If you want to make 1981 Scarsdale High School graduate Rippy Philipps speechless — a rarity even he will admit — mention the fact that friends, neighbors and more are petitioning the village of Scarsdale to name part of the Crossway Field complex after him.
While Philipps, a longtime volunteer youth football coach, is now aware of the effort that began in earnest in December with a letter to the village with more than 60 signatories, the true reward, he said, will be when he gets a chance to sit down and read the so far 90-plus letters of support the village has posted online. The letters are from parents of former players, parents of current players, current players, former players, charities, community members, family members, you name it, going all the way back to the 1960s. While there are some that are a sentence or two or a paragraph or two long, many of the writers put their heart and soul down on multiple pages and told very private, personal stories to show just what kind of person Philipps has shown himself to be since he moved back to his hometown in 1995 specifically to help coach Scarsdale Youth Football (SYF).
“I heard what they’re trying to do,” a reluctant Philipps said. “Let’s put it this way: I don’t need a board validation to know I did a decent job. I think the validation will be when I get to see the letters that people wrote. That’s what really matters. The thought of the town doing such a nice gesture is overwhelming, but seeing letters [from people] who took the time to write in my support means more to me than the actual honor.”
The initial Dec. 17, 2020, letter to the board of trustees from dozens of families declared: “Rippy not only makes sure new kids to town are welcomed on the field but ensures that there is a place at the lunch table for them in school. He is also inclusive of both boys and girls playing flag and/or contact football as well as children with special needs getting the opportunity to play with their fellow classmates. Lastly, he also makes sure that SYF is on the cutting edge of safety protocols well before it is newsworthy.” (All of these topics and more have been well documented over the years in The Scarsdale Inquirer.)
The letter referred to “that patch of grass” as “quite literally the epicenter of his work.”
Mayor Marc Samwick said the board of trustees first discussed the request from the community this week in executive session during a personnel report on Tuesday, Jan. 26. He said there was board “consensus” to craft a resolution, which he expects to be presented at a board meeting as part of the agenda on Feb. 9, and then voted on soon after they allow for more community feedback.
“This has been a grassroots effort and it’s been a very strong grassroots effort at that,” Samwick said. “I can tell you that the majority of the board recommended and approved moving forward with this process, but I can’t tell you how people will vote when push comes to shove. We still have more time to hear from the community.”
In recent years the Girl Scout House on Wayside Lane was named for Betty Taubert and the library pond on Olmsted Road for Audrey Hochberg. Samwick said the criteria for naming is when there is a “real strong connection between a person and place and the work that person did.”
“If you think of Rippy, that field has a very strong association between place and person — well over 20 years of community service — where he impacted hundreds and hundreds of kids,” Samwick said. “And it’s not just about football. You read these letters and this is about life lessons, it’s about teamwork, it’s about getting up when you fall down, it’s about helping these kids with college recruiting, jobs after college — this is a person who has truly given his heart and soul to our community and really had a tremendous impact on a lot of people.”
Even those who know Philipps are surprised, but not shocked at some of the stories in the letters that they had never before heard.
John McCann, a 1980 Scarsdale High School grad who played with and coached youth football with Philipps, has been one of those leading the charge on this effort, and while he said he always knew Philipps “earned” the honor of having a field in his name, after reading the letters he knows he “deserved” it. McCann was aware of how generous Philipps was to him and his family as a longtime friend, but he didn’t know Philipps was just as generous to every other player who came through the program since 1995. Simply put, “Everyone was special.”
“If you’re from Scarsdale — you don’t have to be a football player, you don’t have to be an athlete — if he hears about it and there’s an issue or a problem and you need help, he’s there,” McCann said. “For a guy who is known around Scarsdale for having a big voice, he was as quiet as a church mouse for all these things he’s done.”
Samwick, whose three sons played football, also thought he knew what Philipps was doing behind the scenes. He, too, only knew a small fraction of the story.
“I’ve known Rippy for a lot of years and I knew — or I thought I knew — what an impact he had on the community and after reading all these letters I’m just blown away,” he said. “There is a very high bar to name something for somebody in the village. There are really not that many opportunities to do so and the fact that this is receiving serious consideration unto itself is a huge testament.”
There were kids growing up in homes without a father and Philipps took them under his wing not only then, but through high school, college, professional life and when they started their own families. One of them was Paul Fix, a 2000 Scarsdale High School graduate who played on Philipps’ first team back in 1995 when he was an eighth grader. In the fall of 2019, having just moved back to Scarsdale, Fix enrolled his two sons in the flag football program.
“I heard Rippy’s voice when I pulled into the parking lot,” Fix said. “People will drive by there and hear his voice the rest of their lives, even when he’s not there.”
The two had never lost touch, but it was still a surreal moment on that day.
“Unequivocally I can say I wouldn’t be here today without him,” Fix said. “It’s been 25 years and it was his first year coaching and my eighth grade year, my last playing youth football. My father had just passed away very suddenly and for whatever reason Rippy truly stepped in and filled that void in my life.
“The amazing thing about it is I can say with confidence and even without knowing for sure, but I was there one year and there were 24 years of kids like me, youth of Scarsdale [who] went through that program, [whom] he has impacted in a similar way.”
Fix’s mother, Barbara, who had two kids already go through the youth football program when the family met Philipps, wrote to the board, too: “Football became my son’s passion under Rippy Philipps, who mentored Paul ’til he became captain of Scarsdale High School Football. When he played for his college team in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, this dedicated coach often drove hours to watch him compete when I was unable to do so. Rippy Philipps, 25 years later, now coaches my grandsons! This is but one story of how a man has volunteered his time tirelessly, and positively impacted hundreds of the lives of our families.”
Another of the most touching letters came from Paul and Joanna Jimenez, the parents of Paulie Jimenez, who at age 10 was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, “a rare and aggressive form of childhood cancer.” Paulie died 2.5 months later, but not before Philipps was able to orchestrate some of the happiest moments of Paulie’s life, ones his parents will cherish the rest of their lives as they continue to raise money through The PaulieStrong Foundation.
When Paulie joined the youth football program prior to his illness, his parents saw a major change in their son, which they credited to Philipps.
“He became more self-confident,” they wrote. “He took school more seriously and he became even more respectful than he already was. We as parents noticed the change but were not really sure where it came from until I began paying close attention to football practice. It wasn’t just X’s and O’s that were being learned. It was a sense of belonging, a sense of family and a respect for more than just the game, but for each other and for themselves. Paul found himself when he joined the Raiders and we truly believe that it was because of Rippy Philipps.”
Philipps visited Paulie, whom he had only known for about a year, often in the hospital, during what would be his final 2.5 months. There were two memories that really stand out for Paulie’s dad. The first was on a rare time Paulie was home for a varsity football game — Oct. 24, 2015 — and Paulie was invited to be the honorary captain and walk onto the field leading the team before the playoff game. Paulie was at midfield for the coin toss. The Raiders won both the toss and the game, though as he was not feeling well due to recent treatments in the first few weeks of his illness, Paulie left at halftime.
His dad wrote: “… later that evening the entire team showed up at our house to present Paul with the game ball signed by the entire team. That ball still sits on the bookcase in Paul’s bedroom. That day provided us with one of the last few times that we would see that beautiful smile on Paul’s face and we are so grateful to Rippy for arranging that surprise. Unfortunately, Paul never made it back out onto that field and our hearts are forever broken with his passing.”
The next season Philipps asked Paulie’s dad to come help coach. It had been a dream of Paulie’s for his dad to help out and in his son’s honor he finally did so, despite the difficulty of not having his son there by his side, and not feeling he knew enough about the game to contribute. Seeing firsthand just how much of an impact Philipps had on every single player was an eye-opener for Jimenez, who said the opportunity to help out was therapeutic. “It was a learning experience for me as well that I feel has helped me to become a better father and a better person,” he wrote.
Samwick, McCann and Fix said they all struggled to get through reading Jimenez’s letter.
“I just don’t think you find people on this planet like that,” Fix said. “Where do you find human beings on this Earth like Rippy Philipps with the capacity to love and to give so much of themselves asking absolutely nothing in return other than those people go out into the world and be better and give back?”
The Philipps family moved to Scarsdale in 1963, the year Rippy was born. He attended his first Scarsdale football game in 1969 and also started playing youth football at Crossway. When he was around 12, the family moved next to the firehouse across the street from Crossway, and in 1995, soon after hearing the 1994 varsity season was canceled for his alma mater due to lack of players, he and his wife, Phyllis, moved to Scarsdale; he knew the best way to help out was to begin assisting with Scarsdale Youth Football. Despite not having biological children of his own, Philipps has 25 years’ worth of players he calls his own.
“I never coached a kid I didn’t love,” Philipps said. “There’s not a kid out there that I coached that I don’t consider my kid.”
Philipps’ parents were still in that house near Crossway for many years while he was coaching and his mom always knew when there was a home game on Saturday mornings. She heard her son’s booming voice — from across the street — around 7:30 a.m. and knew it was time to get up. “It’s a fact,” Philipps said.
In addition to eventually taking over as president of Scarsdale Youth Football, Philipps oversees and has strengthened the Scarsdale League, which is comprised of many neighboring towns, to set up tackle games for grades 3-8, in addition to running the local flag football program.
The league now includes Edgemont, Tarrytown, Dobbs Ferry, Carmel, Hastings, Ossining, Yonkers Boys and Girls Club, Mahopac, Lakeland, St Bernard’s of White Plains and the White Plains Tigers Football Club. “It is not an understatement to say he has positively touched the lives of literally thousands of children across Westchester,” the Dec. 17 letter said.
Philipps has set up reunions for great teams from the 1960s and 1970s, runs the annual alumni golf outing and is there for anything the high school program needs, including raising funds for the turf and lights at Butler Field at the high school. Philipps continues to have a similar impact on his other alma mater, Franklin & Marshall, where he played football and lacrosse. Many Scarsdale players have found their way to F&M athletically and academically.
The self-proclaimed “biggest homer there ever was in the history of Scarsdale” doesn’t seek credit or attention. He’s just following in the footsteps of his mentors, like his dad, who coached him, Ron Bouchier, who coached him for one year of varsity, and Willard B. Dean, for whom Dean Field at the high school is named.
In the end he credits everyone who stepped up alongside him over the years to work with the kids, and that includes the high school players who volunteer for and set the tone for various programs, most notably flag football.
“This is something that we did — this isn’t something that I did,” he said. “The game of football is a really fascinating sport. When you’re really young in third and fourth grade — and I played for Heathcote — when I first started it was about me. Then when you play your first season and realize how well or how bad you played in a game, you were only one part of a much bigger situation.
“With the youth football program in Scarsdale I’ve obviously been the figurehead, but it’s about us. It’s about P.T. Adams who played here and came back and coached. It’s about Kevin Walsh. Doug Knopp. It’s about Al DiFalco, who never played football, but all of his kids played and he’s been helping out all these years after the kids graduated. It’s about Bobby Keith and Andy Verboys.”
Philipps only wanted to be known for buying ice cream and doughnuts for the kids, so the outpouring he’s seeing now with his body of work going public has him “beyond stunned, absolutely blown away.”
“We’ve been very blessed,” Philipps said. “I’ve gone to bar mitzvahs, I’ve gone to weddings, unfortunately I’ve gone to funerals. I’ve been blessed to help a bunch of people attend college, I’ve been blessed to see a bunch of them play in college, I’ve helped a bunch get jobs after college. And how am I able to do that? My wife has let me do it, my family has let me do it and the parents and the kids have the ultimate trust in us, in our staff and what we’re trying to do together.”
Philipps’ main focuses now are on the winter flag football program and the potential to run a tackle program this spring.
Brother Michael Philipps, a 1983 SHS grad, was short and to the point on the topic: “It’s truly amazing to know what one man has done. What Rippy’s done his own way has affected hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids’ lives. I have read every letter. I don’t think I’ll ever meet someone in my life who has ever given as much of himself as my brother. He changed people’s lives.”
Many believe a sign bearing the name Rippy Philipps at the field associated with his name is the least the community can do.
“Whether he stayed in your life, which in my case he did … and if he didn’t, the lessons he taught you on that field stayed with you,” Fix said. “I venture to say that [for] 25 years worth of boys and girls [who] played football for him on that field, he in some capacity has been with them on the rest of their life journey.”
Letters to Scarsdale Village: a sampling of support
My son, an Edgemont resident, was welcomed by Rippy when there was no other option for him in our district, he encouraged the boy’s love of the sport and opened the only avenue for him to play for 3 years and we are very grateful!
— Suzanne Nukho
Throughout my years playing football and beyond, Rippy was a coach, mentor, friend and more. He is the embodiment of Scarsdale football and Crossway field was his temple. I can think of nothing more fitting than acknowledging Rippy’s years of tireless dedication by naming Crossway field after him. He’s done more for Scarsdale football and for the kids in the program than anyone. There are few people I can think of that have had a more universally positive influence on as many young people and the community at large. Simply put, he made/makes Scarsdale a better town and its youth better people.
— Stephen d’Incelli, SHS Class of 2001
Rippy's commitment to and impact on the children of Scarsdale for the past 3 decades is nothing short of awe-inspiring. His legacy as a coach, mentor, leader, advocate and friend to thousands of kids is permanently etched into the history of our village. I believe his impact will live for generations through the lessons and examples of love and giving he has imparted to our children. In my opinion, this legacy should be permanently memorialized by this worthy dedication.
— Mitchell J. Katz
Every time I visit home, without exception, I exit off of the Hutchinson River Parkway, turn onto Mamaroneck Road, and as I head to my parents’ house — I drive by Crossway Field. And inevitably as I drive by Crossway Field I turn my head to the left and stare at the field for a few seconds. During those few seconds, whether the field is desolate or full with little football players, I doze off into a brief state of pure happiness as I daydream about the memories, friendships, and fun I had on that field. That joy is entirely due to Rippy.
— Michael J. Levin, SHS Class of 2000
Rippy is an educator at heart. His love of football is second to his passion to mentor youth on and off the field. Be it difficulty in school, social issues, parental matters, college choices, helping getting your first job. It was Rippy who cared and carried the program on his back. Not paid, not for glory or press clippings, but for the heartfelt compassion to help others.
— Fred Powers
It is impossible to express my family’s indebtedness to Coach Rippy. He taught my sons to be both sportsmen and gentlemen; to bring passion, joy and camaraderie to the game and extend these pillars to life off the field; to be generous with their spirit and their time. Because of Coach Rippy’s largesse and commitment, my sons always felt special and felt like they mattered, even in their most trying times. I cannot think of a member of the Scarsdale community who is more deserving of this enduring honor and legacy.
— Eileen Capone
This is a unique opportunity for the village leaders to acknowledge selfless and meritorious conduct by one of its citizens and native sons. The impact Rippy has had literally on thousands of Scarsdale lives is extraordinary, without hyperbole: HEROIC.
— Dean Borg, SHS Class of 1980
At the Pro Football Hall of Fame, we focus on the values the game teaches that can inspire us all to live a “Hall of Fame Life” of character. Virtues such as commitment, integrity, courage, respect and excellence not only earn someone a Bronzed Bust in Canton but can also make someone a great businessperson, or great father or mother, husband or wife, and a great member of society. These are the values Coach Rippy is instilling in the youth in your community; he is leading them to live lives of great character.
— David Baker, President & CEO Pro Football Hall of Fame
Without any kids of his own, Rippy has taken in at this point generations of football players in Scarsdale and mentored them to be good players, but more importantly better people. Rippy set us all up for success, and always wanted the best for us when he was our coach … There is one line that always stuck with me that he used to say to us right before we went on the field ... “I’ve been up since 3 a.m. waiting for today, I could be a lot of places right now ... BUT RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW, THERE’S NO PLACE I’D RATHER BE!!!” That used to really fire us up, and it’s a line I think about all the time. Here’s this guy, clearly has another job and life, but on his Saturday mornings at 8 a.m. he’s here with us, truly excited to coach a bunch of eighth graders tear up a football field. And we did.
— Brian Bauersfeld, SHS Class of 2011
I have never seen an individual give so much selflessly for such an incredible period of time. In a highly competitive community, where kids compete for coveted limited spots on select teams, Rippy welcomed every child that showed up. I have never seen him show preferential treatment to any child. Every child got to suit up and play. Every child was given an opportunity to compete for any position they desired. Despite this incredibly democratic process each team Rippy coached had excellent skills, great sportsmanship and were competitive. Most importantly, I have witnessed children dealing with all sorts of personal or family-related challenges find their place through his devotion. They channeled their anxiety or stress into sports and learned invaluable coping skills.
— Andrew Lester
View complete letters here.