August 28, 2014

Elyria
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Softball: A legend leaving: North Ridgeville’s Norm Frindt retiring after 33 years

North Ridgeville’s Norm Frindt, the dean of Lorain County softball coaches, is retiring at the end of this season, his 33rd. He started the school’s softball program in 1980 at the request of the late Bob DiFranco.

Frindt is one of only three Lorain Countians in the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. The others are former Keystone coach Dave Leffew, now the pitching coach at Ashland University, and Amherst coach Bill Matthews.

Frindt’s Rangers responded to news of his retirement by nailing the West Shore Conference championship Friday with a victory over Vermilion. They lead Avon by two games with one to play, against Midview at home Monday. Win or lose, the Rangers own the title outright.

It was the 466th win of his career. He ranks eighth in the state on the all-time list.

Over the years, Frindt won as many as 10 — perhaps as few as six — conference championships. He doesn’t recall for certain. But he will remember the six senior players on this year’s team for winning the WSC crown in his final season.

“I like the senior bunch I have now,” he said. “We usually have only three or four seniors — maybe. I told my daughters (Elizabeth and Jaime), ‘I like these kids. When they’re done, that’s probably it for me.”

He referred to Toni Klammer, Kendra Moore, Kailey Demarco, Jenna Yost, Katelyn Mohler and Brittany Helmink.

In assessing Frindt as a coach, Moore said it perhaps as well as anyone.

“He told us before every game to never stop believing in ourselves,” she said.

“He always had faith in us, even if we didn’t have it in ourselves. He always had our backs.”

But other players and one memorable season remain indelible in his mind.

For instance: “I had a catcher in the ’80s, Lynn Phillips,” he said. “She hit about 10 home runs one year back when there weren’t a lot of fences. But we went over to Keystone and she hit one of the longest home runs I have ever seen. Dave Leffew was like, ‘Wow. What was that?’ It was unbelievable.”

Also, Dawn Bier hit a homer at Elyria one day “that, honestly, was in orbit,” Frindt said. “It had to have gone 300 feet. You couldn’t hit it better than that.”

And Laura Dragan Baker, who shared Miss Softball honors in 1996 and is Ridgeville’s JV coach, “was one of the first players I ever saw go from first to third on a bunt. It was like, pffffft! I didn’t tell her to do it. She was gone,” he said.

The memorable season was 2003, when the Rangers won the Division I district crown in Lakewood by knocking off two top-10 teams in back-to-back upsets — Amherst and defending state champion Elyria. The regional semifinal marked the furthest a Ridgeville team ever advanced in the postseason.

“Those kids,” he said. “They were tough kids and they were great games. Those were the kinds of games when you’re a coach that you just sort of lean back and think, ‘Hey, this is great.’ You’re not making a lot of decisions because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Frindt, who grew up in Avon Lake, played a year of college baseball at Milton College in Wisconsin, then transferred to Central College in Iowa, where he played for three seasons.

He knew he wanted to teach and coach, so when he graduated from Central, he returned to Ohio and earned the few credits he needed for an Ohio teaching certificate at Bowling Green.

He joined the faculty at the former Elyria West High for the final eight months in 1978. Then Ridgeville called and he was assigned to the junior high school, where he remained until 1992. That year, he moved to the high school.

“I started the softball program in the 1979-80 school year, but I didn’t know much of anything about it,” Frindt said. “I was a baseball player and I’d played slowpitch softball, so for me it was a different way of doing things, to say the least.”

Frindt entered this season with a career record of 449-306. After Friday’s win, the record is 466-311. Over the years, Frindt became active in the state coaches association and so did his close friend, Amherst’s Matthews.

“Before the season started, Bill goes, ‘We got a great ring we give out for 500 wins,’” Frindt said. “I said, ‘Come on, Bill. I just can’t do this by myself anymore.’ There’s just no way. They won’t give me a paid assistant. I said, ‘I can’t. I’m just worn out.’”

An unpaid assistant is his younger daughter, Jaime. She and her sister Elizabeth both played for their dad.

“First of all, he’s an amazing dad,” Jaime said Friday. “He coached me in softball, and when I was a freshman and sophomore, I got to play with my sister. He coached me when I played JV basketball. And he was my teacher. I had him in (history) class when I was a sophomore.

“He’s taught me everything I know. He’s an amazing person, an amazing guy and an amazing coach.”

Frindt and his wife, Donna, live in North Ridgeville.

Contact Bob Daniels at 329-7135 or softball@bobdaniels.info.