Mel Kolbusz | J. Geil

Oak Park and River Forest High School softball coach Mel Kolbusz recently told the Wednesday Journal that he has retired after a 35-year career in the program, including the past 29 seasons as head coach.

“I still love to coach. I’ve been doing it for a while, and it’s time for somebody else to take over,” he said of his decision. “Also, I want to spend some time with my wife, and with a new athletic director [Nicole Ebsen] coming in, maybe I should go out with John [Stelzer, former OPRF AD] and Courtney [Sakellaris, former assistant AD] and ride off into the sunset together. This way, [Ebsen] could name her own coach.”

Kolbusz, who started his 49-year coaching career at Clemente in 1973, compiled a 780-233-2 record and three IHSA state championships (2005, 2016, 2017) during his Huskies’ tenure. The 780 wins are good for fourth all-time in state history. Under his leadership, OPRF reached the state finals 12 times.

“We had a few setbacks, but a lot of success as a program,” he said. “I enjoyed working with the students and watching them develop not only as softball players, but as individuals. I always hoped they would become outstanding young women, and for the most part they have. They made my job a lot easier.”

“It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later,”

Mel Kolbusz

Among Kolbusz’s favorite players to coach were Fiona Girardot, Chardonnay Harris, Maeve Nelson and Dani Tyler — who played on the 1996 U.S. Olympic team that won the gold medal in Atlanta.

Kolbusz shared a funny story about Tyler, who he described as a natural athlete who worked hard to improve all aspects of her game.

“In the Olympics, Dani was so excited about hitting a home run, she missed touching home plate,” he said. “The opposing team appealed, and the umpire called her out. Later, I had several people come up and say, ‘Weren’t you her coach at OPRF?’ And I replied, ‘Yeah, I guess so.’”

Kolbusz said he’ll miss the competition, as well as his assistants, which included J.P. Coughlin and Kristin Wirtz.

“” always loved to compete,” he said. “The bigger the game, the better it was for me.”

The search for Kolbusz’s replacement is ongoing. Kolbusz believes the OPRF job is a desirable one and that there should be plenty of interest.

“I’m waiting on pins and needles to find out who Nicole will hire,” he said.

But he does plan on attending a few Huskies games this spring as a fan, maintaining somewhat of a presence in the program.

“It’s not goodbye, it’s see you later,” Kolbusz said.

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