Only rare athletes are able to continue playing their chosen sport at age 60 ... all the while continuing to coach. Fewer still have received proclamations and/or citations, both from their hometown and state.
Elaine Schuster can claim all of the aforementioned ... and Mrs. Schuster gleefully shares a treasure trove of memories having coached generations of Sharpsville softball players.
Truly – and appropriately – she is thankful.
“To do things that you love to do ...,” she recently mused. “I didn’t pay any attention to what year I did this, or what year I did that. ... I don’t know how you do that,” admitted Ms. Schuster, who coached her daughter and now her granddaughter.
Mrs. Schuster, daughter Lisa Wiesen and 11-year-old granddaughter Sydney Wiesen enjoyed an early-autumn round of golf recently, and Mrs. Schuster said she the afternoon meant so much she had “ ... Died and gone to heaven ... “
Back in the day, a tough taskmaster to be sure, Mrs. Schuster served as a surrogate mother, mentoring her impressionable players while imparting life lessons through the game of softball.
“I didn’t just have a team. I took these kids everywhere,” she recalled. “I would get them together and go to nursing homes and decorate doors for Christmas ... I took them all swimmin’ over at Yankee Lake ... I took them all bowling. I didn’t just have a ball team. I kept that team together.”
Giving some context to her coaching career, Mrs. Schuster related, “Vicki (Costello) Peters, I coached her – she’s, like, 68 now – and then I coached her daughter, Anna Marie (McConnell), and now I’m coachin’ her granddaughter, Lilly Peters.”
As with most of us, Mrs. Schuster’s stern stance has softened through the years and she’s mellowed. A few weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon at West Middlesex’s Richard Kritz Softball Complex, Mrs. Schuster strategically stationed 8-year-old (and younger) infielders. She started that venture in 2017.
“My daughter was the head coach and I helped her. Then when my granddaughter moved up, I said, ‘I’m stayin’ down here, these kids need these basics. ... With these little ones, I just can’t quit. ... As long as I possibly can, I’m gonna continue to coach. They make my day,” Mrs. Schuster said, her smile traveling through a telephone line.
“This past summer, I had all new ballplayers,” began Mrs. Schuster, the story-teller. “This one’s on shortstop and I had another behind third base. So I’m tellin’ the shortstop, when (the third-baseman) goes in (to field a bunt), you go over,’ and I’m pointin’ to third base. And (the shortstop) looks at me, dead serious, and asks, ‘Where’s she goin’ into?’” a chuckling Mrs. Schuster related. “You’d think she’s supposed to know this stuff. But I said, ‘She’s going in to get the ball, and you’re covering third (base) ...
“‘And what do I cover her with?’’ came the innocent child’s query.
“I could not make this stuff up,” Mrs. Schuster said, in an amused, affectionate tone of voice.
To stay in shape to continue coaching, Mrs. Schuster partakes in 2 or 3 weekly, 1-hour sessions in Buhl Community Recreation Center’s water aerobics.
Mrs. Schuster recalled, “Well, back in my day, way back. ... we didn’t have any sports (for girls).”
That began to change with 1972 Title IX Federal legislation: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
However her softball coaching career started with Sharpsville VFW (12-year-olds), and continued with the American Legion (13-year olds). Then in 1995 she began coaching again, this time with Marge Scott Popatak and Kathy Griffin in a women’s league.
Mrs. Schuster resumed her own playing career in 1985. As a member of Zappa’s, she was part of a championship team in 2001.
“I played until I was sixty ... and we won our last game,” Mrs. Schuster recalled, proudly producing the game ball signed by her teammates.
She earned that heartfelt memento.
“Somethin’ had happened, and we didn’t have anybody else to put in. So I grabbed my glove and said, ‘All right, I’ll go,’” she recalled. “So I go to right field, ‘cause I’m old, right? And I’m the only one who does not wear spikes, ‘cause I’d kill myself wearin’ those things. My cousin is the pitcher, and my daughter’s right beside me in right-center field.
“Doesn’t a left-handed batter come up,” continued a chuckling Mrs. Schuster. “(Her teammates) look at me and say, ‘Comin’ your way!’ And didn’t (the batter) hit a ball ... a high line drive. As soon as that ball left the bat, I took off runnin’. I caught that thing right down at my knees. Snap! Even the other team cheered. My daughter says to me, ‘Mom, watch the runner (tagging up from) second,’ and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t care if she runs home, I’m so thrilled that I caught this ball!’”
After making that Roberto Clemente-caliber catch, Mrs. Schuster announced, “I’m done now. That was my last game.”
But she has continued coaching, sharing her love of the game of softball – and competing – with new generations. Mrs. Schuster relishes a scrapbook, created by her mother, that includes photos and tributes from former players.
“This one girl, Pam Clepper (Combine) ... I never knew that she felt like she did. She was one of my first ballplayers,” Mrs. Schuster recalled. “Her mother had passed away, and her dad told her to go play ball. So she started playin’ ball for me ... and I never realized how that affected her.
“Later, she kept trying to get me into the (Mercer County) hall of fame, and Stanley Alfredo told her, ‘They’re not gonna let her in(to the Hall).’ ... They’re not gonna do anything for her, so why not just give her ‘a day.’ So that’s what Pam did. ... It just blows my mind that somebody would think to do that much for me.”
Hence, the following Proclamation, signed by Alex Kovach, Borough of Sharpsville Mayor:
“In 1941 a gallon of gas cost 19 cents ... a gallon of milk cost 34 cents ... a loaf of bread cost 8 cents, and a postage stamp cost 3 cents. A car cost nine-hundred and twenty-five dollars, and the average home cost six thousand, nine-hundred dollars.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was the president during 1941 ... Glenn Miller released “Chattanooga Choo-Choo” and Gene Autry released “You are my Sunshine.”
Nineteen-forty-one proved to have many famous people born that year, such as Nick Nolte, Stacy Keatch, Ann Margaret and Ryan O’Neal. Elaine Schuster was born on June 24, 1941 and raised in Sharpsville.
Elaine has been blessed with two daughters, Lori, who was born in 1964, and Lisa, who was born in 1971. Her grandchildren Riley and Sydney have been the light of her life since Day One.
Elaine Schuster has spent her life helping others. While being enlisted in the Navy in September 1959 she became a lifeguard, where she later spent eight years teaching swimming lessons at the F.H. Buhl Club.
Elaine went back to school for nursing and worked at several different nursing homes in Ohio and Pennsylvania. She then worked at the state prison in Mercer until 2003. While there she helped organize the Mercer County Women’s League in 1998, and it is still going strong today.
Elaine is best known for coaching softball. Elaine played until the age of 60. She started coaching in 1961, and as of today you will still find her on the field coaching three generations on the Sharpsville fields – Elaine, Lisa an Sydney.
It is for all these reasons that I, Alex J. Kovach, mayor of the borough of Sharpsville, proclaim April 28, 2019 “Elaine Schuster Day” here in the borough, and further encourage all residents to recognize Elaine Schuster on all of her accomplishments.”
Mrs. Schuster proudly related, “I got this from a lot of them. Any time anything would come up, they’d say, ‘Best coach ever!’ A lot of them do that ... there’s a lot of them who compliment me constantly – ‘If it wasn’t for me, where would they be? ... ‘
“And I was not easy,” Mrs. Schuster emphasized. “I started with the thirteen-year-olds – and you know what teen-agers are like – but there was no bein’ easy. If they didn’t give me a hundred percent – if they kept missin’ and missin’ – I’d say, ‘Drop your glove and take a lap and think about what you’re doin’. When you’re ready to give it to me, pick your glove up.’ And, boy, they didn’t miss another one!”
But she also added a female’s refined approach to coaching, explaining, “Sometimes men have tendencies to want (young players) to do more than they’re capable of doin’. Even the fans ... sometimes I’ll hear, ‘Why don’t they pick up their legs and step into that (throw)?’ Oh, my God, I’m just trying to get ‘em to watch the ball!,” she explained.
Mrs. Schuster shared her personal scrapbook, compiled by her mother. Included were various years-old tributes, courtesy of former players. A sampling of sentiments:
• “I learned self-respect, discipline, and how to win and lose ... and how to throw and catch a ball – with my NEW glove!”
• “If you never played for our coach, it was different. ... But I still love her, even though she’s tough.”
• “I’m glad you were my coach. You taught me a lot about softball and life.”
• “Softball with Elaine was great and horrible all at the same time. It is great in the fact we have an AWESOME time. ... I am glad in the fact that I’ll have my social life back. ... But I’ll always remember the good times we had – like four-hour practices in the hot sun.”
• “You are one heck of a lady to teach a whole team all by yourself. You did an extremely super job. I learned a whole lot from you these past months – and not just about softball, but a lot of other things, too.”
• “ ... I’d like to thank you for all you did. Remember, you have to teach me to drive, like you promised.”
• “ ... Dear Coach (Mom) ... some days you would get us ice cream and share your knowledge with us, or some days make us run for a bad throw or popping up, or not getting down (to field) a ball. ... Thanks for all your time and energy. Now maybe my ears will turn back to normal.”
• “You’ve been a great coach and helped us become what we are. We’ve had a lot of great times this year ... except for your practices (just kidding).”
• “You really taught me a lot ... and not only about softball, but about life. You saved my neck a few times. Elaine, you were always there for us – for everything. You did a lot for me and I really appreciate it. I drove you crazy at practices and games and especially after the games!”
In addition to her players Mrs. Schuster’s efforts did not go unnoticed – all the way to Harrisburg. Following is the transcript from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Citation (courtesy of Mark Longietti, sponsor; Mike Turzai, Speaker of the House; and David Reddecliff, Chief Clerk of the House):
“Whereas, The House of Representatives of Pennsylvania takes great pride in recognizing those gifted individuals who challenge, inspire and teach the youth of this Commonwealth, our most precious resource: and
Whereas, Elaine Schuster is being honored upon fifty-three years of dedicated service as Coach of the Sharpsville softball team; and
Whereas, Ms. Schuster began her tenure as a softball coach in 1966. Exuding vision, energy and enthusiasm, she approached each day’s work with the highest of professional standards and set a sterling example of dedication, skill and hard work for her young athletes. Ms. Schuster truly is a role model worthy of emulation.
Now, therefore, The House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania congratulates Elaine Schuster upon her well-deserved recognition; heartily acknowledges her exemplary record of service, in keeping with the highest ideals and traditions of this Commonwealth; offers best wishes for a happy and fulfilling future;
And directs that a copy of this citation, sponsored by the Honorable Mark Longietti on April 22, 2019, be transmitted to Elaine Schuster, 370 South Ninth St., Sharpsville, Pennsylvania, 16150.”
This much is certain – and her former players can appreciate this – there’s no quit in Mrs. Schuster, who said she will continue coaching, “Absolutely, as long as I possibly can!
“You know,” she related, “it’s like when I used to play racquetball, and I’d dread goin’ down (to play) ‘cause I really didn’t feel good. But once the adrenaline gets goin’. ... And I’m like that on the ball field. I’m goin’, ‘How am I gonna get through two hours of this?’ But when I get to that ball field you’d think there’s nothin’ wrong with me.
“ ... But then,” she admitted sheepishly, “when I get home, I crash.
“ ... But,” she thankfully concluded, “I so enjoy doin’ it.”
For Elaine Schuster, sharing her passion for sport was – and remains to this day – a labor of love. She is an example of what all of us should aspire to be: Humble, hard-working, gracious.