ROYERSFORD — Don Seeley was busy being Don Seeley Tuesday night.
Covering the PAC-10 Boys Lacrosse Senior Bowl at Pottsgrove High School, Seeley scarfed down a hot dog and jokingly traded barbs with Pottsgrove’s athletic director, Gary DeRenzo.
After the inaugural all-star game, the recently-retired sports editor filed a story highlighting not just the game but the story of lacrosse growing in the area. A strong piece, it appeared on the sports section’s front page, above the fold, a place Seeley’s byline inhabited countless times in the last 30-plus years of working at The Mercury.
“You couldn’t wait to read the paper with Don’s articles,” said Spring-Ford Area High School Athletic Director Mickey McDaniel. “Especially the features.”
The game was the final Seeley would cover.
The local sports legend died Wednesday morning after being stricken while playing golf, one of his passions. He was 62.
“He was much more than a guy I work with,” said Pottsgrove High School Athletic Director Gary DeRenzo. “He was the best one of us.”
Seeley was a Spring City native and Spring-Ford Area High School alumnus who excelled in baseball, eventually playing collegiately at Brandywine Junior College.
Rick Pennypacker, the football coach at Pottsgrove High School, was three years younger than Seeley but grew up with him and said they were “like brothers.”
“He was one of my idols,” Pennypacker said. “He was one of those guys you watch play Little League, watch him play high school, watch him play college. He just lived up the street from me.”
Pennypacker said he used to make the trip out with Seeley’s parents to see him play college ball.
“He was a hell of a baseball player,” Pennypacker said.
Eventually, in the 1970s, Seeley became a sports writer. By all accounts, he was a hell of a writer, too.
“He was an advocate for sportsmanship and understanding the roles of an athlete and the coach,” said John Armato, spokesman and former athletic director for the Pottstown School District. “He did much more than, ‘This is the score of the game.’ That’s where, I think, he stood head and shoulders above his peers.”
“Don was just very special in the way he brought stories to light, and he treated kids who did sports and coaches who coached them with due respect,” DeRenzo said. “Don always found the silver lining and celebrated it.”
“My biggest memory of him is him sitting mat-side before every big match,” said Upper Perkiomen High School wrestling coach Tom Hontz. “We always wondered, ‘What was his angle going to be for that story?’ Win or lose, he always had some great insight himself and he was always willing to hear your side of the story.”
Wrestling was a sport Seeley took a special shining to, despite having never actually wrestled himself.
“He was meticulous as far as his coverage and knew a long history of the sport,” Hontz said. “He really tried to take the fan into what it meant to be a wrestler.”
“Don was one of the foremost advocates for our sport,” Armato said, an assistant wrestling coach at Pottstown. “He understood the trials and tribulations that the athlete goes through in order to be successful.”
In April, to recognize his extensive work through the years in what he termed “mat action,” Seeley was elected to the National Wrestling Hall of Fame.
“I was so happy when that occurred for him,” McDaniel, whom Seeley invited to the event, said. “I remember sitting there at the table and just being happy that more of the world was getting to know what Don was about than just us in this area because they were missing something that was special.”
“One of the nicest things was that I was able to be present at his induction,” Hontz said.
Deeper than his coverage of wrestling, Seeley’s writing highlighted the students who played the game, whether it was baseball, football, softball or soccer.
“My kids would always hang around and wait for Don Seeley to talk to them,” Pennypacker said. “He always had a human interest story behind every game.”
“Don was there for the kids,” said Owen J. Roberts High School football coach Tom Barr.
“He made an individual come alive,” Armato said.
Former and current athletes mourned the man who wrote so skillfully and tirelessly about their leaping touchdown catches, smooth swings or crushing leg locks.
“Mr. Seeley (was) nothing but great to me during my four-year tenure at Pottsgrove High School,” said Terrell Chestnut, a standout quarterback at the school now playing defensive back at West Virginia University. “(He) always treated me with respect and also took the time to get to know me as a person rather than just an athlete. Don will be missed by many, including myself, and I will value and hold every memory I had with him.”
Many said they have boxes full of articles they’ve saved over the years with their names under the Seeley byline.
“I’ve had two of my players call me today and both of them were in tears,” Pennypacker said. “You don’t get that too often. And I couldn’t talk to them because I was breaking down.”
Hontz also said he had three of his wrestlers call to talk about Seeley’s passing.
“The guy had an impact,” McDaniel said, choking up. “I don’t think he ever really knew or understood the impact he had on other people.”
Dozens called, emailed or tweeted at The Mercury Wednesday, sharing shock but also their favorite interactions with the man known as a straight-shooter with a devilish sense of humor and an affinity for Wawa coffee.
“My memory of Don Seeley is very personal in the respect that you grow up with a person in the business you work in,” DeRenzo said. “Very few times you get a personal relationship with someone like Don.”
“I don’t know if high school sports will ever be the same here,” Pennypacker said.