The ghosts of the Palestra are having a party, or more likely a pickup game.
Jack Scheuer’s local legacy stretches as long as Broad Street north to south and Market Street east and west, to the press room and press rows at the Palestra and Temple’s Liacouras Center and the Wells Fargo Center, to the Phillies press box.
In those spots, one or two people got lucky each game, and knew it. They got to sit next to Jack Scheuer.
He’d reel you in with trivia questions, parceled out usually a game at a time, but a favorite one involved himself. Who is the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Palestra?
We can retire that distinction now, since Scheuer died early Friday morning, age 88. Philly college hoops feels different already. On any list of whatever makes it unique, Jack Scheuer was either on it or writing it.
He’d run a weekly Palestra pickup game from 1975 deep into his ’80s, his two-handed set shot as legendary as the Big 5 exploits that went on in that building when it was full.
Scheuer helped out calling in box scores to the Bulletin, the late great Bob Vetrone getting him started, then he became an Associated Press correspondent, working Phillies and 76ers games and his greatest love, the Big 5. Lately he wrote a column for phillycollegesports.com. Nobody took in more Big 5 games over the years than Jack Scheuer. He put himself on top of that attendance list, which makes it fact.
Jack was the best of Philly, caring and knowing in equal measures. You had to get to a game pretty early to beat him to the press room. Courtside, you’d see a Big 5 starter not dressed for the game, point it out to Jack, and he’d say, “sprained ankle,” or some ailment. How did Scheuer know that? Of course he’d chatted with the head coach pregame.
He’d suffered a lot lately, from cancer and back injuries. He’d give it to you straight, but he wasn’t there to recite personal medical woes when there was hoops to watch. Hopefully, good hoops. Jack was the arbiter of that. “Good hoops,” he’d simply declare. Or, just as likely, “Bad hoops.” So many of the 3,500 local basketball games he’d watched by his own count got one distinction or the other.
A Scheuer pet peeve: coaches who wouldn’t leave refs alone. “Would you just shut up!” he’d finally spout, then return to watching what he’d come to watch on the court.
Even the pickup games Scheuer ran with an ever-changing (and aging) cast of characters needed to meet his standards. He’d say, “I don’t care how good you are, as long as you know how to play.”
It’s one thing to be a Big 5 Hall of Fame inductee – Jack was a 2002 honoree – it’s another to be given a key to the place. A working key, nothing ceremonial about it.
“I thought I might have to use it,” Scheuer said in January when he pulled up at the back door, parking right against the Palestra, for a perfect Scheuer outing, Penn State-Iowa in the afternoon, Penn-Princeton at night.
“Do you have a pass?” an usher asked him before a game in 2018.
“Do I have a pass?” Jack quipped back. “I have a key.”
On any list of whatever makes the Palestra unique, Jack Scheuer was either on it or writing it.
Scheuer didn’t just consider Temple’s Guy Rodgers the greatest Big 5 player ever, he’d played with him -- Jardel Recreation Center, Cottman Avenue.
“We combined for 57 points,” Scheuer told me in January, pressed to go down memory lane. “I had like 5.”
(Favorite Scheuer coach? A lot of worthy contenders right behind his personal top choice, Fran Dunphy.)
Scheuer had come off the bench for Frankford High when it lost to Overbrook in the Public League title game at the Palestra in 1949. He’d been an assistant at Father Judge and did one-year stints helping out at Archbishop Wood and Drexel.
Unless you asked for memories, Jack tended to stay in the present, but for the trivia questions. That’s why the seat next to him was special. The term ageless fit like his perpetual tan. He’d needle you in a way that made you feel you belonged next to him.
You think you’re a big-timer? John Feinstein didn’t just mention Jack Scheuer (and Dick “Hoops” Weiss) in his last book, Feinstein dedicated his last book to Jack Scheuer and Dick “Hoops” Weiss.
Jack is survived by his wife of 64 years, Jean, and his children Gail (Reinhart), Ken, Bob, Nancy (Hill), and eight grandchildren, and pretty much every living sports media member who worked in this city over the last 50 years.
If they’re going to honor Jack Scheuer correctly in that building, here’s a thought. The locker room in the southeast corner could use a name. Wilt Chamberlain used to dress in that room. Visiting teams still squeeze in. But walking away to his car late in the Penn-Princeton game, beating the crowd, Scheuer passed by it and said, “That’s my locker room.” Then he was up the ramp and out.
Bob Scheuer sent out the sad news Friday to some pickup game regulars, picturing a game in heaven: “I’m guessing that even right now he ‘has winners’ and somehow arranged to have Wilt on his team!”