Thursday, June 27, 2019
"Godfather of Highlands Softball" Takes Over Program
Nieporte and the Highlands administration named the 64-year-old and 1973 Highlands graduate the fifth head coach of the program Tuesday. Horner had been an assistant the last seven years to former Head Coach Rob Coffey and also helped his daughter, Jessica Horner-Donelan, when she served as head coach between 2008 and 2012.
"He's done it all to grooming the field to hitting fly balls and coaching third base," Nieporte said. "He's been around for every single win that has ever occurred. He's fired up about it. He has a lot of good ideas to improve Winkler Field and further the program."
When Donelan was in high school, Horner petitioned the school board back in 1999 to switch to fast pitch. Donelan played on the first three fast pitch teams in school history. Donelan led Highlands to 36th District championships in 2008 and 2011 as head coach.
Horner raised two girls and a boy. His other daughter, Kelly Horner-Fath, graduated from Highlands in 2004 and served as a cheerleading coach at Highlands.
Horner has been a head coach of summer and fall teams. But raising two teen-aged girls and coaching in a number of capacities for 20 years has helped him over that time.
"It's definitely different than coaching boys. I've gotten to observe all the (former) head coaches," Horner said. "The good news is you pick up a little bit from everybody. You pick up some things you think are really good and you pick up some things you say, 'Well. I wouldn't want to do that.' My coaching style is probably an accumulation from 20 years of being around (the program)."
Highlands used to play its home games at a field in Death Valley right by the high school. But the program moved to Winkler Field by Woodfill Elementary in Fort Thomas in 2014. Horner said he's meeting with Fort Thomas City Administrator Ron Dill about raising support to upgrade the upper field so the team can host tournaments and add lights to Winkler Field.
"Winkler Field is the best field in Northern Kentucky, we think at least overall," Horner said. "It's just the outfield we'd like to get fixed. We've been there when the JV gets to play an inning and that's not good. I think it would be really cool to have a Friday Night game. It enables more people to come. Dixie (Heights) is able to do that."
Highlands graduated just two seniors in Rachel Gabbard and Michaela Brown from last year's 16-11 squad that lost 4-3 to Dixie Heights in the 9th Region semifinals. The Bluebirds have won the 36th District the last two seasons.
Horner said a number of the returning players play summer and fall softball. Six juniors are slated to return in Kierigan Bailey, Brittney Johnson, Taylar Lorenzen, Piper Macke, Kendall Murray and Abby Rust.
Horner hopes to have two health starting pitchers to open the season. Freshman Gracie Schlosser and eighth grader Kennedy Baioni were not healthy to start last season. But they came around at the end of the season.
"I feel like it's a really good thing because (Horner) knows the program and he knows the girls," Bailey said. "He can carry on his coaching style. It has been great the past few years. He's always been one of my favorite coaches."
Horner helped the team win the 9th Region in 2014 and 2016 before the Bluebirds went 1-2 in the state tournament. The Bluebirds also finished region runner-up in 2015 and 2018.
"In baseball and softball, you can hit three line drives on the button and hit them right at somebody," Horner said. "You can't physically overpower somebody like you can in football."
Horner said most of the coaching staff will return. Terri Cain will come back at JV coach along with volunteer assistants Mick Abner, Jess Greenwell and Brian Baioni. Horner is looking for a varsity assistant and a freshman team coach. Horner credited Coffey for being great at teaching skills. Horner said that will continue.
Horner also wants to organize some events for the 20th season in program history. That could include welcoming alumni players back for a game.
Horner served as an Executive at IBM for 37 years. Horner retired from there in 2013.
Horner graduated with retired Highlands football Head Coach Dale Mueller. Horner played baseball, basketball and football during his playing days for the Bluebirds.