Derr enters State Wrestling Coaches Hall

By on April 13, 2016
Warwick’s Bob Derr was joined by his family at the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame induction last Sunday. Pictured here are (front row, left to right) Bob and his wife, Kathy; (back, l-r) son, Andy, and daughters, Danielle Van Natta and Bree Arvai.

Warwick’s Bob Derr was joined by his family at the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association’s Hall of Fame induction last Sunday. Pictured here are (front row, left to right) Bob and his wife, Kathy; (back, l-r) son, Andy, and daughters, Danielle Van Natta and Bree Arvai.

Bob Derr had a choice to make as an 8th-grader at Warwick in the mid-1960’s.

If Derr wanted to continue playing football in his freshman year for the Warriors, then he had to plan on hitting the wrestling mats that winter.

So said his physical education teacher John Thomas.

Oh by the way, Thomas also just happened to be the Warwick junior high football coach at that time.

“I had a lot of respect for the guy &tstr; he was a huge disciplinarian. He looked at me and said, ‘Hey Bobby, what are you doing this winter now that football season is over?,’” Derr recalled laughing. “I said, ‘I want to get in the weight room and lift and get bigger and stronger.’ Of course, I sorta chuckle because I look at myself now and I’m not that big. He said, ‘Why don’t you think about coming out for wrestling?’ and I was like, ‘I don’t like wrestling, I don’t think I want to do that.’ He said, ‘Bobby, do you want to play football next year? Well then, you’re coming out for wrestling.’ I said, ‘OK, I guess I’m coming out for wrestling.’ He got me out and then I just fell in love with the sport.”

It’s a love affair that continues to this day, more than 50 years after the fact.

Besides going on to wrestle for the Warriors, Derr later had a tremendous nine-year run as Warwick’s junior high wrestling coach in which his teams compiled a record of 88-8. During that same time, he also embarked on a career that now finds him ranked as one of the nation’s top scholastic and collegiate wrestling officials.

Last Sunday, the 1968 Warwick grad was honored for his lifetime contributions to the sport with induction into the Pennsylvania Wrestling Coaches Association (PWCA) Hall of Fame. His wife, Kathy, daughters Danielle Van Natta and Bree Arvai, and son, Andy, all joined him in State College for the ceremony. Bob and Kathy also have seven grand-children &tstr; Gage and Mackenzie Van Natta, Johnny, Clare, Ella, and Jake Arvai, and Marshall Derr.

“What a day it was,” said Derr, who has also been inducted into the District Three Coaches Hall of Fame, L-L Wrestling Hall of Fame, National Wrestling Hall of Fame – Pennsylvania Chapter, and Warwick Athletic Hall of Fame. “Just the reunion of a lot of people, and not just people that were big influences on the things I’ve been involved with and done, but just old friends.”

Certainly, Derr has made plenty of friends among the many miles he has traveled in wrestling. In fact, when he was first starting out as an official in the late 1970’s, Derr worked anywhere between 55 to 75 different events from December to February.

“There were no wrestling assignors at that time, and you were like a free agent,” Derr laughed. “There were weeks I refereed every single day of the week from Sunday through Saturday, and then sometimes I did two dual meets on a Saturday.”

Thankfully for Derr, he had a very supportive family behind him.

“Family is the main thing,” said Derr, who is also a nationally-recognized field hockey coach at Warwick with more than 500 wins, six District and three PIAA State titles, and induction into the National Field Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame in 2001. “Kathy would pack up the kids, I’d go coach junior high wrestling practice after school, and then she’d come out and pick me up at 5:45 and she’d have all three kids ready to go and off we’d go traveling to someplace in either Berks County, Dauphin County, York or Lancaster. They would pay you at the end of the dual meet, and back then the pay was $25. You could just walk into a restaurant, you would just sign the check over, but here’s the good part … the $25 would pay for that (meal), pay for the tip and you’d still have change.”

Heck, Derr was even making money officiating intramural wrestling during his college days at West Chester University, where he earned a B.S. degree in health and physical education in 1972.

It was Thomas who opened Derr’s eyes to the sport of wrestling and encouraged him to pursue a teaching career. With the help of Warwick guidance counselor Joan Riehl, Derr improved his grades, got onto the Honor Roll consistently, graduated 14th in his class and ended up at WCU.

There, it was Dale Bonsall who introduced him to the idea of being a referee shortly after a neck injury ended his career as a wrestler.

“(Bonsall) said, ‘How would you like to referee intramurals?,’ and I said, ‘OK, I can do that,’” Derr said. “He told me, ‘You get paid 15 bucks a night,’ and I said, ‘Well, that’s even better yet.’”

Later, Bonsall provided him the PIAA’s contact number, and Derr joined the L-L Wrestling Officials chapter the same year he got his college degree.

From there, he received a lot of help from local officials, none more so than Joe Geesey, who at that time was the president and assignor of the Eastern Wrestling League.

“I got hooked up with him, and fairly shortly after that, bingo, boy things just exploded,” Derr said.

Indeed they did.

His 40-plus year in officiating eventually took him five PIAA State Championships and 13 NCAA Division-One Wrestling Championships, working six finals bouts along the way.

That, however, was just the tip of the iceberg. It was routine for him to spend countless hours in airports and motels, traveling to various outposts in Arizona, Nebraska, Iowa and the like.

“Those were long trips,” Derr said. “Financially, it was very lucrative. But you paid the price as far as being gone two, three days at a shot. In 2011, that’s when I thought, ‘You know what? It’s time to stop all that craziness from traveling so far.’”

He quickly started cutting back to the point where he officiated his final NCAA match this past Feb. 6 at Elizabethtown College.

“I’m just going to do high school,” Derr remarked. “I may just take on the role of staying active as a referee, but I want to do more with my job that I took on this year as the L-L assignor. And I think there’s much more that can be done to help young officials develop and referee.”

You could say he is going back to his roots.

Those roots include wrestling for coach Ron McIntyre at Warwick. “He was a good coach and good leader,” Derr said.

And they also consist of an impressive career working with Dale Dietrich in a Warrior junior high program which reeled off 65 straight wins at one point, in addition to capturing six L-L junior high crowns and six Elizabethtown Optimist Team Tournament championships.

“Between Dale and I, the two of us never lost a tournament,” Derr said. “Dale was just a great enthusiast and technician of the sport. He had such great passion. As a team, we were just fantastic together. I think his passion and enthusiasm for the sport really caught on with the kids too.”

Clearly, Derr isn’t lacking for any enthusiasm and passion for the sport either.

“It’s so personal, it’s physical,” Derr said. “It’s a battle out on the mat. What I love about it is that it’s on you. You will get what you put into it.”

Last Sunday, Derr was rewarded for the enormous number of hours and sacrifices that he has put into wrestling.

“When I got the call, it surprised me a little bit,” Derr acknowledged. “I was extremely humbled and honored. Being recognized by the Pennsylvania State Wrestling Coaches Association is just a huge part of any referee’s life. Like I said, it was very humbling, but at the same token, I was extremely excited of the honor.”

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2 Comments

  1. Nelson Peters

    April 13, 2016 at 3:40 pm

    Congratulations to Coach Derr and his family this significant honor!

  2. Elsie Miller School Bus Driver # 30

    April 13, 2016 at 11:29 pm

    Mr. Derr I always enjoyed being your bus driver— taking your teams — Wrestling and Girls Hockey to their games. You gave all and it shows with all the wins you have in both sports. I most enjoyed bringing the team home when the won. Congratulations to the Best Coach that Wrestling and Girls Hockey could have.

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