By Joe Gilloway
A proper exit in some situations requires more than just some hugs and a walk into the sunset. And when the situation you contemplate leaving has been extremely gratifying and enriching, it usually first requires a good bit of reflection, introspection, and the ability to trust your gut.
But when Central Dauphin head softball coach Kenny Williams made the decision to step aside after his team’s 2019 season, he really couldn’t lose. Stay, and he gets to remain at the helm of a group of young, talented, and very committed ballplayers who would run through a wall for him. Retire, and he transitions into the life of full-time family man. Kind of win-win for the skipper.
And he’s done enough in green and white to feel satisfied with closing the door. Twenty-nine years in the Rams dugout, ten as a head coach. A 172-59 career record and heading into the Round-of-Eight (teams remaining) of the PIAA class 6A state championship tournament as of this writing. And five, count ‘em, five coveted District-3 big-school titles over the past nine seasons. He leaves on top, and bequeaths a program which is healthier than at any other point in the school’s history.
I recently reached out to Coach Williams with questions that I, myself, really wanted to unearth some answers to, and he graciously obliged with some thoughtful and candid responses. You’ll find our exchange below the photo. Enjoy. I know I did.
Coach Kenny Williams (third from right) and his family. Photo was taken in 2016.
LG SPORTS: Did you set any goals at the beginning of your last season, even if they were just in your own mind?
COACH WILLIAMS: My goals as head coach each year are embedded in our softball program’s Mission and Vision Statements. One of the first things I did as the new head coach was to establish mission and vision statements for [the Central Dauphin] softball program. (See these statements, which Coach Williams shared with me, at the end of the interview.)
Each March, after we separate the teams into varsity and JV, we give the girls an index card for them to write down their individual softball goals for the season. They do not share their goals with anyone. They keep them in their equipment bags and refer to them occasionally.
After completing their individual goals, the team brainstorms a list of team goals, and I make several copies of the list to be posted in their locker room and viewed every day. Here are the team goals …1) Pick each other up when down. 2) Win Mid-Penn Commonwealth division and conference titles. 3) Win District-3, again. 4) Win states. 5) Be a hard-working team, on and off the field. 6) Display positive energy, both players and coaches. 7) Win with pride and lose with integrity.
LG SPORTS: To what do you attribute the level of maturity and preparedness for big moments displayed by the freshmen and sophomores on this year’s team?
COACH WILLIAMS: We teach our young players that softball is a very challenging sport – SOFTBALL IS FAILURE – but that doesn’t mean they can’t be up to the challenge. We help them to treat mistakes and errors as opportunities to adjust, learn, and then move on. Learning how to adjust to failure in a healthy way is hugely important to mentally having the strength to manage the frustrations that come with softball.
We talk as a team about our previous game … what we did well and what we can improve on. We believe that every key mistake we made during the course of the regular season was necessary in order for us to improve and be prepared for the playoffs.
LG SPORTS: What has it been like to spend the past four years coaching a player like Sam Gress at the high school level?
COACH WILLIAMS: I’ve known Samantha and her family since she was nine years old. She came to our Central Dauphin pitching clinics and developed excellent pitching mechanics at a very young age. Her father, Mike, fostered those skills, and is one of the main reasons Samantha is the dominating pitcher she is.
As a coach, I couldn’t wait to get her on the team. Her freshman year was a year of adjustments, both offensively and defensively. Her sophomore and junior years were plagued with injuries. As a healthy senior, we’re getting to see her full potential.
And finally, Samantha has an undeniable passion for the game, for competition, and for her teammates. She treats all teammates with respect, and recognizes the contributions made by each one. She embodies everything a coach wants from a player.
LG SPORTS: Looking back just a few years ago, and knowing your retirement would be coming sometime soon, did you ever imagine you may have the opportunity to close out your career with back-to-back District-3 titles?
COACH WILLIAMS: Yes, and I actually believe that with a healthy Samantha Gress we could have won districts in 2016 and 2017 as well.
LG SPORTS: What will you miss most about having the opportunity to lead a program as rich in tradition and success as Central Dauphin’s?
COACH WILLIAMS: I will miss my relationships with the players. I take pride in guiding them through their high school softball experience. In just knowing that I played a small part in shaping a young girl into a confident, self-approving, ambitious, hard-working, and balanced young woman/Lady Ram.
LG SPORTS: No matter who takes your place at the helm of the Central Dauphin softball program, what is the one piece of advice you’d give him or her before anything else?
COACH WILLIAMS: My advice to my successor is that it’s the coach’s job to point out errors, give corrections, discipline lack of effort, and be demanding. But coaches can be demanding without resorting to ridicule or humiliation. You must possess the courage to evaluate and adjust your coaching style in order to best meet the needs of your players and team each year.
CENTRAL DAUPHIN SOFTBALL MISSION STATEMENT: To provide Central Dauphin softball players with the best chance of realizing their athletic potential, while at the same time helping them continue their development into mature and responsible adults.
CENTRAL DAUPHIN SOFTBALL VISION STATEMENT: To become a softball program that consistently competes for state championships and graduates athletes who look beyond the softball field to find importance in other aspects of life, such as academics, community outreach, and personal development.