30 Years and Counting, Coach Fred Richter Continues to Influence and Inspire Both On and Off the Court
Turning 70, Fred Richter was adamant about one thing—he didn’t want a party. Little did he know, his wife had an even better surprise in store, one that had much more meaning for the longtime women’s basketball coach.
Vicky Richter reached out to 70 people, mainly former players, and asked them to write a letter to her husband. One by one, the letters arrived, filled with memories and lessons learned from the hardwood.
“The things that came forth the most were being part of a team, respect for the game and each other, and respect for team play,” Coach Richter says.
Many of Richter’s former players jumped at the chance to thank him for helping to shape their lives, for the discipline he instilled, and the relationships he built. He and his wife read one letter each day for the 70 days leading up to his birthday.
“I thought what a great way for him to see how many lives he’s truly impacted,” says Lori Lidlow ’11, who played for Richter for two seasons after transferring to DeSales. “Everyone that’s walked through that program has left a better person because of him. I thanked him for his constant support and told him how much of a difference he made in my life.”
This fall, Richter entered his 30th season at DeSales as one of the winningest NCAA Division III coaches in the country. His love of the game goes back to his playing days in junior high.
“Ever since I was in junior high school, I loved playing and I wanted to be a teacher and I wanted to be a coach. I enjoyed the camaraderie of a team and building something together. I always felt that’s something that I wanted to do when I was done playing.”
Richter went on to teach sociology and American history for 34 years at Quakertown High School. As luck would have it, one of his very first students—Tim Neiman—would go on to become both a familiar face and fellow coach at DeSales years later.
Richter originally coached the boys’ team at Quakertown for five years before taking a hiatus to “get my sanity back.” After several years, he reclaimed his spot on the sidelines, this time leading the girls’ varsity team to victory.
“I found even back in the 70s guys thought they knew all there was to know about basketball. The team wasn’t always as important. Women are much more coachable and more serious about their education. I never ever thought of going back.”
With Richter at the helm, the team qualified for district playoffs in each of the nine seasons he coached. He also led the panthers to one league championship and they reached the state championship tournament twice.
But after coaching the team for nearly a decade, he grew disappointed that some of his best athletes were choosing other sports instead of basketball. By 1990, he made the leap to college coaching.
“I realized that if I wanted to coach the way I wanted to, I would have to be recruiting. That way, I’m responsible for the talent on the floor.”
Richter holds the distinction of being one of only two coaches in DeSales sports history to garner 500-plus wins. Of all the memories he’s made here, three seasons stick out most in his mind: his first MAC championship in 1998 and his Sweet Sixteen runs in 2008 and 2019.
The key to those successful seasons, according to Richter, was that each team understood what it takes to be a champion and the players genuinely liked playing together.
“We were all best friends and we still hang out to this day,” says LeighAnn (Burke) McGovern ’09, who played on the 2008 championship team that went onto the Sweet Sixteen. “There was no bad blood on that team. It was just very positive, very friendly, and that frankly was the reason I feel like we went so far. We all supported each other on the court and off the court.”
Aside from the game, grades are also a top priority for Richter, who has maintained a 100 percent graduation rate with his players. Rose Katz-Gobeli ’08 also played on the championship 2008 team. But during her freshman year, she began dropping the ball with her schoolwork.
“He wouldn’t let me practice until I fixed that. I was sitting in a classroom off doing homework while everybody else was practicing. So I realized really quickly this wasn’t going to be a one-dimensional experience. He really cared about us as students and athletes and wanted us to make sure that we were taking both very seriously.”
Richter still talks to many of his former players on a monthly or even weekly basis, including Morgan Birmelin ’19, a standout guard who helped lead the team to the Sweet Sixteen in 2019. Birmelin credits Richter with influencing her toward a career in coaching. She’s currently a graduate assistant at King’s College and has made him promise to take her back one day.
“Every time I see him, I’m like, ‘Coach, the offer still stands, right? You’re still going to have me back?’ If all things play out, God willing, I’ll someday hopefully end up back on campus and get to work with him as an assistant coach. I loved being one of his players but I think there will be even more value if I could be a part of his coaching staff. That’s my dream.”
For now, Richter has no plans to retire. He’ll continue to do what he loves—teaching future generations to play hard, play unselfishly, and to have respect for relationships and the game—all the while forging countless lifelong friendships along the way.
“I really haven’t put an age limit on it; I haven’t put a time limit on it,” he says. “When you stop enjoying something, you really do have to take stock of what’s next. That hasn’t happened to me.”