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Robert M. Sterling, 100, a longtime Dunellen resident and a respected figure in New Jersey athletic circles for more than half-century whose career included coaching three sports at Rutgers and officiating basketball games throughout the Western Hemisphere, died peacefully of natural causes at Laurel Circle, Bridgewater, on April 8.
He was also a starting player on one of the country’s winningest but least-known college basketball teams, and he finished up his career as Piscataway High School’s first athletic director, a job he held for 30 years.
Bob was born in Newark on Aug. 6, 1918, the only son of Praxeda and Milford Hugh Sterling.
He graduated in 1936 from Newark’s West Side H.S., where he was the starting first baseman on the school’s baseball team, before enrolling at Panzer College of Physical Education and Hygiene in East Orange (now Montclair State University) and earning his bachelor’s degree.
He was the defensive stalwart on the famed Panzer basketball team that won 44 games in a row in the late 1930s, setting a national collegiate record in the process. Four of his teammates later played pro basketball in leagues that pre-dated the NBA.
He also played soccer and was a first baseman and pitcher on the Panzer baseball team, once winning five games in a span of 10 days and pitching a no-hit game in 1938.
Right after college, Bob entered the military and spent more than four years during World War II in the U.S. Army Corps, where he rose to the rank of first lieutenant while overseeing physical training programs for pilots at a series of airfields in the South.
After his discharge in 1946, he was hired as an assistant professor of physical education at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and also served as the school’s assistant baseball, basketball and soccer coach.
In his dozen years at Rutgers, he coached six members of the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame on freshmen or jayvee teams, three of whom were also All-Americans. Bob’s favorite team was his 1950-51 freshmen basketball team that won 11 games and lost only three.
While at Rutgers, he also earned a master’s degree in education.
Bob left Rutgers for Piscataway when the high school opened in 1957, and he stayed involved in New Jersey schoolboy athletics until his retirement in 1986 and beyond. He also taught for many years as an adjunct at the Rutgers School of Education.
Bob was well-known as a basketball referee, officiating high school and college games in the metropolitan area for 25 years as well as three Pan-American Games, the South American Games and the Central American Basketball Championships.
During his career, he served as chairman of the National Council of State High School Coaches Association; president of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association; president of the New Jersey Interscholastic Coaches Association; president of the North Jersey Board of Approved Basketball Officials, and president of the Middlesex County Athletic Directors Association.
In addition, he was one of the founders of the New Jersey State Coaches Association Hall of Fame, the state’s all-star high school basketball game and the Mid-State Conference, and he also served on the executive committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).
He is a member of the NJSIAA Hall of Fame along with the Panzer College and City of Newark athletic halls of fame.
Bob was also the longtime director of the Rutgers Prep Basketball Camp, one of the first summer basketball camps for high school players in the country, as well as the announcer at New Jersey’s state high school track and field championships for many years.
Bob was a member of the board of education and recreation commission in Dunellen.
He is survived by two sons, Robert Jr. and Guy (and his partner Maria Dios); four grandchildren, and seven nieces and nephews.
Bob was predeceased by Florence, his wife of 61 years who died in 2004; daughter Sally, who died in 2017; sister Beulah Sieminski, who died in 2001, and stepbrother Theodore Deats, who died in 1979.
Viewing will be from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, April 14, at the Sheenan Funeral Home, 233 Dunellen Ave., Dunellen. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at St. John’s Catholic Church in Dunellen on Monday at 10 a.m., followed by burial in the family plot at St. Teresa’s Cemetery, Summit.