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Ice hockey coach ranked passion above skill

| Monday, Aug. 17, 2009

Although Jim Damp chose journalism as his profession, coaching high school ice hockey teams was his passion.

"That was his life's calling," said Beth Damp, his wife. "The number of young men whose lives he has changed is mind boggling."

James R. Damp Jr. of Penn Hills died Friday, Aug. 14, 2009, after suffering cardiac arrest. He was 50.

Mr. Damp collapsed during a Fox Chapel Varsity Ice Hockey team training session.

"He passed doing something he loved," said his son, Patrick Damp.

Mr. Damp graduated from Penn Hills High School in 1976. He played defense on the school's hockey team and subsequently developed a lifelong love for the sport, his son said.

Mr. Damp earned a bachelor's degree in journalism from Point Park University and went on to sports writing and editing jobs for publications including the Pittsburgh Penguins Report, Gateway Newspapers and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Most recently, Mr. Damp worked as a technical writer for the Pennsylvania Association of Notaries. Previously, he was communications director for the Builders Association of Metropolitan Pittsburgh.

Beth Damp met her husband through mutual friends while Mr. Damp played softball for an adult league. The couple were married in 1987.

While pursuing writing as a profession, Mr. Damp continued to play hockey and eventually became coach of the Allegheny Badgers, an ice hockey team of local high school players. Mr. Damp coached the Badgers for about a dozen years, including the time his son played for the team.

Mr. Damp was an avid golfer but admitted he wasn't great at the sport, his son said.

"He instilled in me that it's not about how good you are at something, it's how much you enjoy it and what your passion is for it," Patrick Damp said.

Joe Rodella, Mr. Damp's childhood friend and fellow coach, said he cherishes the recent times the two spent together.

Rodella, a Penn Hills native who lives in Mt. Lebanon, said the two recently coached an all-star ice hockey team of 17- to 19-year-olds that won a state championship. The two recently won a golf tournament in York.

"He was a brother," Rodella said. "He was one of those friends who if you didn't see him for five months it was like five minutes (when we saw each other again)."

Rodella praised Mr. Damp's coaching abilities.

"He once told me that players don't care how you coach until they know you care," Rodella said. "He cared deeply about his players, family and friends. He was a great husband and father."

Patrick Damp plans to follow in his father's footsteps and pursue a career in journalism. He will attend Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the fall and hopes to work in radio or television.

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include a daughter, Sarah, of Penn Hills; his parents, James R. Sr. and Helen Damp of Penn Hills; two brothers, Dennis of Center Township and Michael Damp of Penn Hills; a sister, Amy Leitgeb of Indianapolis; and nine nieces and nephews.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and Tuesday at William F. Gross Funeral Home, 11735 Frankstown Road, Penn Hills. Funeral prayers will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the funeral home, followed by a Mass of Christian Burial at 10 a.m. at St. Susanna Parish, 200 Stotler Road, Penn Hills.

The family asks that memorials be in the form of contributions to benefit the Damp children payable to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, c/o of William F. Gross Funeral Home Ltd., 11735 Frankstown Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15235.

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