For players on the Hun School softball team, earning the squad’s “Iron Woman” award is a coveted honor.
“It is for commitment; you get it if you don’t miss a practice and you are ready to play in every game,” said Hun head coach Kathy Quirk, explaining the award.
“On this year’s team out of 12 girls, seven got it. I strive to make kids feel that softball is important to them.”
Quirk herself qualifies as an iron lady, having just finished her 39th spring guiding the Hun softball program. In recognition of her longevity and a run of success that has seen the Raiders win 10 state Prep titles in her tenure, Quirk was recently inducted into the Trenton Softball Hall of Fame in the women’s coaching division.
In reflecting on the honor, Quirk, 63, wasn’t expecting it to come her way.
“I was caught off guard, I said you have to be kidding me,” said Quirk. “There are so many qualified coaches in the area and they are just as deserving so it was kind of a shock. It is very well appreciated.”
It was a high school coach that put Quirk on the path to her Hall of Fame career.
“I was influenced to get into coaching by my field hockey coach, Mary Anne Morgan, she was this young, dynamic coach,” said Quirk, a native of Runnymede, N.J. who went to Sterling High.
“I remember we went to camp and she stood on the table and she was dancing to the Supremes. She had such a positive influence on me.”
Quirk starred in field hockey, softball and basketball at Sterling and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 1997.
Applying to Trenton State (now The College of New Jersey) against her father’s wishes, who wanted her to stay home and go to Glassboro State (now Rowan University), Quirk was accepted and came to Mercer County to continue her athletics career and pursue her goal of teaching and coaching.
“When I went to Trenton State I played all three sports up until my senior year,” said Quirk, who was named the school’s top female athlete in her sophomore year.
“My junior year I went abroad and played field hockey over in England and then came back in January so I didn’t play basketball; I just played softball. In my senior year, I just played field hockey and softball.”
After graduating from Trenton State in 1973, Quirk stayed in the area as she found a home at the Hun School.
“I graduated from Trenton State and Hun was looking for a field hockey coach,” said Quirk.
“I remember taking the bus and walking up and coming down here. I can remember what I actually wore that day. It is crazy. By the time I left, they hired me as a health and Phys. Ed. teacher and I was going to coach field hockey, basketball, and softball for $5,500 a year.”
Just months out of college, Quirk had to be a quick study as she plunged into coaching.
“It was tough because you are not much older than the kids you are coaching,” said Quirk
“I think I was 22 and the school had just taken girls the year before or two years before and some of them were 17, 18. It was a challenge.”
Quirk faced a challenge in making the fledging Hun softball program competitive.
“It was more of a rec type program, more of a JV program, they were still building,” said Quirk.
“We didn’t have the equipment and facilities. I think it was just a gradual thing. We were playing on a grass field and my parents one weekend helped us skin the infield down there. We took wheel barrows and brought it all out; we took the dirt in. At that time, you didn’t have a big budget.”
By the 1990s, Hun was a big-time power in New Jersey prep softball circles. “In 1997, 1998, 1999 we won three in a row, which was really great,” said Quirk, whose office in the school’s Athletic Center has framed photos of each of those teams on the wall with other championships squads. “They were a good bunch of kids, they worked hard.”
Hard work and tenacity are two of the main cornerstones of Quirk’s coaching approach.
“I am a believer in fundamentals and drills,” said Quirk, who was inducted into the Hun School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001.
“I tell them that it is not always the most talented people that win but it is those who have the desire to win. You get that from constant repetition and constant drilling. I am not a screamer and a yeller. I think I prepare them enough that when they step on the field, they are ready to play the game.”
Getting Hun ready to play has been a family affair as Quirk’s husband, Bill, is her longtime assistant, and youngest son, Patrick, has helped out as well.
“We all bring something different to the table,” said Quirk, who guided the raiders to a 9-8 record this spring and an appearance in the state Prep A semifinals. “Pat worked with the infield, I work with the outfielders, Bill works with the batters so we all have our own role. It has been a family type thing.”
Over the years, Quirk’s former players have started to feel like family. “We had an alumni weekend; it was a little crazy, I am trying to coach a game and they are walking on the field to say hello,” said Quirk.
“Some of them have told me I have gotten a little soft in my years. I still hear from players. Aly Klemmer ’10 is coming back today to have lunch with me. I am not their best friend but I think they respect me and know what is expected and I think they appreciate that when it’s all done and all over.”
Quirk has appreciated getting the opportunity to coach for so many years. “I just think that coaching is very special; you form a bond with these girls,” asserted Quirk.
“There are days when they are having a bad day and I have to look past that. I always tell them when you walk into that team room and you walk down to that field, I want two hours of your time and I think they have learned to do that. I think they have learned to grow. I just watch my players, like I watched Kristen Manochio this year who we brought out of center field and to third base and by the end of the season you saw something shine in her eyes when she made a good play. It was not easy for her but as we told her, we believe in you and if we believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. I try to instill that about believing in themselves.”
In the final analysis, Quirk tries to instill life lessons that resonate long after high school.
“I am very competitive but there is more to the game than winning,” said Quirk.
“It is about building character and learning how to work with each other and learning how to be a teammate. It is learning how the game goes and being able to take the losses with the wins.”