St. Mary’s, coached by its principal, snaps 11-year state softball drought

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For the past 22 years, Dave Hyland has been a fixture in myriad capacities at St. Mary’s High School, most notably as softball coach, calculus teacher and former vice principal and finance director.

He picked up a new and most impressive title prior to the start of the academic year. School principal.

At 12:15 p.m. Friday at Aurora Sports Park, the native of Jamaica, N.Y., might be Colorado’s only principal who’s also coaching a softball team at the state tournament when his Pirates (15-6) meet Tri-Peaks League rival La Junta (13-7) in a 3A first-round game, breaking an 11-year drought.

“He definitely has a gift,” said the Pirates first-year athletic director, Joe Muehlbauer, who also serves as a football assistant coach. “It’s hard for me to transition between the two, but he seems to take it in stride. He can go from talking about which math class we should offer next year to his batting order in a matter of seconds. It’s pretty seamless.”

Hyland, 65, downplays his abilities to juggle and multitask in vast realms. He’s just glad his team is finally enjoying the fruits of its labor.

“So far, it’s working fine, just long hours,” Hyland said. “The girls know I’m busy, and they take care of a lot of stuff. Before practice, they get the field set up and they warm up on their own, and when it’s time to go home, they take the field down and help put everything away. They’re just fantastic girls from that point of view, academically and with great attitudes.”

Of the team’s 12 varsity players, only one is a senior, so the best from Pirates softball may be yet to come.

And player Elizabeth Gibson still can’t believe the program qualified for state during her senior year.

“When I was a freshman, we went 6-13, and I never imagined that we would have made it this far by my senior year,” said Gibson, a catcher and outfielder who’s batting .433 with 11 RBI, one of a staggering eight Pirates with double digits in the category. “We just want to play well, and as one of the captains, lead these girls and go far in the tournament. We have banners in our gym for our different teams but none for softball. We want a banner.”

Even if that doesn’t happen on Saturday, Gibson knows her Pirates have plenty of experience coming back in futures years and a more-than capable coach – and principal and calculus teacher – calling the shots.

Gibson sees a different Hyland since he took on the principal role.

“I’ve gotten to know him well through my years here, and from what I’ve noticed, ever since he’s been principal, he’s been happier,” Gibson said. “When I see him in the hallway, he smiles and says hello and that makes me feel good. When he was only a teacher, it was a little different. He wouldn’t say hello as much. And because we’ve done so well, I feel he’s been happier and more laid back. I’ve just enjoyed playing for him. He’s been an awesome coach.”

And while Hyland isn’t looking too far into his personal future, he sees at least one more year of being coach, teacher and softball coach, doing all three at an age when most have retired completely or curtailed their activities dramatically.

“We have almost everyone coming back, so I’d be pretty stupid to drop it next year,” Hyland said. “I’ve got one more year for sure, but I’m not going to project any more than that. You never know as you get older. The program is in good shape. Plus, teaching is a nice break from my routine from principal. I find that it’s good to go teach, then go back to the paperwork and other stuff a principal does. So far, everything in that regard is working out fine.”