HomeHome Page FeaturedAfter building dynasty, Kidwell retires from Ryan softball

After building dynasty, Kidwell retires from Ryan softball

John Kidwell helped Ryan win five PCL championships. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

John Kidwell wasn’t a softball player growing up. Baseball, either. 

When he was a student at Archbishop Ryan High School, he wasn’t involved in the game at all. But when he was a little older, his two sisters became softball stars. And he wanted to help them all he could, so he started coaching.

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“My sister Michele played a little, she went to Nazareth, but she didn’t play in high school,” said Kidwell, who graduated in 1989. “Karen went to Ryan, she was a really good player, she played at Ryan. She was a tournament softball player. She graduated in 1996. I was coaching her before and I wanted to coach her in high school, so that’s really how I got involved.”

And he’s been doing it ever since. Until now.

Kidwell, who has been a softball coach for 32 years at Archbishop Ryan, has decided to call it a career. 

This year, when he guided the Ragdolls to a first-place finish in the Catholic League during the regular season, and another appearance in the Catholic League championship game, was his final one.

“Funny story, I started out as the JV coach, I got the job when Andy (Hafele) went to La Salle University to coach their softball team,” Kidwell said. “I took his spot as the JV coach, then he came back to Ryan and we were together forever.”

Kidwell cut his teeth on the varsity level with Hafele and the two had a lot of success together, including a championship in 1995. 

He took over as head coach a decade ago and has guided the Ragdolls to five Catholic League championships.

He also took the team to the PIAA state quarterfinals four times.

“I was very lucky to work with Andy,” Kidwell said. “We were together forever. I was helping him, making the lineup. Even when he was doing fine, he gave me a lot of responsibility. And he helped me a lot.”

Kidwell didn’t grow Ryan into a respectable program, he grew it into a dynasty. The Ragdolls have made the PCL semifinals every year under Kidwell’s head coaching leadership, and every year, the Ragdolls were a serious contender.

But that’s not what Kidwell is most proud about.

“What we’ve done, it’s great,” Kidwell said. “I consider us one of the best programs in the Catholic League. We all built this together and to see what our parents do and kids do. The whole Ryan softball experience has been amazing. It’s an event, a lot of people at games and softball. A Ryan softball game is a huge event. 

“It’s everything. The program has everything. Great fields. Great facilities. The school is great. The kids are great. The parents are a huge part of it. The entire school gets behind it. And the girls are great.

“And we stressed, we were always like, ‘If you want to play softball and do well in the spring, you have to have good grades.’ It wasn’t just me, it was the school, but the players all cared about school and academics and our program. They were competitive on the field and just as competitive in the classroom. They’re up until 1 a.m. doing papers. They were super-competitive kids who were really good at softball.”

That’s why it’s been hard for Kidwell to step away.

But he knows it’s time.

A huge part of it is being around more.

When you coach high school sports, you’re giving up a lot of free time. And when your team routinely plays into June, it takes up more time.

Ryan also played a lot of games under the lights to make it more of an event. It’s better for the kids and school, but that means being at the field until 15 hours after your alarm went off in the morning.

“My wife has been with me the whole time, even when we were dating, she was understanding,” Kidwell said. “We’re married for 26 years. She’s supported me the whole time. She knew in the spring I was going to be around. I’d be at the field at 12 p.m., watch the JV at 4, our game was 6:30. A lot of days, we’d just text.

“My sons were all involved in sports, in the spring, it was on my wife to make sure they got there and everything. I really considered not coaching this year, but my son (Matt) said you have to go back one more year, give it one more shot. I had to listen to him. I’m so glad he did, because I had such a great year with everyone.”

Kidwell told Ryan athletic director Joe Zeglinski that he will always be there if the Ragdolls need him. And he’ll always be a huge supporter of Ryan softball.

“You know what, I think Andy would be proud of what we did,” Kidwell said. “He would be proud of everything, all the success and to know he was part of it and built it. I took it from him and just went with it. 

“I hope the person who comes in does the same thing. I love the Ryan softball program, I’ll always love it. I’ll see someone coaching third base next year and it won’t make sense to me. But now is the best time for me (to step away), and they’re going to be very good. But Ryan will always be very special to me.”

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