The medals that Steve Rohl has earned over the years as a Special Olympics softball and flag football coach are nice, but their importance pales in comparison to what he has gained from mentoring his athletes.
“I’ve given a lot of time, but what I have taken away is so much more valuable,” he said. “I see these athletes growing while having fun and building character and self-esteem. That is what’s important.”
Everyone involved with Special Olympics Johnson County knows of Rohl’s commitment to his teams. He shows up to every practice or game with a car full of everything he might need: three bags of equipment because an athlete might not have a glove, a bat, a ball or a helmet and plenty of water, Gatorade or Powerade. He provides transportation for many of the players, and if necessary, he can line the field. His players view him as a patient and encouraging coach, and they all love him.
That’s why he has been named Johnson County Coach of the Year twice and now honored as Special Olympics Area 8 Coach of the Year, and he’s a finalist for Indiana’s Coach of the Year.
Rohl, a 62-year-old engineer at Allison Transmission, started coaching softball when his son Tim began playing about 11 years ago, adding football a couple of years later when it was added to the list of sports offered. His teams practice about twice a week if they don’t have any games.
You will find Rohl barking out commands on the sidelines throughout the softball and football games. “I can’t go on the field; the players are on their own, especially in football, where they call their plays, and they rotate positions.
The football team won the gold medal in Division 3 of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Games – the equivalent of a state tournament – Sept. 10 at Brebeuf High School. The games’ namesake launched the Special Olympics program.
Special Olympics are broken down into two categories: traditional, where only special needs athletes participate, and Unified, where the athletes are paired with able partners, bringing inclusion and diversity to the programs. More than 30 sports are offered throughout the year.
Rohl’s daughter, Stephanie Grisby, has partnered in golf, and sons Gary and Scott have participated in Unified action. Rohl’s wife of 43 years, Tina, attends all of Tim’s games, helping in any capacity requested. The Rohls have eight children and six grandchildren.
Rohl noted that the guys are normally more competitive than the girls. “I don’t have to push many of the guys, but some of the girls are just out there to have fun and be a part of the team. If they get a hit or are walked, they are overjoyed.
“And it really doesn’t matter if we win or lose ... as long as we are learning and having fun. We have a tremendous diversification of home lives on our teams, many with unusual personal circumstances, but when we come together at Special Olympics we are all one family of athletes, everyone the same. I have built great relationships with my players. We are all a tight-knit family. We all love one another.
Jaclyn Knipe, granddaughter of Diane Knipe, plays softball for Rohl. “Jacyln says he’s soft-spoken and that he doesn’t push them too hard,” Knipe said. “She has come so far under his guidance. She is so happy when making it to first base. It’s so fun to watch these kids.
“She has grown so much through Special Olympics. And she and Steve’s son, Tim, have been sweethearts for 13 years.”
Another of Diane’s grandchildren, Anthony, is just starting to play softball.
Rohl said he has enjoyed working with the kids so much over the years that he plans to do so for as long as he’s needed.
“I’ve gained more from this I can ever possibly give.”