From deadlines and bylines to the baseline and sidelines, Kevin Hieronymus lives a double life.
A mild-mannered sports editor for the past 26 years at Princeton’s Bureau County Republican, Hieronymus transforms into, well, an equally mild-mannered girls basketball coach at Princeton High School at night.
Okay, maybe double life is a bit of a stretch.
But when basketball is in season for the girls on the Tigresses, Coach Hi (Hieronymus’ monosyllabic alter-ego), is just Coach Hi.
“We joked with him at the beginning — asked if he was going to interview himself on the basketball court,” said senior guard McCaela May of having Hieronymus, who covered her in the past on the volleyball court, take over as the girls hoops coach.
“It was a little different at first. But it was kind of nice because you knew him and were comfortable talking with him from other sports so it was nice having him. Usually we have coaches from inside the school, teachers and stuff like that. So it was kind of like he was a teacher and we were more comfortable with him.”
Turns out Hieronymus almost was a teacher.
He graduated from Illinois State University with a teaching degree after studying physical education, history and mass communications in the mid 80s, but landed a job with the BCR a short time after college.
His passion for sports not satiated with his day job, Hieronymus has spent the past 26 years in Princeton coaching a multitude of youth sports.
From Tee-ball to soccer, little league and softball to hoops, he’s nearly coached it all.
Put it this way — he’s been listed as ‘coach’ on enough team photos over the years to cover an appliance store worth of refrigerators.
“I’ve been coaching youth sports for the past 25-26 years, including basketball with my oldest daughter (Brooke, a freshman at PHS). I went to college to be a teacher and coach,” said Hieronymus, who also coached freshman boys basketball at PHS from 1988-92 under head coach Roger Lowe, noting his first freshman class of having the distinction of making the Sweet 16 as seniors.
Feeling the call to get back involved with prep sports, Hieronymus — who had entertained local coaching offers in various sports in the past — decided to return to the high school coaching ranks with the open Princeton job.
“I took a little detour to get back into high school coaching from the newspaper business. It’s kept me close to the game all these years and deep down, I’ve probably done some coaching while watching games,” Hieronymus said. “The one thing I’ve stayed away from in the paper is second-guessing how a coach is coaching, and now I guess it’s a good thing.”
He jokes that he was banking his first “no comments” for his friends in the media.
Separation of duties
After receiving the go-ahead from his management at the BCR to coordinate a whirlwind schedule as both a coach and sports editor, Hieronymus strives to keep his work at the paper and coaching separated.
“We’ve totally separated my two jobs — my newspaper job and coaching job,” said Hieronymus, who has other reporters cover his squad’s games for the paper. “I really don’t think (the Tigresses) think of me as a reporter at this point.”
Princeton junior Zoe Mead said she had to do a bit of a double-take after being interviewed by her new basketball coach on the cross country course this fall, but she quickly got used to the dual role when basketball season started and Hieronymus was coaching — not covering — her on the hardwood.
Now, Coach Hi has been getting some good reviews for his work with her and the Tigresses.
“He’s very supportive,” Mead said. “He’s positive and upbeat.”
“I really like him, it’s different than years in the past. He’s more laid back, but we know what we’re supposed to do on the floor,” May added. “He’s not a yeller or anything — he’s very encouraging. I think that’s better for us. ... I think his demeanor works well for how we are as players.”
Getting by with a little help from his friends
If Coach Hi’s style goes over well with his troops on the Tigresses, credit two-plus decades in the youth coaching ranks, not to mention the hundreds of games and all the coaches he’s watched, covered and learned from over the years.
“I’ve watched coaches over the years — boys and girls coaches. I’d say there’s things that have always gone to the back of my coaching mind, like ‘Hey, that looked like a good idea,’” said Hieronymus, who also has the benefit of a massive sports Rolodex with all the contacts he has made. “I’ve had the chance to use my contacts with head coaches of the years and talk with them for some advice. I’ve found everybody to be very friendly and outgoing in giving me that help.
“Twenty-six years worth of coaching buddies, I guess. I’ve told them that I always felt like I was one of them because I was supposed to have been a teacher and coach out of college,” added Hieronymus, who credits his grade school coach in Atlanta, Ill., ‘Stormin” Norman Mueller with sewing the seeds of his own coaching career. “I’ve always tried to stand up for (coaches) when others maybe don’t.”
His turn on the hot seat
If there’s a time where the girls on the Tigresses remember Coach Hi is the newspaper’s Kevin Hieronymus, it’s when the long-time sports scribe gets interviewed by other members of the media.
“It’s kind of funny because now he’s in the hot seat, getting asked the questions. It’s a little funny to see him switch roles,” Mead said.
Hieronymus said that the experience of going on the hot seat himself was a little eye-opening.
“It’s definitely different. It’s a strange thing, thinking about the questions that reporters might ask me now and maybe answer some questions I’ve seen coaches kind of frown about a little bit that I’ve asked over the years — not that I’ve had any of those,” Hieronymus said. “It’s turned the tables on me, I guess.
“It helps you appreciate both jobs more, probably. I know what the reporters are going through, what their jobs are and I’m back to knowing the other end, the coaching stance.
Seeing a familiar face on the other side of the scorers table has set the stage for some ribbing from rival coaches as well.
“It’s certainly made for some funny comments coaching against some of the coaches I’ve covered over the years like Tom McGunnigal at St. Bede and Chuck Blake at Kewanee,” said Heironymus, who admitted it was a bit intimidating going against the like of McGunnigal, Blake, and Marquette’s Todd Hopkins, who have amassed “hundreds of more wins that me.”
A family affair
Managing to balance work, his family and his time with the Tigresses and other various commitments with area youth athletic programs would not be possible without a lot of help, Hieronymus said, from his family to the management at the BCR, who gave him their blessing and helped him be able to fulfill his passion for coaching.
“It’s definitely a juggling act. I make sure I don’t’ shortchange anything. The newspaper, the coaching and family — they’re all very important to me and I don’t want to slight any of them,” Hieronymus said. “I guess the good thing is my family is used to being in sporting events so that’s nothing new — they often go with me.
Sports are just a way of life in the Hieronymus family, which includes wife Kami and daughters Brooke and Brynn.
“We’re always watching one of our girls playing and now they’re watching my team play. They’ll also tag along with dad when he plays reporter,” Hieronymus said.
When asked if they can come up with a headline for Hieronymus’ debut season with the Tigresses, May, Mead and PHS senior Mackenzey Wilson, think for a moment.
“I think the first part would have to be ‘Coach Hi:’, and then something,” Wilson says.
“... the quiet ...” May continues.
“... newspaper guy?” Mead offers, as the group momentarily stalls trying to finish the connection from reporter to coach.
They reach a consensus after a few seconds of brainstorming.
“Coach Hi: His turn for the hot seat.”
That’s seems just like the type of headline Coach Hi’s alter ego Kevin Hieronymus — who has won numerous headline writing awards during his 2 ½-decade career in print — could get behind.
Chris Yucus can be reached at 220-6995 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsChris.