Q & A with two-sport coach Sandi Kitchen

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Sandi Kitchen has spent her entire professional career coaching, mentoring and empowering young women. She is one of a small group of Kentucky head coaches who coach two different sports at two different high schools with enduring success, amassing nearly 700 coaching wins.

Kitchen has been the volleyball coach at Villa Madonna for 30 years. She has won 455 games and captured six straight Northern Kentucky Athletic Conference small-school championships. Villa Madonna finished 22-7 last season. Kitchen was the 2022 Ninth Region coach of the year. She has more than 500 career volleyball victories overall.

Kitchen has been the Campbell County softball coach for 12 years, compiling more than 165 wins and five straight 37th District titles heading into 2023. The Camels had won 25 district games in a row as of Tuesday. They won nine of their first 12 games this season while averaging 12 runs per game.

I caught up with coach Kitchen in a recent conversation. This is what she had to say.

Question: You’ve had a unique athletic, coaching and teaching career. Trace that journey after you graduated from Campbell County High School.

Answer: I played slow-pitch softball and volleyball for Northern Kentucky University. My senior year, I played basketball also. I started coaching volleyball as a head coach at McNicholas High School in Ohio. I also coached basketball at Newport Central Catholic for four years. I left McNick and went to Villa Madonna in 1993 and have been coaching volleyball at Villa ever since. I started coaching at Campbell County as the assistant slow-pitch softball coach in 2009. There was both fast-pitch and slow-pitch at the time. In 2011, I took over as head coach. I work part-time as a physical education teacher for the Diocese of Covington and I teach at St. Philip in Melbourne, Kentucky, and at Sts. Peter and Paul in California, Kentucky. I have taught in the diocese for 39 years.

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Q: Who were the key people that helped you appreciate the value of coaching?

A: My dad was a youth baseball coach. I remember a plaque that hung in our living room that read: “In appreciation of coach Tony Woeste.” All the players names were on it. It impressed me. Margi McKenna at Campbell County was my coach in three sports: volleyball, basketball and softball. She also was the P.E. teacher. I always thought what a great job to be able to do something I absolutely enjoyed. Jane Meier at NKU also coached me in three sports. Jane was so particular about breaking down each skill.

Q: What do you have more of at home, softballs or volleyballs?

A: Definitely more softballs.

Q: You were present during the transition from slow-pitch to fast-pitch in Kentucky. What was that like, and was there anything lost with the disappearance of slow-pitch?

A: When teams were transitioning, I felt as though slow-pitch was thought of as the lesser sport. There was some dissension between those who played fast and those who were very successful slow-pitch players. Even today, some slow-pitch records and championships aren’t listed in record books. The slow-pitch leagues that were all over northern Kentucky are virtually gone. Adult softball leagues are hard to find unless they’re co-ed. Slow-pitch was once a great activity for all ages.

Kitchen has amassed over 500 wins as Villa Madonna’s volleyball coach. Photo provided

Q: What are some of the biggest differences in the high school fast-pitch game since you first started coaching?

A: Without a doubt, the pitching is so much better, faster for sure. I went to a clinic when my oldest daughter was starting fast-pitch to be able to instruct her on the basics of pitching. Today, that style of pitching is outdated so I have found a guy in New York who teaches clinics and has a style that most pitchers use, and it is very effective. Hitting is more about power than finesse. My husband (Bob Kitchen) is our assistant coach and hitting instructor and is constantly learning and breaking down the skill. I could not do this without him. Our girls are grown and this is time together with something we both love doing.

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Q: There are many successful male high school softball head coaches, but a female coach is uniquely suited to help a young female player in her life’s journey. There are four female softball coaches among the 16 teams in the 10th Region. What are your thoughts about that.

A: I enjoy coaching, and being one of the four female coaches is to be expected because I think most coaches are former baseball players, so it is an easy transition for them to coach fast-pitch softball. I know a lot of my players play for male coaches with their travel ball teams so they are the ones that have to compare.

Q: Are there any unresolved issues at the prep level for fast-pitch?

A: For safety, I think they should move the pitching mound back to 46 feet from 43. It would make the game safer and create more offense. There is a reason that the girls are required to wear masks. The speed of the ball off the bat is always on your mind, especially if your daughter is a pitcher.

Q: Are there any unsung heroes in Campbell County softball history who don’t get talked about enough.

A: Actually, this Wednesday (April 19) we are honoring Coach Margi McKenna who started the first slow-pitch softball team at Campbell County. She also coached the first regional championship team in 1978. Many of the members of that team will be in attendance.

Q: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you or your softball team?

A: We played in many softball tournaments but one time it had rained in a national tournament, and we had to finish. Rather than cancel it, first they tried to dry the field with a helicopter. The blades were supposed to fan off the water. Next, they poured gasoline on it and lit it on fire. We played but the smell of gasoline was horrible.

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Q: Few people would coach two varsity sports at two different schools without a love for what they are doing. What is it that you’re getting out of this that keeps you going at such a pace.

A: I’m a very competitive person. I feel like it allows me to give back to the girls and the community. Also, there are a lot of life lessons you can teach, such as dedication, confidence, pushing themselves, reaching their goals and working together. Coaching at two schools definitely provides a variety of athletes and people that I get to work with. Coaching at Campbell County allows me to be at home and give back to the school that I graduated from.

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