Five years ago, Lakota West High School softball coach Keith Castner watched as his older brother Steve was inducted into the Ohio High School Fastpitch Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
It never dawned on him he could be in those shoes in the near future.
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So, when Keith Castner received a call informing him he was selected as a member of the Hall’s Class of 2018, he was “completely stunned.” Alter coach Rick Armstrong nominated him in the fall, and he was officially inducted, along with two others, Jan. 12 in a ceremony at the Hilton Columbus at Easton.
“That really never crossed my mind because we teach our girls to think about team, and it’s no different as a coach,” Castner said. “We always say, ‘Work hard, play with class, and the wins will take care of themselves.’ Plus, when I think of a Hall of Fame, I think of people that are out of the sport and they put you in down the road. I was happy for Steve, and he deserved it, but when the person came to me and said, ‘Hey, you’re one of the three inductees,’ I was like, ‘What?’ There are so many great coaches out there that deserve it, and the committee does a great job choosing. I’m happy. It’s an honor, but I think it just means I’m getting old.”
Castner, who is preparing for his 21st season as Firebirds head coach, collected his 400th win last spring and now sits at 410-157-1 for his career, all of which has been at West. He owns a 72.3 win percentage, and his win total places him at 15th among nearly 800 active Ohio high school fastpitch coaches and at 26th all-time.
Over his two decades at Lakota West, Castner’s teams have won three regional championships, which sent the Firebirds to the state Final Four in 2005, 2006 and 2011, as well as four city championships (Division I Coaches Poll), six Greater Miami Conference championships and nine district championships.
He has been named GMC coach of the year six times, among his many other accolades.
“His ability to build relationships with the kids and to get the most out of their ability is exceptional as a coach,” West athletic director Scott Kaufman said. “In our world, you’re looking for coaches that can coach kids to be the best they can possibly be. He has that skill, and I think that’s why he’s been so successful. He’s a Lakota guy through and through, and he cares about the school, the kids, the program and will do anything to help the kids be successful. The fact he was chosen for the Hall of Fame is a reflection of not only how successful he’s been but also how well respected he is among his coaching peers.”
Steve Castner, who coaches at Lakota East, pulled Keith into softball after he graduated in 1987 from Georgetown College, where he played football. Steve was the junior varsity coach at the old Lakota High School at the time and encouraged his younger brother to apply for the open job with the freshman team. Keith, a 1983 graduate of Lakota, got the job and held that position for two seasons before moving up to JV head coach and varsity assistant when Steve was bumped up to the varsity head coaching position.
When Lakota split into two high schools, Steve took the job at East and Keith began his varsity head coaching career at West.
“I didn’t know too much about fastpitch,” Keith Castner said. “I was a varsity assistant football coach that fall and worked in the special education department as an instructional aide, and I coached freshman girls’ basketball so I figured I would coach a third sport. I was young and figured I could do it and I fell in love with it and went from there.”
The highlights so far have been the three Final Four appearances, although West has never made it to the state final, and the first district title in 2003.
But, Castner said it’s the players, coaches and parents that have kept him coming back every year. He doesn’t expect to hang it up anytime soon, either.
“There’s so much dedication by a lot of coaches and a lot of families,” he said. “They’re always trying to get better. That’s what keeps me going. On top of that, these young ladies at Lakota West are great girls in the classroom and on and off the field. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”