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William Fox, Philadelphia high school basketball coaching legend, dies at 70

Coaching was never just about basketball for Mr. Fox, said his son: “It was about teaching and grooming young men to be men."

William D. Fox, Jr.
William D. Fox, Jr.Read moreCourtesy of the Fox family

William D. Fox Jr., 70, a legendary high school basketball coach who led Father Judge’s team for three decades, died July 18, in his Philadelphia home of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Much loved and revered, Mr. Fox served as a faculty member and head basketball coach at Father Judge High School for 29 years. During that time, he touched the lives of countless players, students and fellow coaches.

At Father Judge, he helped steer his team to three Catholic League championships, as well as 26 playoff appearances.

In 2007, Mr. Fox was inducted into both the CYO Hall of Fame and the Father Judge High School Hall of Fame.

For Mr. Fox, being a coach was about more than just the sport. It was about building character.

“It was about teaching and grooming young men to be men and to grow and to teach them the principles of being accountable, being there for one another,” said his son Brendan. “It was always more than about basketball for him. The Father Judge basketball community became like a family.”

Raised in Philadelphia’s Somerton section, Mr. Fox was one of five children born to William Sr. and Madeleine Fox. He graduated from La Salle High School in 1969. He then attended La Salle University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1973.

While a student at LaSalle, Mr. Fox played varsity basketball for all of his four years. In his senior season, he was named co-captain of the team and received the Big 5 Unsung Hero Award, Desire and Dedication Award.

After college, Mr. Fox was a coaching graduate assistant at American University in 1973 and 1974.

But his true career home was Father Judge, where he served as chair of the business department and taught accounting and business law. While at Father Judge, he also worked 20 years for Philadelphia’s Department of Recreation — part time during the school year and full time during summers.

In later years, from 2000 to 2005, he was the city’s assistant director of commerce. And from 2005 to 2018, he worked for the School District of Philadelphia as director of real estate.

At Father Judge, Mr. Fox cared about all the students, not just the athletes, his family said. He noticed youngsters who were struggling socially or had other challenges and he invited many of them to be team managers.

“When they were managers on the basketball team, they were treated like a player, and they were part of the basketball family,” Brendan Fox said.

Many of those former managers came to pay their respects when their coach died.

“He always made a point of trying to grab those guys and help them out and make them part of something bigger than themselves,” his son said. “He always prided himself on that.”

As much as Mr. Fox gave to the players he coached as well as to the other young people whose lives he touched, his main priority was always his family. He made sure he was present at the many sporting events, dance recitals, musicals, and graduations of all his children and grandchildren.

“‘Family is everything,” was something he said often.

Among his most cherished memories were coaching both of his sons throughout their high school careers.

Mr. Fox also enjoyed traveling with his wife, Maryellen, visiting 44 of the 50 states, as well as spending summers in Sea Isle City. While he was there, he was often seen sporting a T-shirt that said, “Life Is Good.” . He had a lot of them because he believed in the message.

In addition to his son, Mr. Fox is survived by his wife; another son, Brian; daughters Bridget Gossner and Maura Crisanti; his mother; eight grandchildren; and other relatives. His father died earlier.

Mr. Fox’s funeral and interment were July 24. A visitation was held the night before in Bill Fox Gymnasium at Father Judge High School, as his family felt was fitting.

Donations in the coach’s memory may be made to the Friends of Father Judge, Father Judge High School, 3301 Solly Ave., Philadelphia, Pa. 19136-2396, or online at