Russ Hiemstra

KEARNEY — The Kearney Catholic community was shaken during the weekend by the death of softball coach Russ Hiemstra.

"It is a shock and that’s probably the best way to describe it," KCHS Athletic Director Rick Petri said.

Hiemstra, 55, suffered a stroke last week and died Sunday at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, according to Petri.

KCHS named Hiemstra the softball coach in April 2018 after adding the sport to its curriculum. Hiemstra played college baseball at Southwestern Community College in Iowa and at Kearney State College. He also played fast-pitch softball, competing throughout the state and in the World Fastpitch Softball Tournament.

He coached youth baseball as well as American Legion teams.

"We’re all saddened by the sudden turn of events," Petri said. "I’ve known Russ since my son was part of his youth baseball team. He was a great guy, always in a positive mood and always positive with the kids. It’s just a shame."

The Stars posted a 10-11 record in the first year of the program, then went 22-8 last year, qualifying for the state tournament.

"The job he did the first two years was phenomenal. It certainly was not without growing pains but the response the kids gave these past two years was a credit to what he set in place. It was really fun to watch and obviously getting to state in the second year was a huge accomplishment and everybody was pretty proud of that fact," Petri said.

Even though Hiemstra was not a member of the school’s faculty, his wife, Shawn, is a KCHS alum and their twochildren attended Kearney Catholic. He regularly attended Stars activities and was well-known throughout the school.

The school’s crisis response team conducted a Zoom meeting with players Monday afternoon and a memorial service Monday evening.

"We’re trying to make sure we keep in contact with the players and the students and anybody that feels they need some help," Petri said.