Quite a catch

Lean on me: Frank­ford High School seni­or catch­er Dani­elle Co­or and head soft­ball coach Ken Tom­czuk have been a win­ning tan­dem for the Pi­on­eers for the last four sea­sons. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

Frank­ford soft­ball coach Ken Tom­czuk is al­ways quick with a clev­er pun, so it was no sur­prise he offered this up about Dani­elle Co­or, his four-year start­ing catch­er:

“She’s thrown out more play­ers than the boun­cers at The In­fin­ity Club.”

Wit­ti­cisms aside, Tom­czuk’s as­sess­ment of his star play­er is not far off. Co­or, a seni­or who also played varsity bas­ket­ball for the Pi­on­eers, has star­ted every game be­hind the plate in her ca­reer, a re­mark­able feat giv­en the lumps catch­ers take man­ning the back­stop. 

It can be an un­for­giv­ing po­s­i­tion, one many young kids are re­luct­ant to try due to the pos­sib­il­ity of be­ing struck by bats or foul tips, not to men­tion be­ing bowled over in col­li­sions at the plate. This hasn’t been a prob­lem for Co­or, who star­ted play­ing at age 4; formerly a third base­man, she tried catch­ing when she got to Frank­ford be­cause the team didn’t have any­one will­ing to try it out.

She took to it in­stantly.

“As catch­er, every play is in my hands,” Co­or said. “I love call­ing the plays, telling my pitch­er where to throw the ball. There isn’t an­oth­er po­s­i­tion on the field where you have that type of con­trol.”

And how about those pos­sible col­li­sions at the plate?

“That’s my fa­vor­ite part,” she said with a laugh. “I love when people try to score on me … it’s such an ad­ren­aline rush.”

Tom­czuk backed Co­or up, sum­ming her up in a way only he could: “She takes a lick­ing and keeps on tick­ing.”

Tom­czuk, a re­spec­ted fig­ure at the school for the staunch em­phas­is he places on aca­dem­ics, re­coun­ted a story from the 2013 sea­son open­er against Sci­ence Lead­er­ship Academy when Co­or went 5-for-5 at the plate and threw out two run­ners at second, one at third and tagged out two more at home. 

“That’s a sea­son for some catch­ers,” the coach said. “For her? Just an­oth­er game.”

In her four sea­sons on varsity, Co­or, a team cap­tain and con­sist­ent All-Pub­lic se­lec­tion, has built a repu­ta­tion around the league. Op­pos­ing coaches work their game plan around stop­ping her — it hasn’t worked; Frank­ford is 6-0 this sea­son — and even the um­pires like and re­spect her. 

Co­or has got­ten here through hard work, both on the field and in the classroom. An hon­or roll stu­dent with am­bi­tions of be­com­ing a forensic sci­ent­ist, she’s ar­rived at this point by fol­low­ing the blue­print for suc­cess Tom­czuk lays out for all of his play­ers.

Like all high school teach­ers and coaches, he main­tains that aca­dem­ics come first; however, listen­ing to Tom­czuk tell it, it’s evid­ent that his policy is much more than just rhet­or­ic.

“My job is to teach them, to con­stantly ap­proach every situ­ation as a learn­ing mo­ment and drive them to­ward their goals,” he said. “The whole idea is to give them something that will en­sure they’ll come to school, and they get that by be­ing a part of a team. By stress­ing them hav­ing to make the grades in or­der to play, it drives them to work a little harder. It’s a hook, but a good hook.”

Co­or, who has nev­er had a prob­lem keep­ing up in the classroom, serves as an ex­ten­sion of her coach in mak­ing sure the rules are fol­lowed. She aids team­mates whenev­er she can, help­ing them her­self with home­work, or by point­ing them in the dir­ec­tion they need to go to get as­sist­ance from a teach­er. 

To­geth­er, they teach the rest of the team that it’s OK to make mis­takes; rather than dwell­ing on them, Co­or and Tom­czuk preach turn­ing any and all low points in­to pos­it­ives.

“That’s why they put erasers on pen­cils,” Tom­czuk said. “Every 30 seconds of an­ger is 30 seconds of hap­pi­ness you lose.”

Co­or holds her­self and her team ac­count­able for the stand­ards Tom­czuk has set. It’s an en­vir­on­ment that breeds pos­it­iv­ity, re­gard­less wheth­er the team wins or loses.

She’s nev­er won a soft­ball cham­pi­on­ship, and al­though she thinks this is the year the Pi­on­eers get to that point (they got to the league semi­finals a sea­son ago), Co­or won’t beat her­self up if it doesn’t hap­pen. She’s much more con­cerned with the fu­ture of the pro­gram when she’s gone.

“I think about it all the time,” she said of gradu­ation. “But more so for help­ing my team­mates once I’m not here any­more. Nobody else has played catch­er here in four years, so I’d like to get someone ready.”

Tom­czuk wasn’t sur­prised when hear­ing about Co­or put­ting her team­mates ahead of her own per­son­al goals. 

“That’s what Frank­ford’s all about, be­com­ing a part of something,” he said. “She has con­fid­ence in her­self to the point where she wants to achieve for someone else and not just her­self. Re­gard­less of what hap­pens in the play­offs, she’s already won as far as I’m con­cerned. Her at­ti­tude has pre­pared her for whatever comes next, the one that says any­thing is achiev­able. She be­lieves very strongly in that.”

Co­or, who lives right on the Frank­ford/Wissi­nom­ing bor­der, is en­joy­ing the time she has left at school. She rel­ishes in the fact that her prowess be­hind the plate and at bat is known by every team Frank­ford faces, giv­ing her a drive to con­tin­ue liv­ing up to the enorm­ous ex­pect­a­tions she’s built for her­self.

“It means everything to me that oth­er coaches know about me,” she said. “I make it known that nobody should try to steal on me. If a run­ner gets on first, I’ll try to pick her off any chance I get. I’ll get you.

“And I’m not cocky, even if some people think I am,” she in­sists. “It’s just a mat­ter of play­ing hard for something that mat­ters to you. People know me for what I do on the field, and it’s fun walk­ing around the hall­ways at school hav­ing people ask­ing you about the game and how you’re do­ing. I love that people say there’s no oth­er catch­er like me in the Pub­lic League. They’re right, too.”

The at­mo­sphere around Co­or has fostered pos­it­ive think­ing, no mat­ter what it says on the score­board.

“Every once in awhile, someone with a little ex­tra spir­it and oomph comes along,” Tom­czuk said. “When you think the tank is empty, these play­ers pull more out and give you an ex­tra lift. That’s Dani­elle.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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