Anyone attending a South Portland softball game in recent years couldn’t miss the hulking figure pacing outside the fence down the rightfield line.
That gentle giant had an unrivaled knowledge of the game, was admired and respected by all, and now, sadly, has left an enormous void on the sideline.
Jerry Kill, 54, passed away unexpectedly Saturday. He leaves behind his wife of 30 years, Kimberlee, and three athletically and academically accomplished daughters who brought him so much pride: Kara, 28, Kristin, 21, and Alison, 20.
Kill coached his girls as well as many others and was renowned for his support of South Portland athletics.
“Jerry was the parent that every coach wants to have,” said South Portland varsity softball coach Ralph Aceto. “He came to the game and supported his kids. He was very quiet and unassuming. He was a terrific guy to sit down with and talk to about softball. He was just a great supporter of girls’ athletics.”
Kill was born in Washington state in 1955 and grew up in Ohio, bleeding scarlet and gray for his beloved Ohio State Buckeyes. He earned a business degree and later a Masters in sports administration from OSU. Kill landed a job in professional baseball in 1977 with the Texas League Beeville Blazers (he was the youngest general manager anywhere at that time), spent time with the Charleston Charlies, then came to Maine in 1983 with the Maine Guides, the Triple A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. He rubbed elbows with the likes of Hall of Famers Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and legendary characters Billy Martin and Pete Rose, but remained grounded, focused on his job and soon faced a crossroads.
After the Maine Guides left the state, Kill traveled to Florida and worked for the Houston Astros during spring training. He was on the fast track to “The Show,” but the Kills decided to remain in Maine, seeing it as an optimal place to raise their children.
Kill (who would manage the Day’s Inn and later Hampton Inn in South Portland) soon began coaching Kara and later coached Kristin and Ali as well, in basketball and softball. He also served as president of the South Portland softball boosters.
“He was a coach,” said Kristin Kill. “He never treated me differently than anyone else. He was always fair. He never yelled at players. He tried to teach more about strategy than anything else. He looked to find that special talent in everyone. He felt everyone had something they brought to the team. He was so good at working with people.”
Especially his daughters.
Kara Kill Burns was a softball and swimming star at South Portland and went on to the Coast Guard Academy. She is currently a lieutenant and is stationed in Seattle. She and her husband, Andrew, are expecting their first child, a son, next month. Kristin was a softball standout for the Red Riots, earning Forecaster Spring Female Athlete of the Year honors after her senior year in 2006. She is entering her senior season at Niagara University, where she plays softball and studies marketing and psychology. Ali played field hockey in high school. She attends the University of Maine in Orono, where she plays club field hockey and is studying pre-med.
Kill made the transition from coach to fan/father with an approach that is rare in this day and age.
“Jerry was all about supporting the coach,” said his wife. “That person was impacting our child. He kept his mouth shut. What amazed me is that he’d tell other parents that the umpires were doing the best job they can.”
Once Kristin made the move to Niagara, her father was never far behind, doing whatever it took to take in as many games as he could.
“The Niagara coach would joke how Jerry would do anything to get there,” Kim Kill said. “He would drive all night. He’d get there 15 minutes before the game started and that coach would say, ‘OK, we can play now. Mr. Kill is here.'”
“I can’t think of many games he missed,” Kristin added. “If we wasn’t there, he was on-line or getting updates from other parents. He was my biggest supporter. He knew all of my stats and all of my teammates’ stats.”
Niagara plans to dedicate its 2010 season to Kill with a uniform patch.
Aceto said that South Portland expects to do something to honor him as
While there will undoubtedly be something missing at the South Portland and Niagara softball fields next spring, Kill’s legacy will live on.
“He’ll always be there,” said Kristin Kill. “Everytime I look out into rightfield, I know he’ll be there watching me and pacing. He’ll always be my biggest fan.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org