Northeast Philadelphia is very lucky when it comes to coaches. And spring sports might be our best.
Our teams have been incredibly successful in softball and baseball. A lot of that is because of the great organizations that offer little league and youth baseball and softball, but once they get to high school, they are in great hands.
In baseball alone, Frankford has been ridiculously great over the past 25 years, and in softball, Archbishop Ryan and St. Hubert have been the best in the Catholic League.
This marks the second-to-last feature on high school coaches. Next week, we will do the best of the rest.
Let’s review the rules. We are judging coaches who were in charge at a traditional Northeast Philly school since 1997.
There will be disagreements, and it’s hard to judge coaches during different eras, especially in baseball and softball where the game has changed. Feel free to leave comments on Facebook to let us know where we went wrong!
1. Juan Namnun
This was crazy tough, but when you break it down, Namnun has been the best, coming in one spot ahead of his mentor. Namnun, a longtime assistant to Bob Peffle, took over the baseball program 14 years ago and since then has been to nine championships and won eight Public League crowns. He also brought home a city championship, knocking off St. Joe’s Prep and becoming the first Public League squad to win the District 12 crown.
Also a former bowling coach and assistant football coach, Namnun graduated from Frankford in 1995.
During informal polls, Namnun got more votes from opposing coaches than any other coach in any sport in this series.
2. Bob Peffle
This is the second time Peffle was the No. 2 coach on one of these lists, and once again, he could have easily been No. 1. If you were doing a story of top coaches, all-time, all sports, Peffle would be atop the list. A great wrestling coach at Frankford and soccer coach at La Salle, Peffle won five championships while coaching the Frankford baseball team. His assistant was Namnun, and the two were a perfect combination.
Peffle, who got the most out of his athletes in all sports, was a four-sport star at Frankford, and went on to play professional soccer and baseball.
Neither Namnun nor Peffle were asked, but knowing them both, Peffle would have named Namnun the best while Namnun would have picked his mentor.
This just goes to show you how crazy successful Frankford baseball has been over the years.
3. Joe McDermott
It almost feels wrong putting a true legend No. 3. McDermott was Father Judge baseball, winning 319 Catholic League games over 31 seasons while leading the Crusaders before stepping down in 2006.
McDermott won five Catholic League championships, a city championship and in 1982, he guided Judge to a perfect Catholic League season, according to stats on tedsilary.com.
McDermott also won titles in 1976, 1985, 1987 and 2000, and won 349 games overall, according to Silary’s records.
Also passed on the coaching bug. His nephew is Ryan football coach Bill Murphy.
4. John Kidwell
OK, this list is insane. Kidwell could be much higher on this list, just like McDermott, and any other list, he would be. Kidwell was a longtime assistant to Andy Hafele, where together they won a softball championship in 1995. Hafele sadly passed away in February 2014, and Kidwell was named head coach, and in his first year he won another PCL crown.
He was just getting warmed up. He’s won five Catholic League championships since he took over, and in the years they didn’t, the Ragdolls were among the best teams in the league.
He’s also helped the Ragdolls go on some runs in the state tournament.
While Kidwell’s name is atop this list, he’s always been adamant about saying what a huge role Hafele played in the Ragdolls’ success over the years. It’s safe to say he’s done his mentor very proud.
5. Dave Schafer
This is getting ridiculous now. Schafer is probably the best softball coach in Catholic League history, and although the bulk of his success took place at Bishop Conwell, he still won five of his 17 Catholic League championships with the Bambies.
Schafer always had the Bambies in contention for the Catholic League championship. After winning 12 titles with Conwell, he was just as successful with Hubert. Overall, he has more than 500 wins to his credit.
He stepped down after the 2019 season and turned the team over to his assistant and former Little Flower coach Dan Milio.
Just because he’s not coaching softball doesn’t mean he’s given up the passion for coaching. Schafer is still a very good basketball coach for Hubert.
6. Mike Lake
It’s not too often you see a coach go from high school to take over a Division I program, but that’s what happened with the former Raiders’ baseball coach.
Lake led the Raiders from 1990 to 2001, winning 129 games during that time. He gave up the post to take over the La Salle University team.
After leaving La Salle, he returned to coach a few years at Ryan to help turn the program around.
He did win a Catholic League championship in 1998.
7. Sam Feldman
Northeast didn’t win any championships under him, but every year, the Vikings were a team that nobody wanted to see in the playoffs. That’s because whoever Northeast played usually lost.
The Vikings went to three Public League championship games while Feldman was the head coach from 2003 to 2012.
And he had more than his share of top players come through the program during that time.
He wasn’t just a baseball coach, either. He was also a longtime soccer coach at Northeast. His son took over the program after he left.
8. Ron Gerhart
The Raiders were very lucky. After Lake stepped down, Gerhart took over the program and he was just as successful.
Gerhart coached 12 years with the Raiders and won 105 games, including 14 postseason wins. Twice, he led the Raiders to the Catholic League championship, but both times his teams fell short.
Among his star players: Kevin McGovern, who last year at age 32 was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals minor league affiliation. He followed in Gerhart’s footsteps. This year, he is the pitching coach for the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks, where he still pitches.
9. John Petrie
Philadelphia Academy Charter
You might not think of PACS when you think of top teams, but quietly Petrie has led his team into the best in the Public League.
This year the Chargers won their second Public League title under Petrie, and every year, he has his squad deep into the playoffs.
The Public League is top heavy in softball with Central, Franklin Towne Charter and Philadelphia Academy Charter fighting it out for the top spot.
Petrie has done a good job building the program, and the Chargers should continue to be one of the top teams in the area.
10. Danielle Vittitow
This was a name that popped up quite a bit when people were asked about top coaches. Vittitow has built a great program, keeping the Pandas competitive in the crazy-tough Catholic Academies League.
She has guided one team to an AACA championship, and also won a District One championship. She’ll have a chance to lead the Pandas to another next year before Nazareth moves to the Catholic League and District 12 beginning in the 2023-24 season.
While all of her numbers are impressive, especially because of the level of competition, Vittitow is one of the most respected coaches in the area because of her relationship with her players. She also has a strong reputation for getting the most out of her team.
It’s never easy when you’re picking among great coaches, but this was the hardest yet. Quietly, Northeast Philly runs Public League baseball and Catholic League softball, and we’ve had more than our fair share of legends coaching during this time. Any of our top five picks could have been No. 1, and we went back and forth 100 times. In the end, this lineup could win a lot of games!
It also felt wrong leaving some people off, but this was a tough lineup to crack. Two guys who immediately pop out are Judge guys. Tim Ginter, who took over for McDermott, didn’t have the best record, but he was a great coach, and had he stayed at Judge, he would have built a nice program.
Speaking of building a great program at Judge, current coach Mike Metzger has done that. Judge hasn’t won a crown under him, but it’s only a matter of time. Next year might be his year.
In softball, Franklin Towne Charter has been one of the best teams in the league for a long time, but they’ve had a lot of turnover over the years. While nobody leaves due to bad reasons, all had other commitments to attend to, but they haven’t had that coach who built a legacy there. Perhaps current coach Paige McLinden-Lange will be that one.
Finally, a guy who deserves to be on this list is Lincoln baseball coach John Larsen. His record might not warrant it, but his coaching does. Every year the Railsplitters play better than their talent dictates, and he’s a huge reason for that. Every player who plays for him comes out better, and that was a consensus from all coaches who talked about him.