The New Jersey native has promoted the Mustangs program since 1998
Bill Engelhardt has few reasons to feel passionately about South Western High School.
After all, the New Jersey native didn’t attend the school and hadn’t even heard of it until he was in his late 50s. But since moving to Hanover 18 years ago, Engelhardt has attended every football game the Mustangs have played.
So why the sudden allegiance at that point in his life?
“I just happen to be a high school football junkie,” Engelhardt said. “That was the only motivation at first. When I moved to Pennsylvania (in 1997) I knew I had to go to high school football games so I started going to South Western.”
But Engelhardt doesn’t sit in the stands as a spectator. Since 1998, Engelhardt has written articles and newsletters about the Mustangs that he distributes to the school, parents and fans free of charge. These write-ups are posted on his blog, “Mustang Gridiron Corner” and the Pennsylvania Football News website. He also updates South Western’s stats on the high school sports website MaxPreps.
According to former South Western football coach and current athletic director Don Seidenstricker, Engelhardt’s efforts with both his stories and statistics have been instrumental in getting players recruited by colleges.
“He definitely helped get our kids exposure both locally and beyond,” Seidenstricker said. “His connection this program goes beyond 15 years, and he’s certainly someone who’s had a big impact at South Western. He's been very instrumental.”
For Engelhardt, the Mustangs have become somewhat of a second family since he lost his wife to breast cancer five years ago. Although he moved away from most of his family and friends in New Jersey at his wife's request in 1997, Engelhardt has grown to love his new home, thanks in part to the Mustangs.
"The players, coaches, and neighbors have been wonderful to be around," Engelhardt said. "They always approach me and compliment me on the stories. I simply get satisfaction and joy out of watching and writing about high school football."
Engelhardt's passion for high school football dates back to his days attending Fair Lawn High School in Bergen County, N.J. Although both he and his twin brother, Dick, always wanted to play the sport, they were unable to after being born with congenital clubbed hands, a handicap that has left Engelhardt with shortened arms and six total fingers.
Instead of playing, the brothers served as team managers and waterboys for the Fair Lawn Cutters football team during their high school days. While both attended Cutters games throughout their adult lives, Dick served as their public address announcer and wrote a blog about them while Bill never sought a role with the team.
That's why Bill decided he'd give football writing a shot when he moved to Hanover in 1997 following his retirement from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He choose South Western because of its proximity to his home and spent the 1998 season attending games and writing stories about them.
"Because of my brother's work, I decided to write a football article," Engelhardt said. "At first I just wanted to say, 'Hey, I can do this, too.' The only other motivation was that I loved high school football."
As for his audience, the only person to regularly read Engelhardt's work that season was his brother, who he mailed the articles to. But that changed when Engelhardt approached Seidenstricker with a folder of hard copies at the end of the season.
Seidenstricker was impressed enough to make copies of the stories that he distributed to the families of the players and staff. Before long, Engelhardt was watching games from the press box and keeping an email list of South Western fans interested in his articles. To this day, he sends out his stories to everyone on that list the day after games.
"He showed me what he'd written, and I thought, 'Hey, this is pretty good,'" Seidenstricker said. "In those days, it certainly helped us get some more recognition locally. I got the sense that people really appreciated it a lot. When he first started, we’d get a good-natured ribbing from other coaches about our so-called press release guy. But I heard from plenty of coaches who told me they liked what he was doing.”
People do seem to like what Engelhardt is doing. Both Seidenstricker and current South Western coach Damian Poalucci said that players and parents frequently tell them they look forward to receiving his stories.
Mark Sneeringer, father of Mustangs sophomore Wes Sneeringer, said he and his wife didn't know about the "Mustang Gridiron Corner" until their son joined varsity this season, but that they've already become fans.
"We have a lot of respect for all the time and effort he puts in and the positive approach he brings to the team," Sneeringer said. "I feel like all the parents read it. We're looking forward to getting it the next two seasons."
According to Poalucci, Engelhardt also saves him around five to seven hours a week during football season by helping to update and check South Western's statistics on Maxpreps.com.
“I don’t want to think about how many (hours a week) because then I’ll feel bad,” Poalucci said. “It’s a great tool for us. Other coaches see it and then it helps us with all-star voting and recruiting.”
Now 77 years old, Engelhardt still attends every Mustangs game and doesn't plan on stopping anytime soon, though he admits it's become physically harder to muster up the energy as he has gotten older.
Engelhardt doesn't mind that he's never been paid for his work. For him, getting recognized every year at the team's postseason banquet and receiving compliments from fans is good enough.
"I plan to continue doing this my whole life, as long as I'm physically able," Engelhardt said. "I have no feelings of being burnt out or being sick of it. I still love doing it."