Pandemic delays Warren Regina coach Diane Laffey's milestone season

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Diane Laffey was coming off her seventh state championship last June and getting ready for her 50th year as head coach of Warren Regina’s softball program. 

But that milestone season has been put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Don’t worry, though. Laffey plans to be back next spring to make that 50th year a special one, although she is sad Regina’s senior class didn’t get the opportunity to share some more memories.

And memories Regina’s teams have had, especially in the past 16 years, winning six Division 1 state championships to go along with a state semifinal game appearance in 2018.

This spring would have been Warren Regina's 50th year coaching high school softball, but now she'll have to wait until 2021 to reach the milestone.

In fact, Laffey, who has won a state record 1,212 games, is 7-0 in state title game appearances (2004-07, 2015, 2019) and also won the Class A championship back in 1989.

When asked to comment on the disappointment of having the season wiped out, Laffey replied: “It happens, whatever, we’ll make the most of it. We had four practices, one of which was outdoors. We had quite a few kids back who were really bummed that they didn’t get a chance to play, especially the seniors who were really upset that they didn’t get a chance to defend their championship.”

So does Laffey, who turns 81 in August, get as much satisfaction coaching as she did when she started coaching at Regina 50 years ago?

“Oh, yes. In fact now more so since we’ve had to sit all spring, so I’ll be raring to go when school starts," she said. "I really miss seeing the kids, that’s the bad part. I’ve stayed in contact with them with Zoom and texts but looking at them on Zoom is just not the same.”

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Laffey has been keeping busy working on scheduling since she is also Regina’s athletic director. She has no idea how things will look this fall.

“I’ve been doing stuff from home, like working on schedules for next year," Laffey said. "I have a Zoom athletic director meeting with the Catholic League every Wednesday afternoon, then have a faculty ZOOM meeting every week.

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen right now. There’s all kinds of things they are thinking about but nothing definite. There’s a possibility of starting online, nothing specific to our school. I just know other people have talked about the possibility of having just part of the students come one day, then the other kids the next, then flip flop it the next week. All kinds of talk, but nothing definite.

“I know these poor kids have had enough of this online stuff, but our kids have done really well. We kind of jumped the gun and looked a little bit in advance before they said we really had to do this, so we were really ready to go. That’s one thing I have to give our administration credit for. They had us well prepared to start doing this, so we were definitely ready to go. We do Google Classroom for most of it. This week was a little different because they are working on AP stuff.”

Laffey said she keeps in contact with her players to make sure they know she is looking out for them. She was part of 20 teachers who traveled to the homes of Regina seniors on Thursday to deliver caps, gowns and bags that included flowers and homemade chocolate chip cookies from the school’s cafeteria workers.

“It went well, had a good time going to the five seniors on the softball team,” Laffey said. “Thursday was supposed to be our graduation day...We rang the doorbell and then had a chance to see them.”

Warren Regina's Diane Laffey is one of the most successful softball coaches in MHSAA history.

Senior outfielder Jacqueline Jozefczyk said it felt good to see Laffey on Thursday.

“She asked how I was doing. I have a good relationship with her, so we were just catching up," said Jozefczyk, who had two hits and two RBIs in last year’s 3-2, eight-inning state title game win over Howell.

“It was a pretty big letdown to not be able to play this season after the state championship. We really wanted to repeat, win it again, especially in Laff’s 50th year. Our team is a family, really lucky that we had such a tight bond and that’s what makes it difficult, preventing us from making more memories. Coach is known as a legend, but she just always knows what she’s doing. She’s always very composed which keeps the rest of the team composed.”

With her high school career over, Jozefczyk plans to attend Albion College where she will play softball and major in marketing and finance.

Melina Livingston was happy to be a four-year player for Laffey. Livingston helped Regina to multiple Catholic League championships and a trip to the 2018 state semifinals in East Lansing before moving on to Penn State, where she has been a two-year starter.

“Going into it my freshman year of high school I didn’t realize how much I would look forward to the spring every year, not just to play softball but to be around Coach Laffey every day,” Livingston said. “She really promoted this atmosphere of inclusion and everybody having a role and knowing their purpose.

“I think that was a really, really big thing on why people respect her so much. It just seems as if everybody that comes on to the program or even into the school has an impact and has a way of contributing in their own way, and she really makes you feel special in that way. She’s really able to unite the community through alumni, through students, through the Catholic values that Regina really promotes. I think her ability to connect people on that level is really what makes her special.”

Laffey followed in her father’s footsteps, catching the coaching bug while watching Jack “Red” Laffey coach football and basketball while growing up. She attended Detroit Nativity and then college at the University of Detroit where it only had intramural sports. She later was a standout player as a pitcher-infielder in a Michigan-Ohio Women’s Fastpitch League.

Laffey remembers Bobby Layne playing quarterback for the Lions and leading the franchise to its last championship in 1957.

“I remember Bobby Layne, they won their last championship my senior year in high school,” Laffey said. “I really liked watching Gordie Howe play and Al Kaline.”

Laffey fell in love with sports and coaching as a teenager and staying in the game while coaching high school kids has kept her young in mind and in spirit. It's why she wants to put this pandemic behind us, so she can get back on the diamond.