WHERE ARE THEY NOW? October 2008
Veroni Was Instrumental in Early Days of Association
By Lacy Lee Baker
Shaped by her own days as a player, former NFCA president Kathy Veroni always put her student-athletes first ... all the while fighting for them and her profession.
How did you get involved in the sport?
My neighbors in Rockford, Illinois, lived in a brick house, so I would throw the ball against the bricks over and over again. I would go to the park every night, and the boys were playing baseball. I would ask if I could play, and eventually, I became the “all-time catcher,” with no chest protector and no mask. I never got to bat, but I was in the game. My parents supported my love of the sport. In fact, my mother had played for a softball industrial league in 1943.
Later on, the park district was really on the cutting edge, and it sponsored softball teams for 14- to 16- year olds. We would travel around the city and play. Then, at 16, I was able to play for a travel team called the Rockford Comets. After that, I had the privilege of playing with an ASA women’s premier team – the Pekin-Lettes – for seven years.
Didn't ASA legendary coach Chuck McCord coach the Pekin-Lettes?
Yes, and he was very instrumental in teaching me the game. I also was fortunate to student teach under Lorene Ramsey, an outstanding coach at Pekin High School and Illinois Central, and a member of the NJCAA, NFCA and ASA Halls of Fame.
So, you had excellent mentors, and got into collegiate coaching after that?
I was hired by Western Illinois in 1971 to teach seven classes, be the head softball coach and the assistant coach for basketball and field hockey. I was still playing for the Pekin-Lettes in the summer, and at that time, it was at the highest level of competition for women’s fastpitch. When we played the Japanese, more than 10,000 fans came to our game.
We had the best the sport could offer, and what my college team had paled in comparison. This was before Title IX, and it was like comparing an intramural team to a professional team. I wanted my student-athletes to experience the sport at the same level that I was experiencing, so I decided to form my own ASA team, the Macomb Magic, made up of my college players. I asked six friends to donate $100 each so we could buy uniforms, and bats and balls. We also fundraised by cleaning city hall at night and holding softball clinics. I also used a lot of my personal money. The team lasted for seven years, and six of the players competed for all seven years.
You joined the NFCA relatively early in its development (1987). What were the big issues facing coaches at that time?
It really was a great way for the college coaches to come together to talk about the issues facing us. It was more than 10 years since the passage of Title IX, and we still needed to upgrade our facilities, and have more dollars for the student-athlete in terms of scholarships and operating budgets. We also needed to increase our own salaries and have money to hire assistant coaches. The association afforded us the opportunity to have many voices speaking the same message.
It was all about the need to better our student-athletes’ experience in the sport through us. The coach was the vehicle of change, and many of us had experienced competition at a very high level on those ASA teams. Our coaches gave us that gift. The NFCA gave us a platform for sharing so we could give that gift to our own athletes.
We used to hear from some coaches that we had too many meetings at our convention, but they were necessary to move the sport forward.
How do you think the sport has progressed?
We’ve made tremendous strides, but we are still far behind men’s sports. Even today, you can’t go to a school and see a softball field that is better than a baseball field. There’s still no comparison in coaches’ salaries in the two sports. And, there’s still very few opportunities for the female student-athlete to continue her playing career. It’s sad to see a 22-year-old player have to leave the game at the peak of her athletic excellence.
I’m worried about travel ball as it is today. The kids play too many games, and it’s too hard on them physically. I do like the fact that the players have coaches who are willing to coach and travel with them, but I think more time should be spent on learning the funda- mentals and less time competing in five games in one day, for instance.
I am also very, very proud of what the NFCA has accomplished in its 25 years. I think the hiring of full-time executive directors had the greatest impact on the association, and I give credit to Rayla Allison and you for moving the association forward.
Thank you, Kathy; that really means a lot coming from you. And, by the way, I have another question about you as a coach: what did you go for – power or speed?
As a player, I may have invented the slap since I never got the ball out of the infield. I had an .800 batting average one year. So, as a coach, I leaned toward recruiting more home run hitters because I never was one.
You coached for 34 years. What words of wisdom can you share with younger coaches?
• It’s all about execution, whether it be offense or defense. I believed in the teaching of fundamentals and polishing where needed.
• In sport, many things are contagious... winning, good attitude, class. I would try to nurture those things.
• I would never yell at a player in public. When you see a coach raise his or her voice, that's not coaching. You should treat others the way you would want to be treated.
• I am the person today because of all the mentors I had. Coaches sometimes have to be parents and exhibit high morals and values. The student-athlete is not going to be fielding ground balls for the rest of her life.
• I do a lot of gardening, and I even have the title “Master Gardener.” Coaching is a lot like gardening since the coach has a watering can and can sprinkle “hope” just like the gardener sprinkles the water. Then, you can just sit back and enjoy watching your players grow and develop.
Now that you’ve retired from coaching, what takes up your time?
I am perfecting my golf skills and spend- ing more time with family and friends. I still live in Macomb but travel often, and I also enjoy camping, carpentry and making videos. I recently produced one on a friend who had passed away and another for a 50th wedding anniversary.
Right now, I’m sitting out at a campfire, and we just took the brats off the grill. There’s a bright blue sky, and sweater weather is upon us in mid-Illinois. Life is good.