This chronicle is a biographical construct from various archived personal newspaper interviews and personal accounts from Rich Boerner’s career as head coach of the William Tennent Panthers Ice Hockey Team.

By Ross Porubski
Youth Hockey Info

William Tennent’s Ice Hockey Team has a long and successful history. The program was started in 1974 when some students approached a teacher, Rich Boerner about starting an Ice Hockey team. Although Rich had never played hockey himself, he had many years of experience as a coach in general and elected to take on this new challenge.

The William Tennent Panthers first team, 1974-75

Rich built the program from the ground up and made it quite successful in only a few years. William Tennent won the Suburban League Championship in only its third season. Rich ran the program for eight years and Tennent’s regular season record was (129-50-15) under Boerner. They won two Suburban League Championships and went to the State Championships 3 times. When Rich stepped down in 1983 he was succeeded by Bernie O’Neill who led the team for one year until the 1984-85 season when the team ceased operations due to lack of players.

Boerner grew up in nearby Rockledge and attended Lower Moreland High School. While he was not a hockey player he did excel in organized basketball, football, and baseball, of which he was very skilled and found great success. Boerner later enrolled at Bloomsburg University where he played for their football team as a running back and completed his education.

After graduation from college, Rich became employed as a teacher with Centennial School District at William Tennent High School. Because of Rich’s background in sports and his competitive nature, he found himself involved with coaching. Rich started as an assistant and then worked his way up to head coach of the Panthers football team, during the baseball season he served as an assistant coach on the bench. When the idea of forming a hockey team became reality Rich was asked to handle coaching responsibilities for the team, of which he willingly accepted.

The SHSHL is formed

The Inter-County Scholastic Ice Hockey League was already a successful endeavor, but their games were played in the outlying areas of Bucks and Montgomery Counties making it difficult for many to travel. With the advent of the newly built Wintersport Skating Arena in Willow Grove, owner Ray Reinl’s vision came to life. The league, comprised of “The Original Six teams”, Upper Moreland Bears, Cheltenham Panthers, Abington Ghosts, Hatboro-Horsham Hatters, Central Bucks Blazers, and William Tennent Panthers came to fruition and was aptly named “The Suburban High School Hockey League, better known as “The SHSHL” in 1973. Reinl appointed Warrington resident, Andy Richards league president, and commissioner to oversee league management and operations. Wintersport Skating Rink opened in November 1972 and immediately began activities for all ages of youth ice sports interest that December. The very first SHSHL league Champion was the Abington Ghosts. Over almost 20 years, Richards grew the league by leaps and bounds. The league has gone through many transformations of divisional alignments, and conferences with as many as 20 participating High Schools involved at one time over the course of its illustrious history.

William Tennent’s First Hockey Coach

Coach with Frank Coonelly 1978

William Tennent’s First hockey coach didn’t follow any specific philosophy behind the bench, and there wasn’t any coach or person he modeled his game plan after. As Boerner put it, “I always tried to put my best players on the ice in key situations.” This would serve as his recipe for success. Coach Boerner employed a similar off-ice practice schedule which was much like his football and baseball teams, they had off-ice practices where they worked on physical conditioning as well as upcoming game strategies. This was instrumental in helping Boerner’s teams become a top area competitor across the ICSHL, SHSHL, and LBCSHL allowing them continued postseason play. Boerner’s teams were known for their high-intensity and hard-fought gameplay, and in turn, they often found themselves competing in the postseason and the Eastern Pennsylvania High School Hockey Championship Tournament.

The Story behind the story…

The Flyers had a lot to do with how he found his way to the back of the bench. The demand for more teams and more leagues grew with the success of the Flyers. “Many of the kids began to identify with the Flyers when they started winning.” said Rich Boerner, the former head football coach at Tennent who is now heading up the Panther icemen. “The Flyers just made hockey the biggest thing around.” Tennent is only in its second year in the league, but already has enough boys to field a varsity and JV team. Boerner, who was never a big hockey fan before becoming the head coach, was approached by a contingent of boys last year asking if he was interested in the position. “I didn’t know much about the game.” he said, “but I like kids and the chance to coach them filled a void in my life.” Boerner said, “I had to read several books and depend on the help of the players to get me through the first couple of games. And the rest is history! (Fran Blinesbury reporting, the Daily Intelligencer 1976)

This is a full game broadcast on WBUX AM radio from 1978 Eastern PA High School Hockey Championship playoffs

Over coach Boerner’s eight-year tenure behind the bench at William Tennent he compiled a regular season record of 129-50-11 and a very impressive 185-79-13 overall record from 1974 to 1983. The Panthers won the SHSHL championship twice in 1977, and 1979, and went to the state championship three times where they were runner-up twice in 1978, and 1979. Rich also had the pleasure of coaching a SHSHL all-star team in Lake Placid a week before the 1980 Winter Olympics.

“When I knew I was going to end my coaching career I turned the program over to one of my assistants, Bernie O’Neill. I put my heart and soul into Tennent Ice Hockey and after nine years I felt it was time for me to call it a day with the hope that the tradition would continue. The program briefly dissolved after I left and was later picked up by the Hannefelds. Once I left coaching It was very hard for me to go back and watch the team. I felt it would be best for me to remain distant and let the new coaches do their job without my interference,” said Boerner.