By Doug Donnelly
Special for Second Half
ANN ARBOR – Julia Kennedy isn’t worried about whether or not she finishes as the all-time home run leader in Michigan prep softball history. While it’s been a lot of fun chasing the top rung on the ladder, Kennedy has tried not to focus on hitting the long ball.
There’s no better example of that reality when, in a game earlier this season, Kennedy, a senior first baseman for Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard, took a look at the defense and noticed the first baseman and third basemen playing almost on the outfield grass – figuring she was going to pound the ball. She laid down a bunt instead.
“I try and be a leader,” Kennedy said. “The defense was playing me so far back. I just went up there thinking I needed to advance the runner. I wanted to show everybody that I could put the bunt down. I think people were shocked, even my coach.”
The runner did move up a base, but Kennedy found herself in a bit of hot water with her coach, Nicole Lenhoff.
“We were playing Cabrini, and we were down a run,” Lenhoff said. “I had been telling the girls that if you have the opportunity and they are playing deep, you have to lay the bunt down once in a while to keep them off guard.
“When she did it, I think I yelled at her. We had a talk later about the situation and her being a power hitter, and I told her not to do that in that situation again. But, that’s who she is. She is all about the team.”
Kennedy, 18, has already committed to playing college softball at Miami of Ohio. Heading into this weekend, she has 50 career home runs, putting her in a tight chase with Muskegon Mona Shores’ Taylor Dew, who reached 50 on May 16. Both girls have passed the co-record holders in Michigan career prep softball home runs heading into this season – Erika Underwood of Addison (2012-15) and Taylor Johnson from Belding (2007-10), who both hit 49. Underwood is currently playing for Central Michigan and is likely to play against Kennedy next season in Mid-American Conference play.
Kennedy said she’s always been a power hitter.
“Even when I was young, I could hit the ball pretty far,” she said.
It was when she started working with hitting coach Amanda Chidester, a former Cabrini star and college All-American, that she saw her power turn line drives and fly balls into fence-clearing home runs.
“It was insane how much better I became at hitting,” she said. “I made some adjustments in my swing and with my legs. I had no idea what I was doing. I became much more consistent in hitting. It took some time to put it all together.”
Kennedy hit seven home runs as a freshman, slugged 18 as a sophomore and had eight as a junior. She has 17 so far this season.
As a junior Kennedy played two sports in the spring, juggling soccer and softball. She’s focused on softball this year and that has made her a better player on the diamond, her coach said.
“She doesn’t like me saying so, but I think it has made her better,” Lenhoff said. “She’s more focused. There were times where she would be heading to a soccer game or coming from practice right to softball. She was just a little distracted. She’s always had the ability.”
Kennedy bats second in the Fighting Irish lineup, a move that Lenhoff made last year in an effort to get the slugger more at-bats and to help prevent the opposition from just pitching around her. With the No. 3 and No. 4 hitters coming up after her, it makes it more difficult for a team to intentionally walk Kennedy, Lenhoff said.
Kennedy is fine with taking a walk if it helps the team. But she also has more than 40 RBI and hits for a high average.
“I try not to think about the home runs or hitting a home run,” she said. “When I think about it, that’s when it seems I don’t hit as well. When I’m up to bat, I’m just thinking about advancing the runner or getting on base or just making contact.”
Julia is the daughter of David and Julianne Kennedy. Her father was a softball umpire when she was younger, and one of her brothers played baseball. She picked up his sport, mainly playing baseball at first.
“I didn’t play softball until I was like 10,” she said. “I learned to play by playing baseball.”
When she does make contact, and she knows the ball will be sailing over the outfield fence, Kennedy admits she gets a special feeling in her stomach.
“Oh, it is such an adrenaline rush,” she said. “The feeling when you hit that sweet spot with the bat is unbelievable. I just love it.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) All eyes are on a drive by Gabriel Richard’s Julia Kennedy this season. (Middle) Kennedy puts a charge into another swing this spring. (Photos courtesy of the Ann Arbor Father Gabriel Richard softball program.)
The MHSAA and Holly school communities are grieving this week after the sudden loss of Tony Coggins, a shining light in his educational community and an enthusiastic supporter of school sports as a public address announcer for several of our largest championship events.
But while that cheerful tone has been quieted, it surely will not be forgotten by the many fortunate to enjoy an event in the presence of that voice and the joyfulness he brought into every arena, press box and classroom.
Coggins, 51, died Saturday. He is survived by his wife Kristy and children Emma and Bradlee, among several family and friends from his local and greater sports communities.
His career as a PA announcer began during his freshman year of high school in 1985, when his father Dale Coggins – Flushing’s athletic director at the time – couldn’t find anyone else to announce middle school football games. That was 39 years ago, and this fall Tony Coggins was in his 24th announcing at Holly, where he taught and served as an administrator in addition to his role as “Voice of the Holly Bronchos” for football, basketball, baseball, softball, volleyball, competitive cheer and swimming & diving over the years.
Coggins has been a mainstay among MHSAA Finals PA announcers over the last decade in football, basketball, softball and most recently volleyball. He lent his voice to college sports at University of Michigan as well. “Tony was a huge part of our Finals events. It’s hard to imagine it being the same without him,” MHSAA Executive Director Mark Uyl said.
As part of the run-up to the MHSAA public address announcers clinic in 2018, Coggins said this about what drew him to the microphone:
“I have zero athletic ability whatsoever, which is interesting because my father was an all-state running back. But I enjoy being involved, and I've always been the one for history and statistics and knowing what's going on,” Coggins said. “This is a way for me to be involved. It's a way for me to use a talent I've been given; public speaking has always come pretty naturally for me.
“So I worked at my craft to get better. I got better from watching the people around me, from studying the people I like, and the people – if I saw someone I didn’t care for – I'd make a note and say to myself, ‘Don't do that.’ I take feedback from people very personally, and I mean that in a good way. If somebody takes the time to come up and say, ‘You did this well; I think you should change this,’ that means they care about the program also. We all have the same goal in mind, and that's to make the experience good for the high school student and the parents, the fans, that come there.”
Funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 28, at St. John Vianney, 2415 Bagley Street in Flint. There will be visitation from 2-8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, at the Swartz Funeral Home, 1225 West Hill Road, and at the church from 10 a.m. Saturday until the time of the Mass.
The Holly volleyball team played for something bigger tonight
Beloved PA announcer Anthony Coggins died on Friday night from a heart attack
— Brandon Green🍀 (@BGreenReports) October 24, 2023