By Steve Svetovich
When the Holy Cross Crusaders high school softball team lost, 14-6, to Lakeland in the District 2 semifinals last May, many thought legendary coach John “X.E.” McAndrew would be back.
But he didn’t.
And with 501 wins under his belt, the softball legend as both player and coach, died at 70 Saturday, December 26, one day after Christmas in Philadelphia after a brief illness.
He was named a top 100 all-time athlete and top 50 all-time coach in this area.
But to his former teammates and players, he was an all-time human being.
Olivia Golay, a freshman early childhood education major at St. Bonaventure University, played for coach McAndrew, known as X.E. to everyone, for two softball seasons at Holy Cross.
The former all-star, now on a four-year softball scholarship at St. Bonaventure, remembered her coach as a role model, pillar of strength and most of all a wonderful man.
“He was a very giving person,” she said. “He would give a complete stranger the shirt off his back.
“He was the healthiest guy I knew. He was very strong, always working out. He always kept in top shape.
“As a softball coach, he believed in his players. He had complete confidence in us. He pushed his players because he believed in them. He believed he would get results and gave his players confidence. He always worked us to our full potential. And he got results. He believed in us.
“As a person, he was the best. He always stayed in touch with his players. He treated us like family. He and his wife invited us to his home for cookouts. He was always there for us. He never forgot his former players. He was just a great person.”
Olivia said the number one thing she learned from her former coach was “to never give up.”
Olivia was part of coach McAndrew’s District 2 Class AA title team at Holy Cross in 2014. Holy Cross beat Holy Redeemer May 28, 2014 to claim the district title.
Coach McAndrew, a softball Hall of Famer, earned a state championship as a coach in 2001.
Built solid as a rock, X.E. was known as a gentle giant. He was known as a mentor to not only his players, but to all the youth he came across.
A prolific home run hitter, he was sought after by all the amateur and professional softball teams in the state. His powerful stroke led to a bat-designing deal with Bombat company. He used to sell the XE-44 models out of his car at softball tournaments.
In 1993, he was inducted into the Northeast Chapter of the Pennsylvania State Hall of Fame. Six years ago, while actually playing at 64 in a softball tournament in Virginia, he learned of his induction into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame.
His 2001 Bishop O’Hara softball team finished 21-1 and win the Class AA title.
He resigned from the Bishop O’Hara coaching job after the 2001 season to watch his triplets, Shane, Courtney and Caitlyn perform in sports at Abington Heights.
He came back four years later to coach again at the school. His teams won 14 Lackawanna League division titles, six District 2 championships and the 501 total wins. No. 500 came as part of a doubleheader sweep over Elk Lake last May.
This season, one of his star players, Gabby Giordano, was named player of the year. He was instrumental in teaching her what became a solid home run stroke.
Many of his former players, including Golay, earned college scholarships. And he went out of his way to help them.
In 2001, the year his team won the state title at Bishop O’Hara, his team went to Disney World for spring training. While other teams were on the practice field, he let his players go to theme parks. He told them to get their practice in on the field at night. He wanted to win, but he also wanted his team to enjoy the whole experience.
That’s what made him a winner on and off the field.
He was known for his penchant of handing out gold coins to players who made a difference in games.
And that tradition is continued by some of his former players who became coaches.
Here is a gold coin for you in Heaven, X.E.
You made a difference.