Legendary softball player Stan Kern — called the Colonel because of the way he commanded the pitching circle — died July 13 at age 80.
“Without the Colonel, the glory years of Victoria softball would not have been so successful,” said former teammate and slugger Harvey Stevenson.
Those halcyon years included the Victoria Bates Construction team, wearing the Maple Leaf and representing Canada as the national champions, co-winning the 1976 world championship in New Zealand and the 1979 Pan Am Games gold medal in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
“[Manager] Herb Bate gave us the opportunity to play the best teams in the world. Stan Kern gave us the ability to beat them,” said Stevenson.
“Stan was so competitive with such a desire to win.”
Kern was 280 pounds of pure unleashed pitching fury.
“Because of his size, he was so intimidating on the mound,” said Stevenson.
Kern’s power was backed by accuracy.
“He had pinpoint control,” said Stevenson.
“Every pitch had a purpose.”
Kern grew up on a farm near Leduc, Alta., and came to Victoria as a ready-made star from Edmonton, a city which also had a deep softball tradition and fielded great teams. In his first season in Victoria, he led Bates to the 1974 Canadian Senior A championship game before losing to pitching great Pete Landers and the Oshawa Tonys of Ontario before more than 5,000 fans in the days softball ruled at Royal Athletic Park.
“Losing in 1974 really brought the team together,” Kern once said.
It was a lesson learned and would not happen again as Victoria won the next four Canadian championships, with Kern twice named national tournament MVP, a co-share of the world title (after a storm cancelled the latter portion of the tournament in New Zealand) and the Pan Am Games gold medal.
Kern was unable to take part in the latter after intense back pain forced him to retire following the 1978 national championship. But he helped get the team to the pinnacle and had no regrets: “It was an easy decision for me. My back was finished. That last year was very painful.”
Commenting Saturday, Stevenson added: “Stan had such a violent pitch motion that it took a toll on his back.”
Kern’s competitiveness was almost unrivaled. The renowned Canadian sportswriter Jim Coleman described Kern as one of the fiercest competitors he had ever seen.
“Things have really changed. Players are more friendly now than I ever remember,” Kern said, upon his induction into the Softball Canada Hall of Fame in 1980.
“When we played, you never said anything to the opposing players, on or off the field. Senior A is serious business.”
The love of softball ran in the family with son Trevor and daughter Michelle going on to become Senior A players.
“My dad was one of the best of all-time and on a Victoria Bates team that was among the greatest ever put together,” said Trevor Kern.
“My dad was so focused that he never made eye contact with us kids in the stands at Royal Athletic Park while he warmed up for games. In the end, he wanted to be remembered as a great woodworker and a great pitcher.”
Stan Kern was predeceased by wife Joan and is survived by son Trevor (Dana) and daughters Michelle (Chris) and Rhonda (Mark) and two grandchildren.