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Pelham’s Kim Kiel named AHSAA 6A Making a Difference recipient

Class 6A Making A Difference Recipient

Pelham’s Kim Kiel Chose a Life of Serving Students Over Her Dream of Serving in the FBI

By Josh Bean

MONTGOMERY, AL – Amy Champion recalls Kim Kiel – then one of her basketball players at Faulkner State Community College in Bay Minette – visiting her office with some news during the 1992-93 season. Kiel told her coach she no longer planned to study criminal justice and eventually work for the FBI and would instead pursue a career in coaching.  “I really tried to discourage her from coaching,” Champion said. Her advice fell on deaf ears, however. Kiel had found her calling.

Now in her third decade at Pelham High School, Kiel has coached basketball, volleyball and softball. She also moved up from assistant athletic director to high school athletic director to system wide athletic director and served as the school’s interim assistant principal. All the while, she also became a nationally recognized basketball official, and is currently serves from District 5 as a member of the AHSAA’s Central Board of Control.

In late June, Kiel moved up again and became the principal at Pelham High. “My career has been dedicated to the Pelham community,” she told The Shelby County Reporter, “and I’m blessed to expand my focus beyond athletics to serve all of the students, staff and parents of Pelham High School.”

Through it all, she’s earned a reputation as an enthusiastic ambassador for Pelham and “servant leader” known for her commitment to the school. That’s why she was selected as the 2020 AHSAA Class 6A Making a Difference Award recipient. She is one of seven individuals being recognized for the AHSAA’s prestigious honor.

“She works tirelessly. You hear people say that all the time, but she really does,” Pelham football coach Tom Causey said. “Her life is Pelham City Schools and Pelham athletics. She goes above and beyond at all times. She knows every kid playing any sport here, she works every day to make it better for us as coaches and players here at the school, and she’s involved in the school in other ways, too.

“She’s going to make sure the kids have what they need to be successful,” he added. “That’s not always easy to do, and she goes out of her way to make it happen.”

The Crossroads

Kiel faced a monumental decision in the mid-1990s after playing two years of playing junior college basketball for Champion and another a year playing basketball and softball at North Alabama. Champion, who had moved from Faulkner State to an assistant coaching position in UAB’s women’s basketball program with Coach Jeannie Milling, alerted Kiel to a student coaching position with the Blazers.

Should Kiel give up her final year of college eligibility and dive head-first into coaching? She called it “a leap of faith.”The prospect of working alongside Champion – an inspirational coach whom Kiel said “made every one of us feel special, (and) made every one of us feel like we could conquer the world” – was too good for Kiel to pass up.

The dream of working for the FBI was long gone, and she had an opportunity to live her new dream before graduating from college.

“Something just hit me like a ton of bricks and I thought, ‘If I could have the opportunity to impact lives in the positive way (Champion) impacted me and my teammates’ lives, that’s what I really want to do,’” Kiel said. “I wanted to be the person who can mentor and be there and push and love on and do all these things for our student-athletes. I was like, ‘I can do that through the game of basketball, which I love.’ I knew that was exactly what I was supposed to do, hands-down. I knew that’s what I was called to do. Fast-forward nearly 20 years and she faced another crossroads.

Kiel had become a highly respected college basketball official who worked her way up to the NCAA Division II national tournament while her career evolved from coaching to athletic administration at Pelham. When Pelham created its municipal school system in 2014, Kiel was offered the opportunity to be the system wide athletic director.

To do that, she felt she needed to give up something she loved – officiating. So she did, taking over a larger administrative role that eventually led to becoming principal this summer. Now, she we will both hats – system-wide AD and school principal.

“I hate that my officiating ended, but I had to make a decision,” she said. “I did not feel good leaving early to go to (officiate) a basketball game, because people may still need me here at Pelham – whether to answer a question or cover an event. I was torn between my hobby and my profession. I let my hobby go because I really wanted to continue to be here and make a difference within our community and our kids and our new school system.”

‘It’s not about me’

Those who know Kiel say her willingness to sacrifice – first her final year of collegiate eligibility and later her blossoming officiating career – serve as perfect illustrations of what makes her special.

“I prefer the background,” she said. “I don’t want that spotlight. If there’s anything great that happens at Pelham, I want it to shine on Pelham, and I don’t want care if it shines on Kim Kiel. It’s not about me. It’s about our student-athletes. It’s about our teachers. It’s about our city.  It’s about our community. That’s what’s so important to me.

“If I can have just a small piece of helping Pelham shine, that’s what drives me.” Causey said Kiel succeeds. Every day. Kiel also possesses a unique perspective, having been a part of athletics as a player, coach, official and administrator. Few boast a similar range of experience or expertise.

“Coach Kiel does a heck of a job of making every sport and every kid important,” Causey said. “She works diligently to make them have every opportunity to be successful, and that’s rare. A lot of times you give it lip service, but you don’t really do it.

“Take our bowling team – she’s going to make sure they have what they need. If we’re going to play it, we’re going to do it right,” he added. “That’s what separates her – she pours herself into it. I don’t know how (else) to explain it.”

Former player Natalie Hyde is a living example of Kiel’s commitment. A point guard at Pelham when Kiel arrived as the school’s girls’ basketball coach, the two created an unbreakable bound. Just like Champion inspired Kiel’s career choice, Hyde admits her coach inspired her to become a coach, a career that’s included stints at Pelham, Leeds and now Decatur high schools.

“If I needed her for anything, she’d drop what she’s doing for sure,” Hyde said. “She’s one of the most loyal people I’ve ever known, one of the most caring, and she just doesn’t give up on you. No matter what, she’s going to be there.”

That’s what Champion saw when she recruited Kiel from Northview High in Dothan to Faulkner State in the early 1990s, and she’s had a ringside seat for Kiel’s transformation from college kid to one of Alabama’s most respected athletic administrators.

“She just makes life better. She really does,” Champion said. “She’s the most caring individual I’ve ever met and probably one of those who has the most integrity, the most honesty, and really her character along speaks volumes.”