Phil Fassnacht played basketball in a time before the 3-point line. He still managed to score 1,038 points in four years at Cocalico, leading the Eagles to the 1977 state championship. He went on to score 1,375 points at Millersville University, where he also played baseball.
Fassnacht died Oct. 22. He was 62.
Those interviewed for this story echoed a similar sentiment about Fassnacht, and it had nothing to do with his basketball prowess: he was the type of person who lifted up others around him.
“The man always had a smile on his face,” said Pat Ross, a former Cocalico and Millersville teammate.
“He was a Class A friend to everybody,” said Joe Becker, another former Cocalico teammate.
“Whenever you were around him, you smiled,” said Dave Gingrich, who taught in the same building as Fassnacht at Cocalico High School. “He was a kind, gentle person. I never heard him say one bad thing about anyone.”
A 6-4 senior center in the 1976-77 season, Fassnacht averaged 19 points and led the Cocalico boys basketball team in rebounding en route to the Lancaster-Lebanon League Section One, L-L tournament, District 3-2A and PIAA Class 2A crowns.
All three championship games that year were played inside Hersheypark Arena.
“It (Hershey) sort of became sort of like a homecourt for us,” Ross recalled.
One of Cocalico’s few losses that season came against a Lebanon team featuring a young Sam Bowie, and a non-league overtime loss at Lancaster Catholic. The Eagles avenged the latter by beating the Crusaders in OT in the district semifinals, and again in the state semis with a go-ahead free-throw from Fassnacht in the final moments.
Cocalico became the first Lancaster County boys basketball program to bring home a state championship, getting 25 points from Fassnacht and shooting 62 percent as a team in the state title win.
The state title tilt was played around noon on a Saturday. Upon arrival back in Denver, Becker said, “They paraded us down through Main Street.”
During the parade, a hat was passed around among fans to collect money for the team..
“They generated all this money to send us down to Disney World for four or five days,” Becker said. “We had free meals throughout that summer at different restaurants in town. They’d invite the team for a meal.”
The team’s bond off the court played a large role in its success on it. The group has since remained friends, gathering annually in March, usually around the anniversary of the state title win.
“Phil was such a central role in the friendships we had,” Ross said.
After obtaining a teaching degree from Millersville, Fassnacht spent the next 35 years as a technical education teacher at Cocalico High School.
“Kids loved Mr. Fassnacht,” Gingrich said. “He treated them well. ...That’s one thing I love about our school. We try to put kids at the forefront.”
Fassnacht spent a year as the Cocalico freshman boys basketball coach and three years as a junior varsity coach before serving as the Eagles’ varsity head coach from 1987 through the mid-1990s.
Fassnacht and wife Stephanie were married 25 years. Their three daughters are now adults.
Fassnacht retired from teaching two years ago. Since then, he filled many of his days on a golf course.
“He was looking forward to grandchildren and traveling with his wife,” Becker said.
Funeral services were held for Fassnacht on Friday morning at Ephrata Church of the Brethren, where he was an active member for the last 25 years.
A moment of silence in honor of Fassnacht will be held before the Millersville men’s basketball season opener Nov. 13. On a related note, Ross said he and others are in the process of putting together a Phil Fassnacht Memorial Scholarship at Millersville.
“He was a man of faith,” Ross said. “A great athlete. A great teammate and coach. But he was an even better person.”