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Hollis column: Royals' former softball coach made the right choice, but she'll be missed

Published: Saturday, March 15 2014 2:45 p.m. MDT

ROY — When Roy High School's softball team takes the field this season, someone will be missing — someone who's been very special to the program for a long time. Someone who has played a huge role in all four of the school's state softball championships.

Mandy Koford, who pitched the Royals to their first state title in 1998 and coached them to three more state championships in a four-year span from 2009-12, won't be in the team's dugout this year.

After having her third child last year, she faced a dilemma: Should she continue coaching, where her father, Stan Flint, and older brother, Travis, had served as assistant coaches in a fun-filled family endeavor that had been so dang much fun — and so darned successful? Or should she devote more time to the needs of her growing family?

In the end, she knows she made the right choice.

"Last year, I just felt like I was being pulled in two directions," she said. "I had both these two great things in my life — a great opportunity to coach, and three great kids and a wonderful husband — and I felt like I was doing them both a disservice. I felt like I was not doing a good job at either one.

"I felt guilty doing both of them because I wasn't giving either one of them what they deserved. But I knew if I quit coaching, I could give the softball team an opportunity to have another coach they could love and someone who would be the coach they deserved to have."

So, after piling up a glossy record of 163-65 (.715) over a glory-filled, eight-year run that included state championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012, a state tournament runner-up showing in 2010, a third-place finish in 2007, four region titles and eight straight state tournament appearances, she stepped aside.

Yep, it was a great ride, getting to coach the Royals' proud program each year with the tremendous help of her knowledgeable dad, who was once one of the premier men's fast-pitch pitchers in the state, and her brother, a former all-conference baseball player at the University of Utah.

What's more, Mandy's niece, Travis' daughter Macauley Flint, helped make it even more of an "all in the family" atmosphere by pitching the Royals to state titles in 2009 and 2011, and to their second-place finish in 2010. She now pitches for Weber State after a junior college All-American career at Salt Lake Community College.

Mandy misses coaching already, especially those countless hours spent with her dad and brother. And, of course, the kids she got to coach.

"Growing up, I idolized Travis," she said of her brother, who's now the Royals' head baseball coach. "He was the smoothest talker in the world and he was brilliant. When I'd watch him coach, he would inspire greatness in kids and teach ’em all this wonderful stuff about the game.

"And then there's my father, who's a whirlwind of emotion and energy and knowledge himself. I feel like the smartest thing I ever did was knowing who to hire on as my coaching staff. When they were done, Kelly Aiken came on to help me, and she was great, too.

"So I was just a lucky person," Koford said. "By no means was this about me. I just got to reap the benefits of it all. I made so many awesome friends and I love these kids so much. I'm the luckiest person around."

But when it comes right down to it, there may not be anything more important in this world than being a good mom. And Mandy knew it.

"All season long last year, I felt this building up," she said. "I wanted to make it work, but I knew something had to give. I told the girls at the team banquet last year that it would be my last year, and it was rough. They were shocked, they didn't see it coming.

"My husband, Ron, has always been the first person in my corner, saying 'You can do this and we'll make it work.'

"But I realized it was time to focus on what we have for now," she said. "I don't consider myself fully retired forever, though. I still daydream about coaching again someday down the road."

She and her husband both teach math at Roy High. Mandy teaches part-time in the special education department, while Ron teaches full-time.

They've been married for 10 years and have two girls and a boy — Addison, age 6; Elliette, 3, and 1-year-old Gehrig.

Mandy, who's 33 years old now, led the Royals to the 1998 title and showed her grit by pitching them to victories in all three games on the final day of the state tournament. She went on to play college softball at Ricks College, Southern Utah and BYU.

Since then, her coaching career is filled with many wonderful memories.

"It's funny how fast it goes," she said. "The first time we won state, I was looking at these girls and I thought, 'We did that, we won and it's over.' It was so easy with them. My best memories are of watching kids do things they didn't know they could do. They set goals for themselves and accomplish them and say, 'Gosh, I really can do stuff.'

"I had the greatest seat in the world. I wish I could say it was all me, but all I did was get to sit back and watch these girls accomplish great things. Of course, anyone who had ’Cauley pitching for them was going to be in a pretty good position to win. But the best thing a coach can do is say 'Why not us?' We had girls that always believed in themselves.

"I'll miss the friendships that you make, them coming and seeing me after they're done playing, talking to me about what's going on in their normal lives outside of softball," Koford said. "It was like having 20 new best friends every year. It's a rare and special thing, and they were all such good kids. Now when I get to go to a wedding shower or baby shower for one of them, it makes me feel like an 18-year-old again."

She also appreciated the support of her players' parents, who rarely, if ever, gave her any grief.

"I had heard horror stories about parents, but I never had trouble with them," Koford said. "Instead, it was all about what can they bring and what can they do to help. I never had an issue, never had parents yell at me. They would make dinners at the drop of a hat and bring the team whatever they wanted or needed. Jace Holt gave us batting helmets for several years. We've had amazing parents who have done nothing but support us.

"I don't know if that's the people in Roy or just the respect we've built up over the years. I just told the parents we're gonna play the nine best kids, and I couldn't be happier that they gave us their kids. They gave us their daughters each year and said 'Good luck.'

"I feel so, so blessed and so lucky to have such an awesome support system throughout that whole program," she said. "It was so easy; they made my job easy."

Haylee Hoch, a former Fremont High star who played college softball at Southern Utah University, has taken over the coaching reins of the Royals' program. And, taking a page out of the Flints' book, one of her assistants is her dad Dave, a former pro baseball player and longtime softball coach who was Roy's head coach more than a decade ago.

Going to watch the Royals play won't be easy for Koford.

"I went to their game yesterday," she said on Friday. "I took ’em cookies, but it was hard. I told Haylee, 'The last thing I wanna do is be someone who's breathing over your shoulder, because this is your team now.'

"They're in great, great hands. There might be some growing pains, but I have full confidence that they're gonna always make this Roy High softball and something to be proud of."

Spoken like a true champion — and like someone who's been very special to the program for a long time and definitely knows what she's talking about.

EMAIL: rhollis@desnews.com

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