 2013 and 5-4 in 2007. Sherer also guided his
team to four-win seasons in 2005 and 2006. His record heading into Saturday’s
game is 44-120.
“I liked the challenge of it,” said Sherer. “Sure, it was frustrating at times. I think the kids, their nature, lack of trust was frustrating. You think that, ‘If they would’ve trusted, maybe they would’ve done things on the field a little better.’ Getting the kids to believe in you or in what they’re doing, that’s a task. A lot of these kids have lived completely the opposite of the way we lived. Their beliefs in what we do and what we shouldn’t do is opposite.”
Sherer believes football helped some Summit kids. Some have gone back to their high schools and played. Over the years, Sherer has watched a few go on to play small-college football.
“But just seeing a kid make changes to how he is living, maybe his change in priorities, is something to see,” said Sherer. “We value when a kid starts addressing his grades in school, starts to treat others respectfully or has some accomplishments, no matter how big or small. When you see a kid make some changes, that’s the pot of gold.”
At one point in his life years ago, Sherer used to think what it would be like to coach big-time football, like Mike McCarthy. But a few days before his final game as a coach, Sherer reflected and had absolutely no regrets.
“I would never second guess what I’ve done,” said Sherer. “I’m completely satisfied with the things we’ve done. I know I’ve helped kids and I’ve worked with a great group of people.”
Talk to virtually anyone at Summit and they will extol the virtues of Sherer. When asked whether there was anything else he would like to say about his time at Summit, Sherer said, “I’d like to thank the kids and the staff. I’ll probably take them out for a beer after Satur-day’s game. Not the kids, the coaching staff.”
Sherer laughed, before adding, “It’s been a wonderful experience. This has provided me memories I’ll hold onto for a lifetime and kids I will never forget.”
Steve Sherer shouldn’t be forgotten, either.
Mike White: email@example.com and Twitter @mwhiteburgh