Oct. 14, 2013
By Jon Cooper
Neither Georgia Tech Softball Coach Shelly Hoerner nor Georgia Gwinnett College Coach Kat Ihlenburg could help but take their work home with them following the Yellow Jackets’ Sunday’s doubleheader sweep of the Grizzlies at Mewborn Field.
That’s not unusual. That’s simply part of the head coaches being super-competitive.
What might have been a little unusual was that Hoerner and Ihlenburg took their work to the SAME home.
Hoerner has been living with Ihlenburg and her husband, Mark, in their Lawrenceville home for the better part of four months and continues to do so while her husband, Jeff, goes about selling their house in Charleston.
Actually, the living arrangement isn’t that unusual, either, as the coaches, who have been close for better than two decades. They go back to the days when Hoerner was head coach at Barry College and Ihlenburg was the star catcher/outfielder, who helped lead the team to the 2002 Division II College World Series while setting a school single-season wins record. All that is missing are unique recruiting stories, but, alas, there are none, as Ihlenburg already was a freshman at the Miami Shores, Fla., school when Hoerner arrived to coach.
A couple of years later, Hoerner hired away Ihlenburg, then a coach at Reinhardt College, to join her staff in Charleston. The two spent seven years together until 2012, when Ihlenburg left to start the Georgia Gwinnett program.
“It’s been a neat relationship,” said Hoerner. “We’ve built a relationship. She became a friend. After she graduated I was in her wedding and just throughout the time of pushing together we’ve become very, very good friends. She’s one of my best friends.”
When Georgia Tech hired Hoerner on June 21, the two coaches and best friends became housemates.
That set up an interesting dynamic, as both Hoerner and Ihlenburg were expectant mothers, each carrying their first child.
About eight weeks ago, Ihlenburg gave birth to daughter, Elizabeth. Hoerner remembers the day quite well.
“Her husband knocked on my door, he said, `Kat’s in labor.’ I jumped up, excited, of course,” she recalled. “It was kind of an eye-opener. They went to the hospital. I went a little bit later. So basically, I was in her room until she was basically nine centimeters. I had to go to a team picnic with my team and a little while later she had the baby. I went back to the hospital that night to see her and, obviously, the next day. I was there for a little while.
“I gave them some time alone in the house for a little bit,” she added. “I’ve only been there probably six of the eight weeks. Obviously, for them, to have a newborn, it’s difficult. They want to do things on their own. But they’ve been very good to me, in the situation I’m in.”
Ironically, in parenthood, the student-teacher roles have flipped but every day has served as a learning day for Hoerner, as she anticipates the arrival of her and Jeff’s daughter in a few weeks.
“When I come home at night after practice I want to see that baby. I want to see how she’s handling her,” she said. “There are different episodes. Sometimes she’s really good, sometimes she cries. It will be interesting to see how my daughter reacts. Is it the same? Is it not going to be the same?
“Everything has helped me to be a little more calm going into being a mother because I’m seeing first-hand what Kat has had to go through,” she added. “She had a fairly easy pregnancy, she had a fairly easy delivery and Elizabeth has been a very good baby. Obviously, a baby is going to cry but I think it’s been very good for me to see, especially since my husband is still away. Kat and her husband have been very good to me in allowing me to stay there even though they’ve had a child. It’s been good for me to learn and us bouncing ideas off of each other, whether it’s mothering or softball. “
The timing of their two schools competing against each other was perfect, as Division I Georgia Tech and NAIA Georgia Gwinnett would never otherwise meet.
On Sunday, both coaches wanted to win and both Hoerner and Ihlenburg coached to win, but there was an underlying current of calm to the games.
“We come from the same mold and we want to win, we want to excel but we want the best for each other, too,” said Hoerner, who. “I want the best for her program and she wants the best for my program. In the spring, we will never collide. I want them to be able to be successful.”
By Sunday evening, Georgia Tech had won both games, 3-1 and 10-1. The two coaches addressed their two teams and the two coaches headed for home, having hopefully taught their kids some important life lessons.
It was time for them to head home and have a kid — eight-month-old Elizabeth — teach them some life lessons.
Undoubtedly they enjoyed the experience and will enjoy many more in the coming years.
“We’re going to be living a few miles apart from each other and raising our daughters together,” said Hoerner. “She is one of my best friends. She just had a baby eight weeks ago so we’ve got a lot in common right now. It’s kind of crazy.”
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