Tom Rae

During the late 1950’s the University of Maryland had a pipeline for talent out of Fayette County. Five former football players from county schools were all at Maryland during the same period – including former South Union standout Tom Rae.

Chuck Muncie  

Rae excelled at football, basketball, baseball and track for the Blue Devils. He was part of a group of athletes that made the Blue Devils extremely competitive during this stretch.

“We had some good success,” Rae remembered in a 2008 interview. “We had some good athletes – Rich Novak, Allen Bierer, Melvin Henderson, and Fran Novak who was the quarterback my senior year.”

South Union posted a 6-3 record in Rae’s sophomore season, they were 7-1 and on the verge of WPIAL playoff consideration when German beat them 33-0 in the final game. Rich Novak and Allen Bierer were both injured in the first quarter of the German game and that spelled doom for the Blue Devils. That was also the season when the Asiatic Flu forced postponement of the Waynesburg game and a delay in playing German. In Rae’s senior campaign the Blue Devils went 7-2 with losses to unbeaten Waynesburg and North Union.
Rae still remembers the letdown of losing to German in 1957. “It was a big disappointment,” Rae stated. “You couldn’t replace Rich Novak, the other boy tried, but Rich was irreplaceable on offense.”
The rivalry game with North Union was always the big game on the schedule. Rae was 2-1 against the Rams during his three varsity seasons.

“It was intense because you knew the North Union guys,” Rae offered. “We would play summer baseball together. But it was a rivalry that was hard fought in all sports – football, basketball and baseball – it was special and there was a special trophy – the Sun Trophy that was awarded to the team that won in football.”
Rae played football for Coach Park Glass and has good memories of the former Blue Devil mentor.

“It was a very enjoyable coaching situation,” Rae said. “Coach Glass was a very nice person and was very knowledgeable about the game and treated everybody just outstanding. He was a good coach – he knew his football and he taught it to us well.”

Rae played both ways on offense and defense as an end. He considers himself lucky to have played with two outstanding quarterbacks Rich and Fran Novak.

“Frannie was a very good athlete and he went to Pitt on a football scholarship,” Rae explained. “Rich was probably the better all-around athlete. Fran could throw a football and Rich could throw a nice ball as well.”

Rae also played basketball at South Union and was a part of some very successful teams. The 1957 hoops team went 12-9. In 1958, the Blue Devils were the undergrad tournament champs and captured the Section 11 championship with a 13-1 record but fell to Sharon in the WPIAL playoffs 54-40. During Rae’s senior hoops season, South Union posted an 11-3 mark.

“I played three years of basketball for Coach Marty Fagler,” Rae said. “Here again when you look back, he was a tough coach and he worked us hard and drove us hard. I think he was a little ahead of his time coaching wise – we ran the fast break very well and with success and the fast break wasn’t that popular at that time, and we did it. He did a nice job coaching us.”

The old South Union gym was a real bandbox.

“It was a challenge for opposing teams,” Rae laughed. “I remember that we thought that we were at a big arena at that time.”
Rae played baseball for Coach Okey Ryan and ran track for Coach Ringy Stefancin.

“South Union was a very good experience,” Rae observed. “I come back for all three reunions – 57, 58 and 59 just to see the fellows and looking back I enjoyed South Union; it was a big time in my life.”
Rae garnered First Team All-Fayette County football honors as a junior and a senior and was pursued by several schools when he graduated from South Union in 1959.

“Notre Dame was interested in me,” Rae recalled. “Purdue, West Virginia and Maryland were also after me. One of the key things was I played baseball during the summer with Murnis Banner, Joe Hrezo from Uniontown and Rich Novak and Tom Sankovich who all went to Maryland. That probably had a lot to do with me choosing Maryland.”
Rae played freshman ball at Maryland in 1959 and then lettered for three years on Terp teams that posted records of 6-4 in 1960, 7-3 in 1961 and 6-4 in 1962.

“Once the pipeline from Fayette County started – it was pretty productive,” Rae recalled. “We had five guys from Fayette County on the team and at that time I didn’t think that was unusual, but when I think back about it – to have five kids from the same town on one college team was very unusual.”

Rae played both ways as and end at Maryland. The other end was All-American Gary Collins who later had a fine pro career with the Cleveland Browns.

“Collins was outstanding,” Rae stated. “The best thing about Collins that nobody realized was that he had very good speed, he was big at 6-3 and he didn’t look like he had speed, but he did.”
Maryland was coached by Tom Nugent at that time.

“I was happy with going to Maryland,” Rae said. “Going through the program and participating and I enjoyed it. Coach Nugent, there were people that liked him and people that didn’t like him, but he was the coach, and I’m just fortunate and very happy that things turned out the way they did for me.”

When his football eligibility was done – Rae still had one semester to go at Maryland and helped coach the Maryland freshman team for a year, which ushered into a 31-year coaching career.
“I went an extra semester and coached freshman ball,” Rae reported. “That was 1964 and that was great – being a physical education teacher and then wanting to get into coaching it was a very good experience for me.”

Rae then took a physical education teaching job and coaching job at Northwestern HS in College Park, MD. Rae was an assistant football coach and wrestling coach at Northwestern for four years. He then became the head football coach at a brand new school -Parkdale HS in College Park for eight years and had some success winning six championships including a state title in 1975. In 1973-74 and 1975 Parkdale was undefeated and had a 30 game winning streak. He was named Coach of the Year in the state of Maryland in 1975.
“I really enjoyed coaching,” Rae explained. “The interaction with the kids was great and very rewarding.”

Rae moved to Pennsylvania as a head coach at Lower Dauphin HS near Harrisburg, PA.

“I spent six years there and that was a little tougher,” Rae offered. “We had a couple of good seasons and some bad ones. My kids were going into high school at that time and I decided to retire from coaching.”

Rae taught at Lower Dauphin until his retirement in 2000. He returned to the sidelines after two seasons as a defensive coach and worked at Cumberland Valley for five years and at Central Dauphin for seven seasons.

On November 9, 2015 Rae passed away at age of 74. Surviving are his wife, Mildred A. “Midge” Jones Rae; son, Jeffrey (Pamela) Rae of Elizabethtown; daughter, Lisa (Jeffrey) Shank of Elizabethtown; 4 grandchildren, Tyler and Madison Rae and Thomas and David Shank; a sister, Bernadette Anderson of Levittown, PA.; and several nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by a brother, Kenneth Rae.


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