Thomas Jefferson's Karcher named Daily News Softball Coach of the Year
Since her childhood days, Heidi Karcher has known the demands of success.
Her dad, a semipro football player for the old Scranton Eagles, wouldn't let her miss a day of practice, advising her to always respect “The Big C” for commitment. Her uncle was a longtime high school football and basketball coach at Old Forge, where he'd had a field and gymnasium named after him.
Karcher herself, as a young girl, was interested in swimming and also began to play softball, eventually landing at Penn State, where she was part of a team heading into its first season in the Big Ten Conference.
“My love of the game came because I started at the age of 6,” Karcher said. “I realized how hard you had to work to be successful.
“If you want a successful team, you have to demand a little extra.”
That she became known at Thomas Jefferson for her demanding style of coaching quickly got the attention of Class AAA opponents who wound up as no matches for the Jaguars during their surprising turnaround that led to their first WPIAL championship and earned Karcher the Daily News' Coach of the Year honors.
TJ improved from three victories in 2013 to 16 in 2014, winning a PIAA first-round game before its season ended with a 2-1 loss to Greensburg Salem in the quarterfinals.
“It really all came together this year for Heidi and the girls,” said Thomas Jefferson athletic director Bill Cherpak, who knows a little himself about winning, having coached the school's highly successful football team to numerous WPIAL playoff appearances.
In 2013, TJ was 11-1 and reached the semifinals.
“I talked to Heidi 2-3 times a day,” Cherpak said. “We exchanged thoughts and talked about a lot of things. She works so hard, even through the summer. It's amazing.”
When Thomas Jefferson was given a 13th seed for the WPIAL playoffs, Cherpak said that Karcher wasn't happy.
“I told her, ‘Heidi, that's why we play the games,' ” Cherpak said. “ ‘Forget the seed. It's who's playing well at that point.' ”
Karcher was walk-on at Penn State, starting her freshman year as a backup catcher and eventually playing the team's final 40-plus games as its starting first baseman.
Because she had taken a dual major in chemistry and physics, Karcher couldn't devote enough time to the athletics and reluctantly dropped off the team.
“I wish I hadn't stopped playing, but I had to. I just wouldn't have been able to spend enough time with my studying if I had kept playing,” she said.
Only a about week removed from her final high school softball game of the season and Karcher already has begun her duties as coach of the Pittsburgh Stealers summer travel team.
Before taking over as coach at Thomas Jefferson, Karcher spent a year at Class AAAA Peters Township, where she led the Indians to a 15-5 record and a trip to the WPIAL semifinals.
But as a chemistry teacher at TJ, it made sense to pursue the Jaguars softball position when it became open following the retirement of longtime coach John “Hoppy” Mitruski.
“I am so thankful for the support I've gotten from Cherp,” Karcher said. “He told me the community is starting to see the softball program as a competitive sport and not something just for participation. Now the community knows these girls are legitimate and put the time in.
“Now everyone knows they can be successful.”
Dave Mackall is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.