BY JEFF FALK
Offense and defense. Running and passing. Similar and different.
Hetrick and Umberger. Umberger and Hetrick
Dale and Frank. Frank and Dale.
Of all the dynamic duos in the history of Lebanon County sports, none have been connected with each other, associated with each other, more than Dale Umberger and Frank Hetrick. One would be hard-pressed to think of one without thinking of the other.
Certainly they shared a platonic bond that transcended friendship, something more akin to brotherhood. It was a bond that only divine intervention could suspend, or relegate to a different level of existance.
That bond was put to the test of time recently with the passing of Umberger. The long-time coach died on Friday evening at the age of 65, ironically while Hetrick was coaching the game they both loved – football – at Annville-Cleona High School.
“He was eight and I was nine,” said Hetrick remembering back to the 1950s in Palmyra. “We were in midget baseball, he was the pitcher and I was the catcher. And then in midget football he was the right guard and I was the left guard. That went all the way through to high school.
“We both went to the same church (Gravel Hill United Methodist in Palmyra),” Hetrick continued. “We both went to the same Sunday school. We both taught bible study. Oh yeah, we’ve been friends forever.”
Umberger, a resident of South Lebanon, had battled cancer for seven years. He recently underwent a successful bone marrow transplant, “but the reaction to it did him in”, according to Hetrick.
“His reaction to it was ‘it is what it is’,” said Hetrick. “He’s extraordinary. He thought he might be able to help other cancer people. It was his finest hour. He never complained. Never.
“It didn’t phase him,” continued Hetrick. “He really believed he could make a difference. We wanted to fight it and beat it.”
On the night of Umberger’s passing, as Annville-Cleona was preparing to battle Northern Lebanon, Hetrick approached this reporter and said, “Dale’s really not doing well. It might be tonight.”
“You could say he was the kind of guy you wanted to have around,” said Hetrick. “Everything was always positive. It was always about bettering yourself. And it was always a positive thing for the kids to do.
“I’m going to miss him a lot,” added Hetrick. “I’ve been doing a lot of crying. I’ve got to say something at the service and it’s really going to be tough. If I needed him, he’d be there in a minute.”
After matriculating to different colleges, Hetrick and Umberger were reunited as physical education teachers at Cedar Crest middle school and as assistant football coaches under the legendary Norbie Danz in the late 1960s. Alternating between the junior high and varsity programs, Hetrick and Umberger also coached under Falcon head men Dennis Tulli, from 1976 to 1982, Barry Heckard from 1983 to 1985, Danz for a second time from 1986 to 1995 and Gene ‘Spike’ Fuhrman from 1996 to 2003.
In all, they spent 34 years as physical education instructors and complementary coaches, before retiring together in 2004.
Following that, they teamed up as assistants at Annville-Cleona under head coach Terry Lehman.
“Oh no, we didn’t always get along,” said Hetrick. “We’d fight like brothers. My gosh. And that was good. When I say fight, I don’t mean fight. It wasn’t seeing eye-to-eye. It was over before it started. We had one argument in all those years. It was a unique relationship. And it was good that we got away from each other over the summer.
“You hit it right on the head. I couldn’t have said it any better,” added Hetrick. “He was basically a softee. But he didn’t let everybody see it.”
While at Cedar Crest middle school, Hetrick and Umberger instituted a wildly-popular floor hockey program, one that was played during physical education classes, as well as after school.
“Whenever he got into something it was full blown,” said Hetrick. “Anything in life. In weight training, he was way ahead of everyone. Back in the 1960s, no one knew anything about it. It was before its time. Schools didn’t have it and we would ride our bikes around and teach them about it.
“He was a teacher,” Hetrick added. “In fact, that’s the way we both were. And that came from Norbie (Danz). He was a big influence on us both. I think we were taught by the best, and that means a lot.”
After his retirement from Cedar Crest, Umberger applied for the Falcons’ head football coaching when Fuhrman stepped aside in 2003. The plan would’ve called for Hetrick to assist him, but the job went to Mike Robinson.
“Coach Robinson got it,” said Hetrick. “Dale was in the top three and I think that upset him. We had everything intact. It was ready to roll, and a lot of those kids didn’t come out. It was sad sort of.”
In the late 1980s, Umberger took weight training into a different realm – body building. It was just another way for Umberger to compete, as he entered contests on the state, national and international levels.
During his life, Umberger was also an avid ice hockey player, bicyclist and runner.
“I think athletics were a pretty big part of Dale’s life,” said Hetrick. “When he was young, he was a really good athlete. I think it was the only praise he got from his father. And it was a big driving force for him to be a good athlete. And he did have a drive.”
Fittingly, Umberger and Hetrick were inducted into the Central Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall-of-Fame together, in 2010.
“I would think football was his favorite sport,” said Hetrick. “He thoroughly enjoyed coaching football. He was one of those guys who went from one sport to the other.”