Late Highlands coach Rich Falter remembered for his humility, impact on players

Thursday, May 26, 2022 | 9:49 PM

Despite an outstanding coaching career that included 316 victories in high school basketball, Rich Falter never sought the limelight.

In fact, he had to be deceived into showing up for an awards ceremony in order to be inducted into the Highlands High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

Falter, who recorded 255 victories at Highlands and 61 more across the street at St. Joseph, died Tuesday of complications following a stroke. He was 74.

Several years ago, Highlands basketball boosters knew he wouldn’t accept induction on its own merit, so they got him to come to a game to present an award to former Golden Rams standout Micah Mason.

While he was there, he was told he was now a hall of fame member.

The graduate of the former Har-Brack High School was looking to enter the coaching ranks while Natrona Heights businessman Glenn Mills was active in the YMCA basketball organization.

“We became friends and I had a team of fifth- and sixth-graders,” Mills recalled. “I saw the kids took to him right away. We had four teams that played each other on the weeknights, then on the weekends he put a team together to go on the road.”

The team was called the Scarlet Knights, patterned after Har-Brack graduate Tom Young, who coached Rutgers University at the time.

“By the time those kids got to the junior high level, they knew what to do,” Mills said. “I never knew anybody who didn’t like him. Rich was just wonderful.”

He entered the high school ranks with St. Joseph and led the Spartans to three WPIAL playoff berths in four years, including the 1992 Class A semifinals.

It was on to Highlands for the next 17 seasons where he guided the Golden Rams to three section titles, 11 WPIAL playoff appearances and title games in 1995, 2002 and ’09, winning it all in 1995 in a memorable upset over favored Blackhawk at the then-A.J. Palumbo Center .

He was instrumental in the lives of assistant coaches and players both on and off the court.

“After I started coaching, he told me I needed to get my degree in education if I wanted to continue coaching,” said Shawn Bennis, who has become a long-time educator in the Highlands School District. “I am what I am today from an educating standpoint and a coaching standpoint (because of him).”

Bennis was an assistant to Falter for 13 years before becoming Kiski Area’s head coach.

“After a year as the eighth-grade coach, he brought me on as the junior varsity coach with Mike Lorenzini and Ron Lang,” Bennis said.

Bennis eventually ended up as the Highlands head coach.

“He was someone I could call and we’d both have a coaching chalkboard in our heads,” Bennis said. “Rich was someone who touched many lives. He truly loved his players.”

Ultimately, Falter left the coaching ranks to care for his ill mother, Rose, who died just short of her 100th birthday.

After retirement, the Point Park graduate had declined nominations to the Alle-Kiski Sports Hall of Fame.

A Celebration of Life is planned for Saturday from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Natrona Heights VFW Post 894, Veterans Drive, Natrona Heights.

His five nieces and nephews suggest, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to a favorite charity in his name.


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