While it didn’t take long following Kenneth Vial’s retirement from coaching to earn his place in the Louisiana Softball Coaches Association Hall of Fame – he was inducted in his final year as a coach, 2014 – there was a bit of a longer wait for the actual ceremony, and at one point a likelihood it would never happen at all.
But this year, Vial indeed had his day after all. And perhaps fittingly, his daughter Meghan made it happen – just as she inspired her father to become a softball coach in the first place many years ago.
Vial guided the Lady Tigers to the Class 5A state championship in 2011, and to the very rare accomplishment of three consecutive title game appearances from 2010 to 2012. He earned the Hall of Fame nod immediately after stepping away from the game, but there was one hang-up – the ceremony fell on the same weekend as the Junior College World Series in Colorado Springs, where his son Brooks would be competing as a member of the Delgado Dolphins.
“I told them, ‘Well, I’m going to be in Colorado,’” Vial recalled, “and he said it would be fine, we’d just do it next year. Well, come that time, Delgado made it back the next year too, and it fell on the same weekend again.”
The officers overseeing the LSCA Hall proceedings would be replaced by newly elected officials after that, and Vial’s official induction fell by the wayside. Years later, the subject came up in a conversation between Vial and his daughter, as he noted it was “no big deal, it just kind of happened that way.”
Meghan was not as willing to let it go, however. This spring, she contacted the Hall of Fame president, and informed him of the situation.
“She told them she’d really like for this to happen, and they let her know it was no problem … with COVID last year, they didn’t get to induct anyone for that class,” Vial said. “He called me and asked if I wanted to do this, and we went ahead with it.”
Vial was also surprised that same weekend by former players and team parents, who threw him a celebratory party unexpectedly.
It was a young Meghan who once told her father she wanted to play the sport, setting the wheels in motion for a career Vial himself could never have envisioned at the time.
“She was 8 years old … I’d never once thought about softball,” Vial said. “She said, ‘Dad, I want to play softball and I want to be good.’ So, hey, I guess I’m coaching softball.”
Meghan was very good – with her father’s guidance, she became an All-State catcher with the Tigers.
Her father was pretty darned good, too.
Over 12 years as Hahnville’s softball coach, he won 74 percent of his games, stepping away with a win-loss mark of 329-85. He began his career as a baseball coach at Central Lafourche before moving to Hahnville for a year. He then coached at Landry Middle School for 13 years before returning to Hahnville, where he spent the next 12 years.
“When I got to Hahnville, in no means was that a broken program,” Vial said. “E.J. Tassin came before me and there was never anyone who played for him that didn’t like him. Dogs love E.J. Birds love E.J. Everyone does … he did a great job, and when I took over, I just looked at it as something where I’m building on what he did, with my own spin on it. It gets unfair because he doesn’t get mentioned as much as he should be when talking about those days, but he played a major role.”
Vial began shaping the program in his own way, and the pinnacle of its success came with two very strong freshman classes in 2008 and 2009. The 2010 team was edged by St. Thomas More in the state final, 4-3, a disappointing end to a strong season and one that fueled the returning players’ fire the next year.
In 2011, the Lady Tigers powered to a 6-2 championship victory over Denham Springs. For Vial and Hahnville alike, it marked a milestone: he became the first head coach who was an alumnus of the school to lead one of its team to a state championship. Vial grew up less than a mile from Hahnville’s campus prior to its current Boutte location and he and his friends used to ride their bikes to baseball games and fetch foul balls.
“My neighbor, he’s since passed away, but his name was Marlon Dufresne and he was the biggest Hahnville sports fan … about three or four days after we won, he came to my house and said he had it all figured out … going all the way back researching to 1923, ‘you’re the only Hahnville graduate to ever win a championship at Hahnville.’ And I said ‘man, that’s pretty cool.’”
In 2012, Hahnville returned for its third championship game in a row, and was edged by Sam Houston in that final game, 2-1.
The championship win, however – and the three-year run as a whole – Vial said came down to a special group of players converging with a strong staff of coaches, a combination he also credited his Hall of Fame honor to.
“That group of freshmen who came in 2009, they went 123-18 in their time at Hahnville, and 12 of those losses came by one run,” Vial said. “That’s pretty ridiculous. The worst loss I can remember came that season we played Sam Houston in the final … we played them earlier in a tournament that year, and they won 5-0. It was the only time with that group that I can remember not being within striking distance at the end of the game.
“That group, they were good players and really good kids. They were well-traveled softball players, too. Combine that with a really good coaching staff we’d settled into and it was a great mix. There was never a time we went out on the field with that group where I didn’t think we’d win. I always thought, ‘we’re winning this game.’”
Two of those one-run losses came in the championship games, hinting that the program’s incredible run could have garnered even more shine, given a break or two.
“We were within a whisker of winning in (pitcher) Lauren Candies’ senior year … and one inch away from winning a second one with Hannah in the circle. So, I look back and think, with a little bit of luck, we could have won three in a row. And how hard is that?” Vial said. “Those kids had not only a skill level above average, but their mental approach to the game, their experience, it all came together.”
Vial said what the Hall of Fame honor most signified to him was that his teams were respected, which he takes great pride in.
“I told one of the coaches who I worked with and played against, at the ceremony, that my biggest takeaway from this is my teams were respected by other coaches and other teams. When we went and played tournaments around the state, they knew we were in the park,” Vial said.
He said he was shocked, but humbled when he first learned of the honor in 2014.
“I look at the other great coaches in the state who had done so much … to be listed alongside those guys and what they’ve accomplished, I really appreciate that,” he said.