By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
When you’re looking for a new coach to take over your high school’s baseball program, selecting a guy with a lifetime .400 batting average off Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander is a pretty good start.
Steve Normane, who played first base at Rutgers University and went 2-for-5 during his collegiate career while facing the
future Major League Baseball star pitcher, recently was named the head coach at Holy Spirit High School, replacing Bob Soifer, who stepped down. Soifer had coached the Spartans for the last two seasons after Keith Gorman, who went 120-54 in seven seasons, left to take over at Cumberland County College.
Normane, a 32-year-old Brigantine resident who graduated from Rutgers in 2003, was a varsity assistant under Soifer this past spring. Soifer, who spent nine years as an assistant coach at Atlantic City High School and five years with the Holy Spirit program including the last two as head coach, said he decided to step down in order to concentrate on some health issues.
Normane said that he is ready to take over the Spartans’ program despite not having any previous head coaching experience, thanks in large part to the guidance he received from Soifer as well as Rutgers coach Fred Hill.
“I was surprised. (Soifer) expressed that he had been thinking about (stepping down). He’s been coaching over 40 years. He gave me an inclination at the beginning of the season it would be a couple more seasons. I didn’t expect it to be now,” Normane said. “I told him, ‘I’m with you and hopefully when the time comes I’ll be able to take over.’ It happened sooner than I expected. I owe a ton to Soifer. He knew my background from Rutgers, and all throughout the year he would tell me, ‘one day you’re going to be a head coach and this is what you’re going to have to do.’ I have a lot of confidence that I know what’s coming, and that’s because of him.”
Said Soifer, “Steve is going to be awesome. I’ve been coaching a long time and I’ve coached with a lot of guys before and we really worked well together. He knows the game and the kids love him. I think it will be a real good transition.”
Normane said he is eager for the opportunity, as well as to bring his style of baseball to the Spartans.
“I was thrilled. I really wanted it. I had a great time being the assistant coach. I was the one they felt they could really come to and talk to, and that’s going to change now that I’m the head coach, but it’s something I want,” Normane said. “I feel like my strength is going to be managing the games and I’m looking forward to that. I wouldn’t call it pressure, it’s more of an opportunity to continue the tradition and take it even further.
“We really want to compete for state championships and compete with St. Augustine and Gloucester Catholic and schools like that. I feel like what I can bring to the table can really start to take us there. Our program is going to be the Rutgers program, that’s what I know. I learned it from coach Hill and he’s the best coach I’ve ever seen at preparing you for every possible situation.”
Hill is a college baseball coaching icon, having coached for 30 years at Rutgers, winning more than 1,000 games.
Normane certainly has the baseball pedigree that a competitive South Jersey program such as Holy Spirit wants. In 142 games at Rutgers, Normane, who graduated from Livingston High School, hit .313 with 13 home runs, 96 RBIs, 147 hits, 81 runs, a .379 on-base percentage and a .474 slugging percentage.
Soifer said Normane’s experience as a Division I player will serve him well as a coach at a high-level high school program.
“He had a great career at Rutgers. I didn’t have that kind of career,” Soifer said. “He’s a 4-year D-I player, so as far as that goes he knows the game. This will be his first time as a head coach, so it’s going to be a learning process for him, but he’s real compassionate about the game. He’s firm, but he’s really good with the kids. I’ve learned a lot from him and I’ve been around the game for a long time.”
Normane said he wants to build an aggressive team that wins games with great defense and baserunning.
“Over the past year I’ve developed a high school philosophy. From what I can tell, if you’re solid in the infield and you run the bases aggressively you’re going to win baseball games at this level,” Normane said. “So I’m going to bring a lot of aggressiveness, a lot of intelligence. I want our guys to be ready for every situation.”
What will help is that Holy Spirit returns some outstanding players, including ace pitcher Mike DiIanni and starting
infielders Robert and Anthony Boselli. Holy Spirit’s other assistant coaches — Patrick Mullin, Adam Colon and Mike Buccafurni — are all planning to return as well, another plus for Normane.
DiIanni, a rising senior, said the transition should be smooth and that he’s glad Normane is taking over.
“It’s a great move for the team. He’s a great baseball guy, he had a very successful career at Rutgers and has a lot of knowledge about the game,” DiIanni said. “He has a positive influence on the team. He pushed us every day to get better. He’s a good guy for the job.”
“I’m glad I got the job this early. We’ll have the summer, the off-season training. I’ll be able to engrain my guys with my way of doing things before March 1, so they should have a pretty good idea about what to expect by then,” Normane said. “We’re losing five seniors but we have guys ready to step up and replace them. Having a big senior class (in 2014) is going to help.”
Holding down two jobs and raising two children younger than 4 years old isn’t easy, but Normane said his wife, Andrea, an Atlantic City High School graduate, completely supports him in his new role as the Spartans’ skipper.
“She’s extremely supportive. When I was an assistant coach this year, she knew that from March 1 to June 1 a lot was on her,” Normane said. “We’re both working and we work different shifts and every day we had to figure out what was going, but she never once said ‘hey, this is crazy, this is too much time.’ And when I told her I wanted to go for the head coaching job she was all for it.”
Normane said one of the highlights of his career at Rutgers was hitting a walk-off home run against Notre Dame in the 19th inning of a game in 2003. He’d surely like to see some walk-off home runs from Holy Spirit players. Although Andrea might not be too pleased if any of Steve’s games next season go 19 innings.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: 609-788-4294; firstname.lastname@example.org