High School Sports

Legendary P-O softball coach, 3-time PIAA champion Jim Gonder retires

Philipsburg-Osceola Lady Mounties trounce Holy Redeemer for PIAA win

The Philipsburg-Osceola Lady Mounties softball team defeated the Holy Redeemer Royals 8-3, securing the PIAA Class 3A title. P-O established an early lead, with five runs scored in the first inning.
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The Philipsburg-Osceola Lady Mounties softball team defeated the Holy Redeemer Royals 8-3, securing the PIAA Class 3A title. P-O established an early lead, with five runs scored in the first inning.

Philipsburg-Osceola softball coach Jim Gonder knew entering this year that it would be his last leading the Lady Mounties. And now, everyone is in on the coach’s season-long secret.

Gonder, who captured 36 titles in 37 years at helm of P-O softball, is retiring.

“I can’t thank the athletes, their families, the assistant coaches and the community enough,” Gonder told the CDT. “It’s always been our team. When I talk about it, I try to avoid saying my team. It’s about what our community has done. It’s about what our coaching staff has done, what the kids have done. I’ve tried to foster that. It’s what it’s always been about.”

The longtime leader of the Lady Mounties told a few coaching colleagues of his intent to leave before the 2019 season, and he informed his staff three or four weeks ago. But Gonder waited until Tuesday morning to text his players — after Monday night’s team banquet and well after the District 6 playoffs.

Gonder didn’t want 2019 to be a farewell tour, he didn’t want his players to ever feel like they had to “win one for the gipper,” and he didn’t want Monday night to be about him. He wanted it to be about the seniors. But for as humble as the coach may be, he has a stacked trophy case to boast about.

Philipsburg-Osceola softball coach Jim Gonder fist bumps his players as they come off the field during the game against Bald Eagle Area on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. The Mounties won, 7-3. Abby Drey adrey@centredaily.com

Since Gonder took over in 1983, P-O has won 20 Mountain League titles, 13 District 6 crowns and three PIAA championships (2007, 2011, 2018). His Lady Mounties were PIAA runners-up in 2000 and 2010, and Gonder’s P-O juggernaut reached 11 PIAA semifinals in the past 26 years.

The perennial winner finished his head coaching career with a Mountain League championship, securing a co-title with Bald Eagle Area this past season — an impressive way to go out. But Gonder might not be totally done coaching softball.

Gonder said he “definitely would not be opposed to” serving as an assistant or volunteer softball coach in the future. Just not with P-O.

“I would not do that to whoever the new coach is,” Gonder added. “Whoever they decide to hire, they need to be able to do what they think is best. I don’t want them thinking that I’m looking over their shoulder or second-guessing them. It’s got to be their baby. It’s got to be their team. Me being there would not be conducive to that happening.”

When asked about his potential replacement at P-O, Gonder said any of his assistant coaches — Jerry Watson, Tim Dyke, Wes Cartwright, Chip Branthoover, Mike Herr, Brian Wood and Joe Shedlock — would be “excellent” options. Gonder, without naming names, said he does hope “one particular person” applies.

Regardless of who ends up as the Lady Mounties’ next leader, Gonder prays “they have the same enjoyment that I got out of coaching.”

Philipsburg-Osceola head coach Jim Gonder smiles as he looks to the crowd as the softball team celebrates winning PIAA Class AA State Championship game against Brandywine Heights on Friday, June 17, 2011 at Beard Field. CDT/Abby Drey

That enjoyment is one of a few reasons why Gonder came back for the 2019 season, after all.

After the Lady Mounties won the PIAA Class 3A title last year — defeating Holy Redeemer 8-3 at Penn State’s Beard Field — he considered calling it a career. “That would have been a great opportunity to step out,” the coach added. But there was something clean about leaving after 40 years as a coach — three as an assistant before 37 at the helm.

The softball program was in the midst of changes, too. P-O’s school district put money into the Lady Mounties’ facility, regrading the outfield, replacing fences and installing, what Gonder called, “state-of-the-art batting cages.” The coach wanted to see that project through, to make sure promises were kept.

He did. And on Tuesday, Gonder kept a promise he made to himself before this season, stepping down. Ultimately, the time commitment was too much for the 63-year-old.

“To make sure that the program stayed at the level I wanted it to stay at — that the community deserves it to stay at — it’s year-round. It’s not just March, April, May,” Gonder added. “And at this stage of my life, I don’t want to make that kind of time commitment.”

Instead, Gonder will step back from softball. He’ll travel with his wife, Sandy. Maybe he’ll join another program as an assistant or volunteer. Maybe not.

But regardless of what happens in the future, the longtime Lady Mounties coach will always have the past. He’ll remember the titles won at P-O — and to him, more importantly, he’ll remember the relationships built over four decades.

“To me, it was more about the kids taking away something more than just winning a Mountain League title or claiming that they won a district title,” Gonder said. “I hope they left with some respect for the sport, respect for each other. I hope they learned about what it means to be a good teammate. To me, being a good teammate is being a good person. It’s the same thing. ... That’s what I’m most proud of.”