Rich Panella remembered

The Cardinal Stritch University family mourns the loss of former women’s basketball coach Rich Panella, who died on Jan. 12, after a valiant fight against ALS. Coach Panella was the embodiment of our Franciscan values and left an impact on all those he coached and with whom he worked.

Stritch is collecting memories of Coach Panella to honor his legacy. Submitted stories will be shared with the Panella family and the Stritch community. Please feel free to submit a memory or favorite story using the form below.

For 25 years, Rich Panella coached the Cardinal Stritch University Women's Basketball and Softball teams. Coach Panella and his "team together" approach led teams to the NAIA national tournament 13 times, including three Sweet 16 appearances and two trips to the Elite 8. During the 2009-10 season, his last at the helm of the Wolves, he earned his 500th career victory. In 2012, Rich and Mira Panella established the Panella Team Together Endowed Scholarship Fund to support Stritch student-athletes. To make a contribution to the fund, click here and write Panella Memorial in the memo line. 


A Milwaukee native, he earned conference coach of the year honors 13 times and was inducted into the Stritch Athletics, Wisconsin Basketball Coaches Association and NAIA halls of fame. In October 2010 after his retirement, the basketball court in the Stritch Fieldhouse was named Panella Court. Rich also served as the University’s softball coach for nearly 20 seasons. In May 2012, Panella received an honorary doctorate degree for Stritch.   

Coach Panella said about his players, “But more important than how they played or the kind of student-athletes they were, they're even better people."
 

Share your memories of Coach Panella:

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Carlie Yeandle, '07 
"My senior year I needed a ride to get the staples out of my knee (ACL reconstruction). I hobbled down to Coach's office trying to build up the courage to ask for a ride to the doctor's office (which was essentially next to his house at the Wisconsin Health Fund Clinic). I hate asking people to do things for me, but I asked. And he, without a flinch, said, "yeah let's go". I was so scared. I cried the entire time. He came in the exam room with me and held my hand. You know the way he held your hand making you feel like everything was going to be okay - one of his hands on the bottom, the other resting gently on top of yours. In that moment, I just watched our hands trying to ignore what was happening to my knee. Now I look back at how ridiculous I was to be that scared and anxious for something so trivial, but he didn't judge and knew just what to do. He always knew just what to do to make you feel better whether it be holding your hand, giving you a hug or making you laugh." 

Sara Woelfel, executive editor of Stritch Magazine
"For me, it’s not just a single memory of Rich Panella, but the collection of them that makes me smile. Every time I encountered him – whether for a planned meeting, an interview for a campus publication or unexpectedly around campus – he made my day better. I’ll always remember him for his warmth, his pep, his smile, and his ability to speak in perfectly-crafted quotes. He’d start our interviews apologizing for how things might be phrased and then giving me permission to revise his quotes to make him sound good, but he did that effortlessly all by himself. His passion for his teams and excitement for the game injected personality and emotion into those interviews. You did not have to be on one of his teams or coach alongside him to appreciate all he meant to this place. Deeply missed, but forever present among us. I pray the Panella family finds peace and joy among the many memories they have of this special man."
 
Sr. Mary Lea Schneider, OSF, Ph.D., President Emerita
"I cannot recall the exact year, but it was an experience I can never forget and still laugh about. The women's team was playing a key competitor and was behind at half-time. I was so "into" the game that I left the bleachers and went into the locker room and began to enourage the team. Rich came in and just awkwardly stood there until I got the message and left. Two days later, he appeared in my office and sat down. He said, "Sister, I don't come into your office and tell you what to do; can you please not come into mine during working hours?" Well, we both laughed and I never forgot his advice. Leave the professionals alone to do their jobs...Rich was one person I will always lovingly remember as well as his advice!"
 
Chris Lange, '10
"I remember the late Rick Majerus [former Marquette University basketball coach] was being interviewed on sports radio. He told the host, 'the best coach in the state of Wisconsin is at Cardinal Stritch University coaching women's basketball.' Rich Panella. They had such a great friendship and respect for each other."

Kelly Janssen, ’01
"Coach Panella was not only a coach he was like a father figure to me, when I was ready to give up my freshman year he talked me into staying. He and his wife made sure that all of us girls had everything we needed to be successful both on and off the court. If we ever needed anything we knew we could go to him for help. Coach Panella knew when he needed to be strict but he did it in a way that he still showed sympathy."
 
Pau Angellno
"Knew Rich since childhood at St. Rita's Grade School. A true class act and first class mentor of younger athletes. Will sorely be missed."