Centre alum coaches high school to first state softball championship
June 23, 2011 By Elizabeth Trollinger
County-Scottsboro Lady Patriots to a 3-2 victory over Ballard
County in the State Softball Tournament.
Roberts (above left, with Walter Kimball '75 at the Reid-Cotton
House) played intramural fast-pitch softball at Centre with
independent teams like the Beatty Bunch and the Boll Weevils.
Rick Roberts ’75 ran track and played basketball and intramural fast-pitch softball as a Centre student, but he most recently found sports success as a coach.
Roberts led the Allen County-Scottsville Lady Patriots to a 3-2 victory over Ballard County at the Kentucky state softball tournament on June 11. The title comes as the first state championship in any team sport for the high school, which was formed in 1974 by a merger of the city and county schools.
Top-seeded Ballard had not lost to any Kentucky softball team this season before falling to Roberts’ team, which ended the season with a 17-game winning streak.
“Our softball team finished with a 41-4-1 record,” Roberts says. “That’s the most wins of any team in Kentucky fast-pitch history.”
Although this is Allen County-Scottsville’s first team state championship, Roberts is no stranger to success at the state level. He coached Chris Young, one of ACSHS’s three individual state champs, to the AA Cross Country title in 2000.
Roberts’ interest in sports dates back to his time as a Centre student, though he claims to have not been good at anything but fast-pitch softball, which was popular at Centre in the early 1970s as an intramural sport.
“We played behind Boles Natatorium, a very short right field. Women played slow-pitch softball where the soccer field is now. I had learned to pitch fast-pitch when I was young, playing on teams in rural Ohio. When I arrived at Centre, some of the Phi Delts found out that I could pitch and invited me to play on their team that spring—even though I was not a Phi Delt,” Roberts says.
“After my freshman year I played on independent teams: The Beatty Bunch from Beatty House [on Beatty Avenue near where the Sigma Alpha Epsilon House stands today], Iron Balls Unlimited and the Boll Weevils from Cotton House [on Maple Avenue],” he continues. “Our goal was to beat the fraternity teams often and by as many runs as possible. Usually we were successful."
Those teams included classmates Dr. Rob Kingsolver ’75, now the dean at Bellarmine, and Dr. Walter Kimball ’75, an education professor at the University of Southern Maine.
Roberts attributes his coaching success to learning by example from his own coaches about the most effective ways to teach players.
“Dr. Heitzenrater was my favorite coach at Centre. He was serious but always even-tempered. He always talked with you to lead you to a solution rather than to tell you what he thought you should do,” Roberts says. “I have tried to be the same kind of coach during my career.”
Besides family members who are also Centre alums (including his wife of 35 years, Sue Neal Conner Roberts ’75, whom he “first noticed in History of Christian Thought taught by Dr. Mount”), Roberts has other Centre connections. He coached Emily Meador ’13 at ACSHS to a fourth-place finish at the state softball tournament in 2009.
For Roberts, coaching his team to a state championship is more significant than winning a trophy.
“We're a small rural school. I've enjoyed giving students the opportunity to achieve in sports at a high level,” he says. “I'm just so happy that our players and our community could have the experience of winning a state championship. They'll remember it forever.”
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Forbes magazine ranks Centre 24th among all the nation's colleges and universities and has named Centre No. 1 among all institutions of higher education in the South for two years in a row. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, click here.