Gorman: A Hall of Fame journey
They called it their Championship Journey, a pursuit of perfection that Paul Hindes instilled in his Baldwin teams.
From 1987-91, they won five WPIAL championships — three in softball, two in volleyball — a pair of PIAA volleyball titles and twice were state runners-up in softball.
The unquestioned leader of those teams was Kelly Kovach Schoenly, who went on to become a star pitcher at Michigan, the softball coach at Miami (Ohio) and, Friday night, an inductee into the WPIAL Hall of Fame.
“A lot of it is being perfect — not just excellent — and saying it,” she said. “When you say it, then you have to work to do it. It's important that you win. If it doesn't hurt that you lost or failed, later in life you're going to say the same thing.”
Kovach Schoenly speaks from experience. She has won, and she has lost. She has succeeded, and she has failed. But for all of her accolades and accomplishments, overcoming the greatest loss of her life has been her biggest victory.
I know this because we graduated together from Baldwin in the Class of 1991. Kelly came from an athletic family with a cutthroat competitive streak, arriving with not only a reputation but also an inner belief that she could be the best.
“I wanted to be the next whoever at Baldwin,” she said. “I wanted to be special.”
And she was, playing volleyball and starting on the basketball and softball teams as a freshman. Then, on Sept. 1, 1988, at the start of her sophomore year, her brother, Mike, was killed in a drinking-and-driving accident. His death left Kelly devastated, but none of her classmates or teammates knew how so because she didn't talk about it.
“Sports became an outlet in my life so I didn't have time to stop and think about how sad and depressed I was,” Kovach Schoenly said. “I really think I made a huge mistake trying to cover it up. You do need to deal with it. You can't hide behind it. You have to face it.”
Mike and Georgia Kovach adopted a different attitude toward Kelly's career, providing their daughter with unwavering support.
“They were just there to love me,” she said.
There was a lot to love. Kelly was a high honors student, a standout outside hitter on a dominant volleyball team that went 51-0 in '89 and the star pitcher on the WPIAL champion softball teams.
Mike Kovach never saw his sister pitch, but she always felt his presence. Kelly pitched every inning of every game, including all 17 in a 1-0 loss in the PIAA final her sophomore year. She doesn't know which haunts her more, that game or walking in the winning run with the bases loaded in the PIAA final the following year.
“That,” she says, “was awful.”
What doesn't break you makes you stronger, and Kovach Schoenly went on to become a two-time Academic All-American, a record-setting pitcher who led Michigan to its first Big Ten championshipand College World Series appearance.
“It's amazing that athletes are able to deal with a tragedy and still have the ability to focus,” said Hindes, a WPIAL Hall of Fame inductee in 2010. “There's no question it had a tremendous impact on her and the family. At the same time, it wasn't a barrier to accomplish great things.”
It was all part of her Hall of Fame Journey, one that carried Kelly Kovach Schoenly to championships at Baldwin and beyond. It wasn't perfect, but not for the lack of trying.
Now, more than ever, she's not afraid to say so.
Kevin Gorman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-320-7812.