Legendary NPHS teacher/coaches dies at 84


NPHS Accolade

Mr. Joe Heyer strategizes with the North Penn boys basketball game during the 1989 season.

LANSDALE – A typical student at North Penn High School in the late 1990s may not of realized who Mr. Joe Heyer was when he stood in front of the classroom teaching Social Studies. But long before he was a wily veteran teacher, Heyer was a whole lot more. The former head basketball coach from 1969-1990 and longtime teacher at North Penn, died Sunday at the age of 84.

Since no story could do as much justice for his career as his own obituary does, we are publishing the full text of Mr. Heyer’s obituary here. The obituary is courtesy of https://www.legacy.com/us/obituaries/legacyremembers/joseph-heyer-obituary?id=38425920.


Joseph William Heyer, Jr.

Joseph William Heyer, 84, of West Chester, PA, formerly of Philadelphia,North Wales, Lansdale, and Boothwyn, PA passed away on Sunday, December 18th in Hospice Care at Main Line Health-Paoli Hospital after suffering numerous complications from Covid-19 and advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease. He died peacefully, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sandra (Jennings) Heyer. Mr. Heyer was a dedicated husband, father, uncle, grandfather, educator, basketball coach, baseball coach, tennis enthusiast and avid gardener. He was also well-known in Philadelphia basketball circles as one of the city’s all-time sharpshooters.

Joe is a member of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall-Of-Fame (City All-Star Chapter) as well as the North Penn High School Alumni Athletic Association Hall-Of-Fame and the St. Helena’s School Hall of Fame. He was also given lifetime achievement citations by both the Markward Basketball Club of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Basketball Old-Timers Association. The Philadelphia Daily News named him to the Philadelphia Playground Legends Team of the 1950’s.

As a player, Heyer enjoyed a decorated two-sport athletic career at La Salle College High School. On the hardwood he was the 1956 Philadelphia Sportswriters Catholic League Most Valuable Player and led the Catholic League in scoring, averaging 21.2 points-per-game. His 49 points against St. Thomas Moore broke the Catholic League scoring record, and it remains the LHS single-game record to this day. In the Explorers very next game he tallied 39 points against Father Judge. The two-game total of 88 points is believed to be the highest consecutive two-game scoring outburst in league history. The 49 points has only been topped one time in Catholic League history. He helped the Explorers capture the 1956 Catholic League regular season title. In the Catholic League playoffs, the Explorers advanced to the Championship game at the Palestra in both his junior and senior seasons. Following his senior campaign, he was named to the Gold Medal North-South All-Star Game in Murray, KY, hosted by George Mikan. Heyer led the East with 7 field goals in the game.

In addition to his basketball exploits, Heyer was a member of the LHS baseball team, which captured the 1955 Catholic League championship, defeating Olney High School at Connie Mack Stadium.

Heyer accepted an athletic scholarship to La Salle College, where he played basketball and baseball.

On the hardwood, Heyer continued his scoring exploits, breaking Tom Gola’s school record with 17 field goals in a 35-point outburst against Lehigh in 1958. The mark also bettered the Palestra record of 15 field goals, previously held by Oscar Robertson. The 35 points was the Palestra’s single-game high total for the ’58’-’59 season, back when all members of the Big 5 played a large portion of their home games at the hallowed arena. The following season, Heyer’s 31 points against Temple was the Palestra’s single-game high total for the ’59-’60 campaign. Other big scoring nights included 29 versus Bucknell, 29 against Muhlenberg, 28 on Albright, and 24 against Syracuse. “Jumpin’ Joe” was known for his patented “Tip-Toe” jump shot which featured a quick release with little knee-bend. He got the inspiration for the shot after watching 2-time NCAA leading scorer Frank Selvy from Furman when they came to Philadelphia to play La Salle in 1954.

Heyer led the Explorers in scoring for the 1958-’59 season with a 17.2 average and became just the 4th Junior in school history to tally 400 points in a season. Following that campaign, he was named 1st Team All-Middle Atlantic Conference, 2nd Team All Big-Five and 2nd team Catholic All-American. During his 3-year playing career, the Explorers were ranked in the Associated Press Top 20, reaching a high of #14 during the ’59- ’60 campaign. Heyer finished his career with 928 points, which was the highest scoring total of any guard in school history, and it ranked #7 on the school career list at the time. He was also a member of the La Salle College varsity baseball team.

Heyer immediately entered the coaching ranks, accepting the Head Basketball and Baseball Coach positions at Cardinal Dougherty High School in Philadelphia. In three seasons with the Cardinals, his basketball teams advanced to the Catholic League Championship game all 3 years. He compiled an overall record of 50-20 (70%).

In the fall of 1963, Heyer returned to La Salle College, where he was named Assistant Varsity Basketball Coach, as well as Head Coach of the Freshman team. His 1963-’64 team was the Big 5 Freshman co-Champion.

Just days before beginning his 3rd season as an assistant for the varsity team, Explorers Head Coach Bob Walters announced he was stepping down due to health reasons. One day before the 1965 Explorers season-opener against Albright, Heyer was named the Varsity Head Coach. At just 27 years old, he was the youngest Division 1 head basketball coach in the country, and one of the youngest in history. It is worth noting he also remained the Freshman Coach and did not have a single assistant coach that year.

In his collegiate coaching debut, Heyer’s Explorers defeated Albright. In a twist of irony, La Salle’s Hubie Marshall, a 5’10” guard from Coatesville, PA touched the nets for 17 field goals, tying Heyer’s school and Palestra record. Under Heyer’s guidance, Marshall experienced a storied career at La Salle, averaging 27.0 points per game in ’65-’66, and was later enshrined into the Big 5 Hall of Fame. In Heyer’s first season, the team finished 10-15 but pulled off two of the most memorable upsets in Palestra history. One was defeating a Louisville team that featured future Hall of Fame center Wes Unseld. But the bigger upset came in the Quaker City Tournament, when the Explorers knocked off #6 (AP) Brigham Young, which was undefeated at the time, and went on to win that season’s NIT Championship.

The 1966-67 was packed with high expectations due to the arrival of one of the top recruiting classes in Big 5 history. The class of newcomers featured future NBA players Larry Cannon, who had broken Wilt Chamberlain’s career high school total, and Bernie Williams, a highly regarded guard from the legendary program of DeMatha High School in Baltimore. A tough road schedule to start the season, along the difficulty of blending highly regarded newcomers with upperclassmen proved to be a challenge early in Heyer’s second season as the team struggled to stay near .500. However, the Explorers began to gain momentum as the season progressed. They defeated St. Joseph’s to advance to the 1967 Middle Atlantic Championship Game, where the Explorers fell to Temple.

Heyer’s team experienced a four-game improvement in the win column to finish with a 14-12 record for his second year at the helm. But despite having a year remaining on his head coaching contract, Heyer resigned his duties as head coach following the ’66-’67 season. Heyer later cited philosophical differences with the university on the direction of the basketball program.

After leaving La Salle, Heyer spent a year living in Ft. Lauderdale, FL where one day on the beach he met his future wife, Sandra Jennings. He approached Ms. Jennings and asked her if she could please hold his car keys while he took a swim in the ocean. After completing his swim, she returned his keys safely to him and they decided to continue their conversation. Sandra gave him a birthday present by marrying him on his birthday, October 18, 1969. Their wedding song was the popular hit, “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb.

The young couple decided to settle in the Philadelphia suburbs and Heyer accepted a job teaching and coaching at the high school level. He was the head basketball coach at North Penn High School in Lansdale, PA from 1969-’90, compiling a record of 291-185. His teams captured 11 Holiday Tournament Championships, 6 Bux-Mont League regular season “Halves” titles, and the 1975 Bux-Mont League overall championship. His 1972 and ’76 teams advanced to the District One quarterfinals at the Palestra. The ’72 team holds the school record by going 12-0 to start the season, and the ’77 team was the first in school history to win 20 games in the regular season. In addition to coaching basketball, he taught Social Studies at NPHS for 30 years. He received his M.S. in teaching from St. Joseph’s University. He was a teacher at both Cardinal Dougherty and North Penn High Schools for a total of 38 years. He was an avid researcher on the JFK, RFK, MLK and Lincoln assassinations. Mr. Heyer was often a guest speaker on the topic to various community groups, and he also taught the subject matter at adult higher-learning courses.

The teaching profession provided him ample time in the summers to grow elaborate vegetable gardens in his North Wales, PA home. While he grew the typical staples of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, zucchini, radishes, peas, and eggplant, there was no vegetable he wouldn’t give a try. Some of his more adventurous products included Swiss chard, watermelons, pumpkins, potatoes, and even mustard seed. This was in addition to the various fruit he grew including grapes, peaches, pears, apples, cherries, blueberries, blackberries and boysenberries.

While Heyer spent many years playing and coaching basketball, he had a passion for many other sports. His lifetime love of baseball began at age 3, when his photo appeared in a Philadelphia newspaper, after meeting Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio on the field at Shibe Park. DiMaggio autographed a baseball for the youngster. When Heyer later added the signature of Pete Rose to the same ball, he had his lifetime prize possession – autographs of both the American League and National League hitting streak record-holders (DiMaggio 56 and Rose 44). His passion for baseball also included being an avid follower of the Perkiomen Valley Twilight League in Montgomery County, PA. He made several trips with his kids and grandson to Cooperstown, NY to tour the Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His favorite team was the Philadelphia Athletics, and he used research and statistics to conclude that the 1929-’30 A’s world champion teams were the greatest in MLB history. His most anguishing baseball memory was the Phillies collapse of 1964, and it took him decades to forgive Manager Gene Mauch for his handling of the starting pitching staff late in the season.

He was an avid tennis player and instructor, playing actively into his 70’s, until his knees gave way. He also loved football, serving as the public address announcer for the North Penn High School football team for many years. He developed an appreciation for skateboarding when his son Todd pursued the activity very heavily. Mr. Heyer built his son a “half-pipe” in their Lansdale, PA backyard.

He spent his most recent years attending hundreds, if not thousands, of his grandchildren’s and grand-nephew’s concerts, competitions and sporting events.

Joe is the son of the late Elizabeth (Naas) Heyer and Joseph William Heyer, Sr. of Philadelphia. He is proceeded in death by his sister, Elizabeth Heyer Leahy. He is survived by his wife of 53 years, Sandra (Jennings) Heyer and their four (4) children, Stephen Geiskopf, Robin (Geiskopf) Sachtleben, Joseph S. Heyer and Todd W. Heyer, along with eight (8) grandchildren: Tyler Sachtleben, Bethany Sachtleben, Keri Sachtleben, Graham Sachtleben, Jamie Sachtleben, Jacqueline Heyer, Brendan Heyer and Jackson Heyer, two (2) nephews, Timothy Leahy and Michael Leahy, and two (2) grand-nephews Sara (Leahy) Lofton and Christopher Leahy.

In lieu of gifts or flowers, donations can be made to the Shriners Children’s Hospital at shriners.org.

Celebration Of Life arrangements have not yet been determined and will be announced following the winter holidays.