Army Softball Coach DePolo Spent Her Life Preparing

The following article appeared in the Times-Herald Record on May 13, 2010, and was written by Ken McMillan.

When Army softball coach Michelle DePolo was a kid, she'd head off with her older brothers and her father to Shea Stadium or some other field where a baseball or softball game was being played and talk strategy.

Do you send the runner?

Should you pitch out?

Is this a good time to pinch-hit?

"We would challenge one another ... or yell at one another,'' DePolo said with a laugh. "I remember my dad and I were watching Arizona once on TV. My dad said, 'I wouldn't have done that.' I looked at him and said, 'You're arguing with the best coach in the world, you know that?'"

That's when the chat would become a bit defensive.

"I just said I wouldn't have done that,'' Rudy DePolo said.

"You've got some nerve, dad,'' his daughter replied.

All the while, Michelle DePolo was becoming a coach, even if she didn't realize it.

"There were times when I was in high school,'' she said, "and I would just be playing and wonder to myself, 'There's nothing I can do right now. I am not up at bat, but if I was the coach and this was the situation, what would I do?' It's not my place to tell anyone else how to coach their team, but I would keep it in my mind.''

When she was in college at Georgian Court, DePolo had plenty of reading to do as an English major, but in her spare time she would read coaching books — sort of like trading John Steinbeck for John Wooden.

Her softball team went to NAIA nationals three times, but didn't go very far in the tournament. While the rest of her teammates spent the remainder of their time at the shopping mall or by the pool, DePolo asked her coach to drop her off at the tournament site. For two days, DePolo would travel from field to field, watching, studying and playing coaching games in her head. She'd talk to total strangers, usually parents of the young women participating — DePolo was already honing her recruiting skills, and didn't even realize it.

"I was mad that I wasn't allowed to stay for the finals,'' DePolo said. "I just love being around it.''

That's why you shouldn't even bother to ask DePolo out for dinner or a movie while the softball College World Series is on.

"I don't even get off my couch, which is sad to say, for about eight to 10 hours just because it's on,'' DePolo said. "I tape every game and watch every game. That is what I was doing at midnight" on Sunday.

DePolo's diamond due diligence made it only natural for her to pursue a coaching path.

DePolo yearned to play softball for Army, but a heart condition made her ineligible for the Academy. She finally made it to West Point in the summer of 2007, as a full-time assistant coach under Col. Jim Flowers. She learned more of the trade, got adjusted to the military way of coaching sports and was named Flowers' successor last June.

Michelle DePolo is not Jim Flowers, and she doesn't pretend to be. She adopted some of his ways and incorporated many of her own. A heavy emphasis on fundamentals, coupled with a fun-loving attitude, has resounded well with her fairly young team.

"We make softball fun every day,'' she said.

The Black Knights have responded well with their first winning season in five years and a regular-season Patriot League title, this after being picked for fifth among the six teams in the preseason polling.

"I feel like Seabiscuit a bit,'' DePolo said of the famed horse. "They said the horse is too small, the jockey is too big, the trainer is too old and the guy who owns him is too dumb to know the difference.

"I feel like our kids are too overworked — I mean they take 20 (academic) credits — they are too small, our staff is too young, everything is wrong with our setting, playing in the Northeast, and I am too stupid to know, so I just play.''

On Tuesday, DePolo was named the Patriot League coach of the year.

"I am still waiting to wake up and realize this is a big dream,'' DePolo said, anxious to lead her troops into the opener of the Patriot League tournament this afternoon at West Point. "It's definitely been a great season and a great ride.''

There's no arguing that point.
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