MARS — Terry Dillner tried going one fall without being involved with Mars football.
Knowing he was nearing the end of his time as a physical education teacher in the school district, Dillner figured he would first step down as a varsity assistant football coach in 2006.
“I went to about half the games that year (as a fan) and I kept telling myself, ‘I’m missing this and I’d like to get back.’”
Sure enough, by the following spring, Dillner was back where he belonged as one of the veteran mentors on head coach Scott Heinauer’s staff.
Dillner, who retired as a teacher following the 2009-10 school year, has nearly 30 years invested in Planet football, including a head-coaching stint 1984-85. He served as a scout for the Planets in the late 1980s and has coached a plethora of wide receivers, defensive backs and quarterbacks over the years.
He will be one of five inducted into the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame Sept. 12.
“I was kind of surprised they chose me,” said Dillner. “I was interested in a couple of players who I was pushing to get in and was not expecting to go in myself. I’m very honored.”
Dillner was an assistant on the two Mars teams that played for the WPIAL Class AA title (1996 and 2002). Mars has not had a losing season since going 4-6 in 2003 and is currently riding a streak of nine straight playoff appearances.
There is very little turnover amongst the assistant coaches from year to year and that has had a lot to do with the Planets’ success.
“We’ve been together for so long, it makes things a lot easier,” Dillner said. “We all know what we’re doing. It’s like a well-oiled machine and is a blessing. I’m a small part of it, but I enjoy it.”
It was that familiarity that prompted Dillner to remain with the team despite a recent battle with pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed in 2012, but was determined to contribute as much as he could.
“I did miss a game and a few practices, but I knew if I could make it to the field, I’d enjoy myself,” he said. “I didn’t want to be treated differently and I’ve had a number of players from that season come up to me and say, ‘T.D., we appreciate the things you’ve gone through.’ They were concerned. The kids and the coaches treated me so well.”
Dillner undergoes testing every three months. He is currently cancer-free and preparing for another season with the Planets.
He played football at Richland High School (now Pine-Richland) and was named All-WPIAL his senior year as a wide receiver and defensive back before graduating in 1969. He attended Tabor College in Kansas, then transferred to Slippery Rock State College. A knee injury his senior season cut short his playing days, but jump-started his coaching career.
“I helped coach the junior varsity team that year,” said Dillner. “I wanted to be a teacher and coaching seemed to go along with that.”
Over his years as a player, head coach and assistant coach, Dillner has seen high school football evolve.
“Football is such a year-round thing now,” he said. “Kids are working out all the time and going to speed camps. Today’s players are so much faster and stronger than they were 30 years ago.
“I hope players remember me as someone who taught them lessons that they could use later in life.”
Terry and Sandy Dillner have been married for 27 years. They reside in Mars.