The Hegins Valley way
Published: December 19, 2013
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VALLEY VIEW - Rick Kline thought he was going to play cards with some friends.
His daughter, Kate, the rest of the Kline family and the entire Tri-Valley softball family had something else planned.
The little white lie was designed to get Kline to the Hegins Area Ambulance Building around 6:30 Friday evening.
As Kline walked through the door into the banquet room, the 70-some players, assistant coaches and friends who gathered shouted "Surprise!'' stopping a stunned Kline in his tracks.
Never afraid to speak his mind to offer an opinion or observation, Kline said: "I'm not usually at a loss for words,'' drawing a huge laugh from the crowd.
The next two hours featured what was called a "Celebration of Coaching,'' an event to honor Marty Shade and Kline for more than 20 years of coaching softball together at Tri-Valley.
The long-time friends have also given a great deal to the Tri-Valley football program. Shade has been an assistant coach for many years. Kline coached for a few years in the 1980s but may be better known for serving as the public address announcer during Friday night home games the past 10 years.
Kline, 57, has been diagnosed with cancer, and with an uncertain future, the time was now to honor him and Shade for their decades of dedication to Tri-Valley youth.
"I had no clue,'' Kline said. "When I stood there and looked in, I thought the party was for somebody else.
"It's great the way this came off,'' he added. "Like somebody said tonight, this community, these kids I think are the best. We might not win all the championships, but when it comes to stuff like this, helping people out, just working with people ...''
During the softball season, though, everybody's in a hurry.
I'll arrive a half-hour before game time, give a quick hello to Kline and Shade as they pitch batting practice or do infield (Kline) and outfield (Shade) drills, then collect lineup cards. Shade always has his ready and usually hands it to me before I can even ask for it.
After the game, 15 girls head in 15 different directions. There's time for a quick interview or two before heading back to Pottsville to write up that game and help compile the other 8-10 softball contests on an average afternoon.
Meanwhile, Shade and Kline store the equipment away and head home for supper around 7 p.m. after a long day. Just hours later, they'll have to wake up, go to work and start the process all over again.
That's one thing that made Friday night's gathering so special.
Nobody was rushed. Everybody slowed down and sat down to share a spaghetti dinner. They talked, listened to Tri-Valley softball stories and laughed, just enjoying each other's company and connecting on a personal level.
"I really appreciate this evening,'' Shade said. "... We just love coaching kids, and Tri-Valley has such great kids.''
After dinner, three former players - Valerie (Otto) Pennypacker, Mandi (Clark) Lucht and Janie Bressler - shared stories from their playing days, some laugh-out-loud funny, some heartfelt. Many current varsity and junior high players attended the celebration, creating a link from the past to the present and future.
Lucht, now an assistant softball coach with the Dawgs, brought the house down with her speech, which included plenty of gifts.
For example, Shade received a bag of grass seed to plant at their home field because he has a habit of plucking blades of grass out of the field during stressful times in games or when Tri-Valley makes mistakes.
Lucht also told a story of Shade's superstition of one year eating pizza at Nino's before every big game. She gave him a $5 gift certificate to the local restaurant.
Kline, who used to work at Hershey's chocolate in the 1990s, would bring bags of candy to games for the girls. Unfortunately, the sugar high would wear off halfway through the game. To represent the healthier snacks that replaced the chocolate, Lucht gave him a bag of oranges.
She also presented Kline with his own bag of small rocks. He has a habit of pitching them during games, with some of the projectiles hitting Lucht or the bucket she sits on at the side of the backstop while calling pitches.
"Thank you for your dedication to me and all the players who have come through Tri-Valley," Lucht said.
Added Bressler: "Without you coaches pushing me, I wouldn't be where I am today.''
To cap the evening, seniors in the Class of 2014 - Haley Schwalm, Jade Troutman and Katie Rabuck - presented Kline and Shade with framed certificates of appreciation that read in part: "... for outstanding performance, lasting contribution and over 20 years of service to the Tri-Valley High School Softball Association."
Before departing, Shade and Kline posed for pictures with nearly everyone in attendance, creating a few more lasting memories from a memorable night.
The teams that Shade and Kline coach work hard and play hard. They also have fun, teach values and genuinely care about each other.
Friday night's event was another example of how the Tri-Valley community bonds in times of adversity.
In May, Tri-Valley held the "1st Annual TVHS Softball Alumni Game in honor of Kayla Heim" at Hegins Park. Proceeds from the fundraiser were used to help take care of two of their own - Kayla Heim and Chad Richards - who are battling through health issues.
The day concluded with a sit-down dinner, and without complaint, many Tri-Valley girls served plates of food to the senior citizens in attendance. It was a typical Hegins Valley response: Young people showing kindness and respect to older people.
Friday night was another typical Hegins Valley response.
"It's just the way these people are around here,'' Kline said. "We help each other out. Nobody wants to say, 'I don't want to do it.'
"We'll do anything we can to help anybody,'' he added. "To have a great bunch of kids and the parents and stuff, I love it.
"In 10 years, somebody will say, 'Remember Coach Kline? He might not have taught us the best, he might not have taught us the most, but he always wanted us to win. He always taught us values.'
"That's the way I want to be remembered.''
(Lipsky is a staff writer and has covered high school softball for 22 years)