Long-time intramurals director retires after 34 years in Franciscan athletics

Photo provided by Kelly Herrmann

Veronica Novotny

“Funny story, I actually had to lie to get a job working for intramurals,” said the woman who has run Franciscan intramurals for decades and coached women’s volleyball since 2003.

After working in four positions over her 34 years in the athletics department, Kelly Herrmann has officially left Franciscan Athletics.

Having always had a passion for sports, Herrmann said she gave up a chance to play Division I basketball on scholarship to go to Franciscan from 1983-1987.

“I took out every penny in loans and financial aid that I could and spent a lot of years paying it back, but it was so worth it,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann said she immediately tried to work for intramurals as a student worker, but the senior in charge of intramurals at the time, Bob Schrimpf, was initially skeptical when she asked to work for and referee intramurals precisely because she was female.

“I said, ‘Bob, I can’t get a job any place else on campus,’ which is a big fat lie, because anyone could get a job working for custodial or working in the cafeteria, but I wanted to work for intramurals. … That was my life as a student; I lived intramurals. It was such a great experience,” Herrmann said.

After graduating, Herrmann taught for one year at St. Joseph’s in Weirton before returning to Franciscan as the director of athletics in 1988. In 1991, Herrmann resigned from the director position just before the birth of her oldest son and began to give her all into mothering and homeschooling.

“I resigned with the intention of always being a stay-at-home mom,” Herrmann said. “(But, after 10 years,) Franciscan was bringing back intercollegiate athletics. I was involved in that process pretty heavily. I became the intramurals coordinator and (the first women’s) basketball coach in 2001, and then, in 2003, we started the volleyball program.”

Herrmann coached both sports and ran intramurals until 2010, which she said “was a little challenging homeschooling six kids and all of that kinda stuff.”

She said, “What I always tell people (is) I really wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I needed to work, and so the fact that God gave me my ideal job, my dream job, the dream I’d want above all else, any other job, was just a great blessing in my life.”

After stepping down from basketball in 2010, Herrmann continued coaching volleyball initially because the season fit into her family life better, but she said she grew to love the sport just as much as she had basketball.

Herrmann said she was grateful to be able to be with her children “for the best part of their day” while coming to campus for 6 a.m. practice or in the evenings and on weekends.

“In retiring last week, there were some staff members who had very kind words to say,” Herrmann said, getting emotional. “I always say, and I believe this 100%: in giving we receive. I never felt like I was giving more than I was receiving. To be able to be part of Franciscan, to be a part of the birth of varsity athletics, to be a part of all those lives … has just been the greatest blessing. So yes, I have given, but I have received so much more. I have been blessed beyond measure in my roles here and the different ways I’ve been able to work with students.”

In speaking of why she made the decision to leave Franciscan Athletics, Herrmann said, “There’s a lot of it I can’t share. … In some ways philosophically, I feel like I have a different perspective on some things here than the administration in the athletic department. In a nutshell, in the late ‘90s, our campus was extremely skeptical of bringing back varsity athletics. Extremely skeptical. They really felt like it was going to change (and) negatively impact our faithful culture.

“We … assured them, ‘Don’t worry. We want to create an intercollegiate sports program for the faithful kids who would choose Franciscan.’ We weren’t going to change things. I was excited! … My prayer for Franciscan is that we stay true to those promises we made before we brought back intercollegiate athletics, that our goal is always to be faithful first,” Herrmann said.

“There’s no virtue in being wishy-washy about losing,” Herrmann continued. “As faithful people, God doesn’t want us to say, ‘I don’t care if I win or lose, I just wanna have fun.’ No, that’s completely mediocre! No one strives for mediocrity. We should strive for excellence.

“We understand that on our campus in terms of our faith life … but for some reason, from a sports perspective, people think we should be wishy-washy, and that’s not true at all. … I think, in recent years, we’ve fallen short in some ways. There are times I’ve been profoundly disappointed in our fan behavior, for example. That is really discouraging.”

Herrmann said that in the past, there was “moral clarity” among Franciscan fans about how to cheer on the Barons with complete respect for the competition.

“At Franciscan, we talk about being uniquely Catholic and counter-cultural, so should we be the same (as other schools)? Especially when you think the realm of athletics and sports in our culture (is) so morally bankrupt, I think Franciscan has this really unique opportunity to be a beacon of hope and a light in the darkness to show the way, how to really and truly integrate faith into our athletics, our sports, our competition.”

Herrmann said Franciscan was approached in the early 2000s to write a chapter in the book in Dale Brown’s book “Coach Them Well: Fostering Faith and Developing Character in Athletes.” Herrmann is coauthor with Division I coaches from Louisiana State University basketball, Duke University football and Notre Dame swimming.

Herrmann pointed out that Franciscan has long been looked to as a premier example of faith-based coaching and expressed her hopes that Franciscan Athletics would return to its earlier priorities.

Despite retiring from the athletics department, Herrmann is not leaving the Franciscan community altogether.

“I consider it one of the greatest blessings in my life that five of my children have graduated from Franciscan and number six is going to graduate. I would cut off my right arm for my kids to be able to attend Franciscan, and my prayer is that all of my grandchildren will be able to attend Franciscan,” Herrmann said.

Herrmann has also been the advisor of Carae Domini household for 24 years and plans to continue in that role.

Alumni, students and household sisters have nothing but good things to say about Herrmann.

Christina Chew (Christina Marie “Cmar” Lawrence), ‘16, who was coached by Herrmann for four years, said, “Kelly Herrmann was never just a coach. She was a mom who brought us soup when we were sick. She was a mentor who gave us the tough talks exactly when we needed them. She was a tutor, teaching us how to balance faith, academics and passions. She was a spiritual guide who taught us that volleyball was indeed a way to glorify God.”

Herrmann said she was particular about what uniforms she wanted her athletes to wear to practices and games, so she would bring a basket home after every practice and wash her athletes’ practice gear to ensure they had clean laundry for every practice and game.

“Kelly literally fed us, clothed us, housed us, healed us and taught us, all while coaching us to two back-to-back conference championships,” Chew said. “You don’t need a better example of Matthew 25:35-36 than that. Not only did she make history at Franciscan by building a championship program from nothing, but she built a program where every young lady that enters, no matter how long she stays, leaves a more confident and faithful woman.”

Chew continued, “I’ve been a volleyball coach ever since I graduated from Franciscan, and I still pray before each practice that I can not only be as wise of a coach as Kelly but that I could be just half the servant for Christ that she is.”

The university has not yet replaced Herrmann, although her athletes would say she could never be replaced. For now, the student workers of intramurals continue to run the program.