For most people, ‘coach’ is a noun. But it is a word that can also be used as a salutation, a prefix or a title to show respect, similar to Mr. and Mrs., or Sir and Madam.
Because once a coach, always a coach.
Few people from Lebanon County have ever epitomized that concept of a coach better than Norbie Danz. Coach Danz.
Danz passed away on November 20 at the age of 88. Coach Danz is not only recognized as the finest and most successful high school football coaches in Lebanon County, he was also one of the best local human beings to coach any sport. Period.
“That’s so true,” said Frank Hetrick, a one-time line coach under Danz and a long-time friend of the Danz family. “He even told us that, ‘Coach’ is the best thing you can ever be called. I look back on that. Once they call you ‘coach’, they call you ‘coach’ for life.
“I think I would call him a man among men,” continued Hetrick. “He was very family-oriented. He was very team-oriented. It was a pleasure for me to be an assistant coach under him, because he treated everybody so special. I admired him from the first day I met him.”
The Danz family has extended an invitation to celebrate Coach Danz’s life on Saturday, December 4th, between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., at The Timbers restaurant in Mount Gretna. A funeral mass for Danz was conducted at St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church on November 24th.
“Fundamentally, he was the best,” said Hetrick. “During football season, we met at his house every Sunday night from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.. We always had to make a schedule and practices always went by that schedule. Everything was so organized. He wasn’t a guy who was rah-rah. But his teams were so prepared. I always thought that’s what differentiated him from other coaches. If you played for or coached for Norb, you learned a lot. But when the game was over, the game was over.
“Practice was always two hours,” added Hetrick. “I think the kids really respected that. He always referred to his players as men and he treated them like men. He showed respect to students, whether they played football or not. I thought that was really important.”
“You don’t know,” said Danz, during an interview with Lebanon Sports Buzz in 2014.. “It’s just like the kids. You don’t know you have an influence on them. But I’ve got a box of letters thanking me for caring and listening. But that’s after the fact. You don’t know while it’s going on. You always hope you do (influence them). I’ll see kids now and they’re not kids any more. And they call me ‘coach’. And I tell them you don’t have to call me that any more. You can call me ‘Norbie’.”
Hetrick visited Danz about a dozen times during his stay at Manor Care nursing home in Lebanon. Of those visits, the day before he passed was one of only two times that Danz spoke to Hetrick.
“He said, ‘Hi Frank! How are you?’, and he went back to sleep,” said Hetrick. “He knew me. It meant a lot to me. I’ve been going to see him at the home. He was always sleeping, so I would stand at the door in case he woke up.
“He meant a lot to me,” Hetrick continued. “I was very close to him, but I didn’t want to bother him. He was something special to me. He always had his priorities straight – God, family and then football.”
A guidance counselor by day, Danz fostered respect, impacted lives and won, everywhere he went. He was instrumental in building the football programs at both Cedar Crest and Lebanon Catholic.
Danz coached the Falcons during two distinctly different stints, in the early 1970s when he guided Cedar Crest to two Lancaster-Lebanon Section One championships, and from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s, when he led the Falcons to another Section One title. In between, Danz coached at McCaskey, where the Red Tornado captured three L-L Section One crowns.
“He would come over to the middle school to see us (Hetrick and Dale Umberger),” said Hetrick. “But we hardly ever talked about football. We would talk about life and other things. He never talked about himself. It was never about him, but he was always respected by other coaches. Everyone knew him. We always had good coaches, and his coaches stayed forever.
“You learned a lot by the way he treated his wife and family,” Hetrick added. “He’d go out of his way for his family. He was tough on his own kids at practice. He was in charge, really in charge, with the whole thing.”
At Lebanon Catholic from 1959 to 1968, Danz’s Beavers won three Tri-County championships, one of which featured an undefeated season. A member of the Pennsylvania Scholastic Football Coaches Hall of Fame, Danz compiled a record of 222-140-8 during his 38-year career.
“He was just loved at Lebanon Catholic,” said Hetrick. “Those guys still have that love. When I played at Palmyra, we played Lebanon Catholic. I played for Ken Bowman, and I think they were the same kind of coaches, but Bowman was more physical. As players, we had respect for Norbie Danz, even though we didn’t play for him. His players would talk so highly of him.
“At Lebanon Catholic, he was a running coach, but he had the studs,” continued Hetrick. “But when he came to Cedar Crest, he really adjusted to the passing game, to every situation. He’d be great to this day. He had so much knowledge of every part of the game. And if he didn’t know it, he’d find it out.”
During his playing days, Danz was also a great athlete.
A native of Lancaster and a 1951 graduate of Lancaster Catholic, Danz was a captain and two-way starter at George Washington University. Danz, who also competed in basketball and track and field, completed a three-year stint in the United States Air Force before embarking on his career as an educator.
“He was a teacher first,” said Hetrick, 75. “He was always teaching on the football field. His success came from the practice field. He worked hard at coaching, just like everything he did. I never met a coach who coached the way he coached. That doesn’t always happen in life.
“He was always on time,” added Hetrick. “We started on time and ended on time. I think that really helps kids. When he had the kids, he could take them the whole way. But when he didn’t have the kids, they’d still have a good experience.”
Danz is survived by his wife Dolores (Good), children Steven, Jeffrey, Linda, Laurie and Christopher, nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
“I think he was the best family man I ever knew, just the way he treated his wife,” said Hetrick. “He tried to instill that in us. Just look at the way his family sticks together today. When you were on the football team, it was like family.
“I was just lucky to run into Norbie Danz,” concluded Hetrick.
2014-2021 – Rob Wildasin
2009-2013 – Tom Waranavage
2004-2008 – Mike Robinson
1996-2003 – Gene ‘Spike’ Fuhrman
1986-1995 – Norbie Danz
1983-1985 – Barry Heckard
1976-1982 – Dennis Tulli
1969-1975 – Norbie Danz
1965-1968 – Tom Auman