Steve Schilling, Family-Coach-Mentor-Fighter
Huntington PAL coach for 44 straight years and has a full bucket list.
By The Den's Mike Rice
Characteristics and attributes often root themselves into the DNA of families, branching out into the ancestral tree decade after decade.
We’ve all known a clan that produced a seemingly endless bevy of blonde haired, blue eyed beauties or always had a surplus of strapping, future All-American athletes.
While those physical traits are noticeable with a mere glance, it’s the quiet, stealth-like internal traits that commonly author the most interesting chapters in a family’s book of folklore.
Whether it be a palate that shares a love for exotic cuisine, an unexplained fear of thunder or, in the case of the Schillings, a steadfast refusal to give up.
Steve Schilling can’t recall how he met his wife, Mary, with whom he celebrated “38 beautiful years” until she succumbed to cancer in 2015. They shared the same friends and just always knew each other.
Somewhere along the way, the two began to fall in love - , just as the great REO Speedwagon once crooned, “what started out as friendship had grown stronger”.
With that discovery began a courtship that paved the way to wedding bells, and the two ultimately became the loving parents
Steve being recognized for 35 years of
coaching at the Huntington PAL
of two children, Katie and Josh.
Both pregnancies came as a bit of a surprise to the couple.
Having been diagnosed with an ovarian cyst, Mary wasn’t expected to be able to have children. While they never gave up hopes of conceiving, the Schillings began exploring the possibilities of adopting, as well.
It was during a summer camping trip together that Steve and Mary discovered their hopes and prayers had been answered.
Mary’s inability to “stay around the campfire” led to some old-fashioned detective work. A short time later, the Schillings had their verdict.
Not only was Mary pregnant with Katie, but she was already three months along, thus beginning what Steve jokingly refers to as one of the “…shortest pregnancies ever”.
A few years later, still buoyed by their previous success in defying medical experts, Steve and Mary looked to remove Katie’s title of only child.
Against the odds, Steve and Mary were able to conceive a second time.
Unfortunately, just seven weeks after Josh’s birth, the family resolve would be tested, once again, as Josh contracted spinal meningitis.
After countless surgeries, Josh was released from the hospital and into the care of his parents.
Later, the Schillings learned Josh had been “released to pass”, as the doctors did not expect him to survive.
Unbeknownst to the medical professionals, the youngest member of the Schilling family had other plans, ones that didn’t involve giving up.
Josh went on to spurn the doctor’s prognosis for 18 years, until he passed in October of 2007.
Perhaps, inspired by his son’s refusal to let the opinions of his physicians dictate his life, Steve began his own quest to rewrite the rules of medicine.
In August of 2002, while working a roofing job for his company, Schilling Construction, Steve had a “ladder shift” beneath him.
The subsequent fall left Steve hospitalized with three broken vertebrae in his neck. One of the vertebrae was crushed in such dramatic fashion that it sent shards of bone into his spinal column.
The severity of the injuries left doctors questioning the extent to which Schilling would recover, if at all.
After awakening from a weeklong, medically induced, coma, Steve was told it would be a year before he would be able to walk again.
He turned that year into just twenty-one days.
For many people, simply surviving, let alone walking again, would the perfect laurel to rest on. For Steve, it was just the start.
Prior to his injury, Schilling was heavily involved in coaching youth sports.
He’d coached basketball at the Salvation Army, baseball at the PAL and softball with the Park Department, as well heading up the PAL’s baseball program for three years in the 80’s.
As enjoyable as those coaching liaisons were, it was the PAL’s football program that truly captured Steve’s heart.
At 5 foot 4 and 140 pounds soaking wet, gridiron exploits weren’t in the cards for Steve while at Huntington North High School.
A sideline legacy, rivaling that of the legendary former Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry, was waiting just around the bend, however.
In 1976, Schilling took the helm of his first PAL football squad. Forty-four years and a broken neck later, he hasn’t missed a season since.
With over four decades of coaching under his belt, Schilling’s teams have had their share of championships, including a 6-0 finish this past season.
Yet, when asked how many titles his clubs have garnered over the years, Steve simply said “I don’t know and I don’t care”.
He continued, “I will coach to win every football game we have, but they (the kids) better be learning and having fun first”.
The last “eight or nine years have been some of the most fun”, Schilling remarked, and what started out as just “something to do” has turned into much more. Now coaching the grandchildren of former players, Steve has already signed on to coach next season and says he’ll continue to coach until “my body says I can’t do it anymore”
Once he hangs up his whistle for the final time, Schilling plans to continue fishing and hunting, while getting to work on a bucket list that he admits has changed a bit, since his accident.
He’d like to take what he calls his “90/94, one way out and one way back trip” to visit Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Park.
There’s a reunion with an old friend of Mary’s and a jaunt to see relatives and old acquaintances in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Dakota on the itinerary, too.
Until then, Coach Schilling will continue to deliver pregame and halftime speeches reminding not only his players, but all of us, that no matter the score, there’s “no reason to give up”.