Greensburg softball coach Mello sticks around for 3 decades
Those scratches on both sides of Greensburg resident Ray Mello's 11-year-old. forest-green Ford Ranger pickup are badges of honor.
“I use my pickup to drag softball fields and I've made quite a few tight turns going through some gates to the fields,” Mello said with a laugh.
He doesn't regret any of the scratches.
Mello, 74, has been a fixture in recreational girls' softball programs in the area since his eldest daughter played for West Point more than three decades ago.
Mello, Don Thomas and Ralph Snyder helped to oversee the transition from the traditional slow-pitch game to the fast-pitch style, which is rapidly growing in popularity.
“With my daughter playing, I went to be involved and helped coach and learned the game from a lot of good people and I've been involved ever since,” Mello said.
And, for the last 17 seasons, Mello has served as a volunteer coach with the successful Hempfield Area High School Lady Spartans softball team.
“Ray is someone who is always there, doing whatever has to be done, but he does not get a lot of credit, except from those of us who see what he does,” Hempfield girls softball coach Bob Kalp said. “Ray is our pitching coach. He calls pitches at the games and does our stats. He conducts clinics for young girls and he is there to get area fields ready in playing condition when it rains.
“He keeps a drag in the back of his truck, just in case,” Kalp said.
Kalp said he may not have been the Lady Spartans coach had it not been for Mello.
Kalp's daughter was playing T-ball and he attended practices and games. Mello knew Kalp from coaching high school basketball.
“Ray looked for fathers who wanted to become involved and since I coached basketball, he asked if I was interested,” Kalp said. “I started with 12-year olds, then moved up with 15-year olds and became, first, the junior varsity softball coach and, for the last 17 seasons, the varsity head coach. If it were not for Ray I may not be softball coach today.”
When Kalp was named head coach, he returned the favor.
“Ray had a daughter on the team when I was JV coach and he (and another volunteer assistant) were spectators at all the games,” Kalp said. “I obviously knew Ray from youth softball and asked him to be volunteer assistant. He is still here and much of our success is due to his involvement.”
Mello, a retired mechanical engineer originally from Massachusetts, worked for Boeing and moved to the area when Westinghouse offered a position.
He found another home on the softball field.
“If you point to one person in this area for development of fast-pitch softball, it is Ray,” Kalp said, noting that Mello's involvement with West Point and the Lady Spartans.
“He is an engineer by trade and is able to analyze everything, as well as having tremendous patience. He is the one who gets pitchers started at a young age and he sees the positives in everyone. He sees hope for everyone in softball.”
Mello runs clinics for girls from ages 8 through 18.
He holds a fall clinic for new pitchers in the West Point program, but welcomes girls from neighboring areas. Many of the girls have never pitched.
Winter clinics are conducted at Hempfield Area High School, but Mello has drawn pitchers from Belle Vernon, Clearfield, Connellsville, Johnstown, Latrobe, Punxsutawney, Somerset and Morgantown, W.Va.
“Softball keeps me active and young,” Mello said.
Although he had heart surgery in 1989, he is still out there bailing water and dragging fields. “Working with young kids doesn't let me get old or sarcastic,” Mello said. “Working with young people is rewarding when you see their success, and we've had some good pitchers go through the program.”
He added, “Our competitors have also attended our clinics. We are there to teach the kids, regardless of where they attend school.”
Evidence of Mello's tutelage may be seen in a list of WPIAL champions among area schools. Greater Latrobe wore the crown in 2007, 2008 and 2011. Hempfield, WPIAL runner-up last year, won the title in 2009 and 1998.
When asked to pinpoint the secret to his success, Mello replied: “Get along with the kids and develop their skills.”
“I start them young and develop their interest in fast-pitch softball and pitching. Once they see how it works, they get addicted to fast pitch,” Mello said. “There is a degree of continuity, which has also accounted for our success in that kids remain with the program as coaches. In our clinics, we focus on teaching proper pitching mechanics and sell the parents on what we do. We keep it as basic as possible. There is no wasted pitching motion and there are fewer things that can go wrong. We teach a basic pitching motion and have followed that same approach for 30 years at West Point.”
The West Point program developed into a feeder system for such area schools as Greensburg Central Catholic, Greater Latrobe and Greensburg Salem, as well as Hempfield Area. , Mello has seen his pitchers graduate to Division-1 colleges, such as Lehigh, North Carolina-Charlotte, Penn State, Robert Morris and the University of Pittsburgh.
“It's amazing for such a small community to have sent so many players to play D-1 fast-pitch softball in college,” Mello said. “We are proud that they got their start with us, but we don't take all the credit. As the girls get older, they advance to more experienced pitching coaches in college and develop higher level skills.”
Les Harvath is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.