George Heigel has helped shaped the youth and young adults in the Tri-County Area for nearly four decades and in recent years has built the DuBois Central Catholic softball program into one of the best in the state.
Heigel took over the Lady Cardinal program in 2013 after the retirement of Jim Pullman, whom Heigel was an assistant for when daughter Abbie Heigel was a standout pitcher for DCC.
He was set to coach his eighth season this spring before all sports were cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Central went 8-12 his first season with a young squad before reinforcements arrived a year later in the form of a strong freshmen class that featured the likes of Jordy Frank, Riley Assalone, Macey Hanes and Libby Maurer.
With them in the mix, DCC won its first District 9 title (in Class A) in 33 years in 2014. The Lady Cardinals went 18-3 that season and lost to Claysburg-Kimmel in the opening round of the state playoffs.
And, the rest as they say, is history.
Central Catholic hasn’t lost more than four games on the field in a season since the arrival of that group in Heigel’s second year. The program has added three more D-9 titles in the past five years and has reached the PIAA playoffs in five of Heigel’s first seven years at the helm.
Outside of that first season, DCC also missed the state playoffs in 2015 when the Lady Cardinals were knocked out of the postseason in the District 9 semifinals by eventual state champion Elk County Catholic.
Overall, Heigel sports a 135-26 career record (.839 winning precentage) on the field with the Lady Cardinals, including 20 or more wins from 2016-19. However, DCC was forced to forfeit nine wins a year ago due to a paperwork error at the administration level with one its transfer students. Those nine losses drop his official career mark to 126-35 (.783 winning percentage).
The Lady Cardinals have reached the state semifinals three times during Heigel’s tenure — 2016, 2017 and 2019 when they played in their first-ever state championship game (a 5-0 loss to Williams Valley). Central is 8-5 in state playoff games under Heigel.
Given Heigel’s great success with the Lady Cardinals, some may forget — or perhaps not even know — that Heigel’s first head varsity coaching position was in basketball — a sport he loved growing up.
Heigel, who graduated from Elk County Catholic, played basketball for the Crusaders and went on to play a season at Penn State DuBois. He also played baseball back then. However, ECC didn’t have a baseball team at the time, so his time on the diamond was reserved for playing Legion baseball in St. Marys.
Counting his time with the Lady Cardinals, Heigel’s coaching career has spanned 36 years. He has coached at various levels in different sports — from junior high to varsity in high school sports, to Little League, to travel teams.
He focused on basketball the first 15 to 20 years of that coaching career and was DCC’s varsity boys basketball head coach from 1985-1993. Somewhere towards the middle of his 36 years of coaching, his focus turned from basketball to softball — which eventually led him back to a head coaching position at DCC in 2013.
Heigel took the time to answer a few questions about himself for our new series spotlighting area high school coaches in all sports:
The reason I enjoy coaching is ... It is well known and written about that there are stages in a coaching career. I have been a coach for a long period of time and I have experienced all those stages.
The early stages are fraught with hyper tension and intense personal pressure to succeed as a coach, and not necessarily seeing the big picture of helping your players enjoy the experience and teach those life lessons that all coaches talk about. Early in a career you need to sell yourself to the players, parents and the school community.
As you mature in your career, you are confident that you know what you are doing and following the “plan” will lead you and your team in the right direction. I am enjoying this stage — the calmness provided by having a 12-month schedule that is repeated year after year and the resulting team success is enjoyable.
The hardest thing about coaching is ... Like leading any group or organization, you must be willing to work harder than anyone else you are trying to lead. I don’t find much about coaching that is “hard,” but I guess the time commitment is sometimes a struggle when juggling the coaching activities with my real career as a business owner.
Coordinating and scheduling year-round player activities and gently pushing your student athletes to participate is very much needed and a major part of what a head coach needs to do, if you are going to have team success. All those efforts take a significant amount of time.
The biggest reason I continue to coach is ... 4 things: 1. Being around my coaching staff. I have surrounded myself with good, knowledgeable, fun and committed people. 2. Player development. It is truly enjoyable and rewarding to watch a player grow into a good softball player as a senior who wasn’t so good as a freshman. That happens a lot when someone is given an opportunity.
3. I like the school. It has been a part of my family with all three of my kids attending there, and my wife worked there for over 25 years as an administrator. 4. Winning. I must be honest, it makes all the effort seem worthwhile.
My real job off the diamond is ... a business owner. I mentioned this earlier, it does become difficult at times to juggle the two schedules, but I make it work and find myself spending some weird hours at my office to compensate for the time I am using for my coaching activity.
The person(s) who influenced me to get into coaching ... I had a number of good basketball coaches during my years of playing basketball, but I think the coaching and leading aspect that I enjoy was instilled in me by my father. He was a decorated WW II veteran, a business owner and found time to help coach my baseball teams when I was younger. He always seemed to be “out in front” and leading people in all aspects of his life. I think that he quietly, but consistently, instilled that in me.
My favorite team/season or game that stands out me is ... Each season is different and fun. A continuous flow of new incoming freshman makes things different each year. I enjoy them all now at this stage of my career. BUT, if I had to pick one … getting to the state championship in softball (last year) was quite an experience! I hoped we could do that again this year and get our first state championship. But, we will continue to work towards that goal and hopefully have another opportunity.
I would like to add ... I do want to mention that it is very gratifying to have former players come back and visit our current team. I do try to stay in contact with many of them and my hope someday is that one or more of them will be back in DuBois and will want to help coach in our softball program.