For anyone who has ever crossed paths with Robin Welch, her way through life was very clear.
The 1980 Norwalk High School graduate has always loved being an athlete, notably on the softball diamond. But what turned out to be her truest passion came to her in the middle of a game when she was just 15 years old. And that realization played an integral role in her induction into the NHS Hall of Fame as a Distinguished Citizen.
Welch, along with Bob Cowman (soccer), Ryan Grose (basketball), and Gary Wilde (baseball), make up the NHS Hall of Fame Class of 2020, which will be recognized at an induction banquet and ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday in the Art Gallery at Norwalk High School.
“I started coaching my first youth sports team when I was in high school,” Welch said. “I was an all-league player in high school, and we were playing over at Bellevue. And at age 15, I looked at my coach and said, ‘I have to be at my little kids’ game.’ I literally left my high-school game — something I didn't think I could love more — to coach youth sports.”
At that point, Welch knew what was most important to her — and initiated a run of 30-plus years of coaching and teaching as a behavioral specialist in Sandusky County area schools.
“I’m really not sure what happened or why it did,” Welch said. “I just think that from the very moment a group of kids came to me and said, ‘hey coach, I want to learn,’ I realized it wasn't just learning a sport — it was truly learning. And that’s when I fell in love to do that.”
At Norwalk, Welch was a standout on the volleyball team for NHS and Ohio Hall of Fame coach Grace Hutchinson. On the softball diamond, she excelled as well, earning four varsity letters and team MVP honors. She garnered All-Northern Ohio League honors in both sports, and earned an athletic scholarship to play softball at then Findlay College.
Welch completed high school in three years. She was just 16 years old — turning 17 the day after graduation.
“Life was a little rough back then,” she said. “I was the oldest kid on all sides of my family and spent a lot of time with adults. I came to realize very early in life the only way my life situation was going to change was through education. Looking back, I graduated from college at age 20 and retired from teaching at age 51.”
Welch earned four varsity letters in softball and all-league honors at Findlay, where she was also an Academic All-American and also earned a letter in both volleyball and track and field. Early in her professional career, she returned to Norwalk in 1985 and taught behavior-challenged students for Norwalk City Schools, while also coaching junior varsity volleyball and varsity softball.
But it was during her freshman year of high school in 1976-77 that Welch began coaching youth teams. For the next 32 years, she coached just about everything, including various baseball, T-ball and slow- and fast-pitch softball teams, along with junior-high basketball, and indoor and outdoor soccer.
She also coached recreation league and Junior Olympic volleyball teams, along with youth tennis and track for local Special Olympics teams.
In some capacity, Welch did not miss a single season of coaching from the time she was 13 until she was 45 years old. She coached as many as three teams simultaneously, depending upon the time of year, for leagues such as Lefty Grove Baseball and Lake Erie Waves softball.
And, along with coaching those teams, Welch spent much of her summer time off serving as an instructor coach for local volleyball camps and softball clinics — all while continuing to play herself on two and, sometimes, three adult softball teams.
“Whether it was on the high-school athletic field, where I soon learned anyone can coach a good athlete, or in T-ball — what I connected with the most was the kid who gave me 100 percent, who was never going to be a good athlete,” Welch said. “But he or she maybe had one good moment — that is what made the memories.
“I feel like whatever team I coached in any sport, I wanted them to feel they learned enough to go back and coach their own children and spend that time with them,” she added.
“And some of my past players will tell you, they got real tired of me at times for constantly saying the words, ‘give back to the sport what the sport gave to you.’”
Welch holds a bachelor of arts degree from Findlay College (now University of Findlay) and a master’s degree from Bowling Green State University. She has been recognized with multiple awards throughout her teaching career.
She was employed by both Fremont and Bellevue City Schools from 2000-14, which came after several years serving as the Sandusky County Educational Service Center’s behavior specialist for all Sandusky County school districts.
“In terms of special education, so many people give up on kids,” Welch said. “The minute I stepped into a classroom with kids that had behavioral issues, I knew I had found my niche. I know we all achieve in different ways, and sometimes greatness comes in different things. When I get my newspaper every day, I thank God that everyone doesn’t go to college, or that my car gets fixed, or the garbage gets picked up.
“I wanted somebody to believe there is a place for everyone out there in the world — and that someone believes in them,” she added.
Post-retirement, Welch continues to fill in as a home instruction tutor among many other educational services to area schools. She also ran a business, Building Character through Work, where she worked with high school boys to teach them work and life skills through various positions.
“To me, all of my education work was ‘give back to the world what God gave to you,’” Welch said. “God gave me these things for a reason. For me and this humbling honor, it’s been about that. It’s about reaching people, and the coaching that wasn't athletic coaching.”