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John Keyes Earns 2015 Donna Newberry "Perseverance" Award

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) is honored to announce North Fort Myers (Fla.) High School head coach John Keyes is the recipient of its Donna Newberry “Perseverance” Award.

The award, named for the longtime Muskingum College and 2008 NFCA Hall of Fame coach who died in November 2010 after amassing a 906-419-1 mark over 36 seasons, recognizes an NFCA member coach who has demonstrated extraordinary strength of will and character in the fight to overcome a physical, mental or social adversity that presented an additional challenge to the already demanding job of a coach.

A United States Army Veteran turned longtime high school and travel ball coach, Keyes, who was nearly killed in 1968, has overcome many obstacles and challenges before and during a 40-plus year coaching career.

“Thank you to the NFCA,” said Keyes. “This is a big honor for me.”

In 1968, while serving with the U.S. Army in Vietnam, the tank he was in hit a land mine. The explosion knocked him under the tank, which ran over him, resulting in the loss of his left leg above the knee. After stays in hospitals in Vietnam, Japan and the United States, Keyes developed peritonitis, an often fatal inflammation of the abdominal lining, and spent 22 additional months in the hospital undergoing over 20 operations.

“It seems to me that Coach John Keyes’ life from 1968 to present is a story of “perseverance,” said Road Runner Elite (Ohio) head coach Rick Sherman.

A former athlete, Keyes, following his release from the hospital, knew he wanted to do something that involved athletics. In 1971, his desire led to a fulfilling and successful coaching career.

During his tenure, Keyes, starting in 1996, has held softball head coaching positions at Bishop Verot (Fla.) High School Falmouth (Maine) High School and North Fort Myers, while coaching travel ball teams in Maine and Florida. He played an instrumental role in starting the first ASA softball program in Falmouth and guided Florida 14U (3rd) and 16u (9th) to top-10 finishes at NSA (2013) and ASA (2014) Nationals, respectively.

Keyes has not only seen success on the softball field. He began his career as a baseball coach in Florida, and after moving to Falmouth, he guided the swimming team to five state championships and also coached soccer. Keyes has also coached football and basketball.

However, it has not been easy for Keyes, who had to battle and recover from three different medical conditions in 2011. In February, he suffered a stroke while being treated for pneumonia. After recovering from the stroke, which affected the fine motor skills in his right hand and peripheral vision on his right side, he went into cardiac arrest in June.

After spending over half the year recovering from those two conditions, Keyes was diagnosed with esophageal cancer on December 12. Not to anyone’s surprise, he kicked that to the curb and has been cancer free since July 2012.

“If all those other medical problems would not have happened, they would have never found the cancer,” said Keyes. “Because they did, the doctors were able to perform a new three–step procedure which attacked the cancer by burning it out.”

In addition to the impact that he has had on many young people, Keyes has impacted the sport of softball by his involvement with the NFCA. As a member, he has served as the Chairman of the High School All-American (East) and Recruiting Committees (East) as well as a member of the Nominating Committee.

“Any one of the health issues he has dealt with would have stopped many, if not most other people,” said Sherman. “I believe that John has demonstrated extraordinary strength of will and character in the fight to overcome the physical adversities he has had to confront. His story is the kind that should be shown on a segment of ESPN.”

Newberry, the all-time winningest coach in NCAA Division III history when she left the game, transitioned the Muskies from a slowpitch team to a perennial fastpitch national contender. She helped guide Muskingum to 17 conference championships, 18 NCAA regional appearances, eight national championship appearances and the 2001 Division III national championship.

Newberry was the only Division III coach to be named national coach of the year in two sports — softball and basketball. As Muskingum’s women’s basketball coach, Newberry earned 403 victories and three conference championships. Her 1991 team finished as the national runner-up, falling to St. Thomas in the Division III title game. Over her distinguished career, she also served as an instructor, coach of field hockey and volleyball, women’s athletics director and assistant athletics director.

While undergoing chemotherapy treatments for her third bout with breast cancer in 2010, Newberry led the Muskies to the Ohio Athletic Conference tournament for the 25th consecutive time. In the months before her death, Muskingum dedicated its softball field in her honor, renaming it the Donna J. Newberry Softball Field and Newberry finished a book about her coaching career and experiences — “You Must Play to Win: A Coach’s Journey from the Pit to the Pinnacle.”