O'Connell's Tommy Orndorff retires as assistant athletic director

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Go to a softball game and you’ll hear coaches correcting or scolding their players — sometimes you hear more criticism than praise. But that isn’t the case at games coached by Tommy Orndorff, girls varsity head coach at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington.

Orndorff is his team’s biggest cheerleader. 

"I have given them 33 years and enjoyed every minute of it." Tommy Orndorff

“I’m their biggest fan,” he said. “I instill that belief in their mind, and in turn, they know and have the will to win.” 

Orndorff, who turns 70 in August, is retiring July 27 as assistant athletic director. 

“It has been a good run,” he said. “I have given them 33 years and enjoyed every minute of it. I love sports and athletics, and coaching softball. It’s been the best of all worlds for me.” 

Orndorff has not decided if he’ll keep coaching softball after his retirement. “That will happen after the season,” he said. 

As assistant athletic director, Orndorff coordinates the scheduling and oversees game management for the school’s 27 sports teams. 

His coaching and the players’ will to win has led to more than 770 wins over the course of his 33 years at O’Connell. 

Orndorff is single, having devoted his life to coaching. That dedication led to numerous awards, including the 1991 Arlington Coach of the Year from the Better Sports Club; the 1993 William Kaiser Achievement from the Fastpitch Hall of Fame; the 2002 and 2005 National Travel Ball Coach of the Year; and Coach of the Year by the Washington Post, the Journal newspapers, the Sun Gazette, and others. 

Orndorff said the award that was a “big deal” was the Amateur Softball Association Softball Hall of Fame in 2014. At the time, he was only the second travel softball coach in the Hall of Fame. 

He was chosen based on his record with the Shamrocks, a team he started in 1972 and coached for 39 years. The Shamrocks finished in the Final Five eight times at the ASA Junior Olympic National Championships. His team was the first from the eastern United States to win an ASA title and they qualified for nationals 25 times.

He came to O’Connell first as a communications/publications director. He took photos for the yearbook, many of which still hang around the school. Prior to O’Connell, Orndorff was a sports writer and editor for the Globe Newspapers in Fairfax and the Journal Newspapers in Springfield. 

“Several friends are encouraging me to write a book,” he said. “It’s a possibility. But I have a lot of work to do in a short time to finish up (and get things ready for the next person).”

Orndorff played sports growing up in Vienna and kept score for his father’s baseball team. “I have a tremendous love of baseball,” he said. “I found girls more open to coaching (so I coach softball).” 

He earned a bachelor’s in journalism with minors in English and political science from West Virginia University in Morgantown, W.Va. 

Though he never taught formally, Orndorff believes coaching is an extension of the classroom. “If I missed my calling, I think I would have been an excellent teacher,” he said. “The gym, softball fields or the basketball courts — those areas are my classrooms.”

One way he teaches the girls on his team is through the notebooks he has the girls write in. “Players suggest one word such as adversity, leadership or trust,” he said. “They take notes and then write an essay on how it relates to O’Connell softball or their lives. A lot comes out in the notebook sessions. They are open and honest through those notebooks and we find out about each other through them.” 

O’Connell Athletic Director Joe Wootten said Orndorff is a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. “He cares passionately about doing things the right way, has an incredible attention to detail, cares about people, and is a great competitor. He has used softball and his role in athletics to develop life skills in the young people he meets.”

Head of School Joseph Vorbach highlighted lesser-known attributes of Orndorff’s service. “His quiet attention to detail in the execution of countless athletic contests, his contributions to the recording of our history as a photojournalist, and his wise counsel to thousands of student-athletes and dozens of young coaches are invaluable parts of his legacy,” said Vorbach.  “We are very grateful for his service.”

Orndorff went out on a winning note. The O’Connell girls won the VISAA state softball championship May 23 by defeating Paul VI 4-2.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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