Joe DiPietro sensed that things seemed amiss when he received an email from Temple athletic director Kevin Clark last December. Clark’s email stated that DiPietro, along with the school’s other athletic coaches, were to report to a mandatory meeting the following day, and that further information would follow.
Early the next afternoon, DiPietro made the walk from his office to Temple’s indoor football facility and anxiously waited.
“The track and field coach went first, I was to go second, and the baseball coach was third,” DiPietro, 58, said. “When the track coach came out, he had tears in his eyes. I knew right away that [the news] wasn’t going to be good.”
DiPietro’s body went numb as his mind processed the words that spilled from Clark’s mouth. Temple University’s board of trustees approved the cut of seven of the school’s athletic teams, and DiPietro’s softball program would dissolve effective July 1, 2014.
DiPietro trudged slowly back to his office. Shortly after returning he was met by former South County softball standout Julia Kastner, and Temple teammate and friend, Devynne Nelons.
DiPietro first became acquainted with Kastner during the Fairfax Station native’s junior season of high school. He was now tasked with giving her perhaps the most devastating news of her young life.
“That’s probably the only time in the three years that I’ve known her that I saw her visibly upset,” DiPietro said.
Temple offered all affected players a release to transfer to other schools to continue their collegiate athletic careers, without having to sit out for a year per National Collegiate Athletic Association rules.
Some players sought a transfer. Kastner did not.
The rising senior instead decided to remain in Philadelphia and shift her focus to her aspiring medical career.
Unlike many student-athletes who arrive on campus in the fall as an undeclared major, there were no questions as to which major Kastner would declare when she arrived at Temple.
Biology piqued her interest as an AP biology student at South County.
“I really love the study of the body and how it works,” Kastner, who carries a 3.64 grade point average, said. “Something as small as eating and breathing involves so many different elements, which I think is just really interesting and incredible.”
And after her first year in Philadelphia, she knew she wanted to practice medicine. She is slated to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) on July 24, and is considering Georgetown University School of Medicine, George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences and Temple University School of Medicine, as options for medical school.
“After my freshman year, I had a great opportunity to shadow a bunch of ophthalmologists and optometrists at Eye Doctors of Washington,” Kastner, 21, said. “I loved shadowing the pediatric ophthalmologist. He was great. The kids were so cute, and the way he interacted with them made it seem like it was fun for them. I also got to see a couple of days of surgery, where I would go into the operating room.”
The earth-shattering news would have sent even the most unflappable person, let alone a college student, into an emotional tailspin. But Tina Kastner, Julia’s mother, said her daughter’s positive and mature reaction to the ordeal does not come as a surprise.
“She was always very focused at South County,” Tina Kastner said. “She was always very motivated to get good grades so that she could get to the next level and get a full scholarship. She’s always worked very hard. Going to medical school is something she’s always wanted to do. Her father [Tim] and I always stressed living for the future, and not just for today.”
With the demands of college softball’s time-consuming daily regimen behind her, Kastner will get to settle down a bit and experience college life as a full-time student.
“This fall is going to be completely different,” she said. “I’m going to have time to come home on the train on the weekends, and explore more of Philadelphia. I’m actually doing [medical] research this fall, too.”
Kastner is already off to an enjoyable start. She joined her family on June 15 to cheer on her younger sister Carley and South County in the Stallions’ first state championship appearance. South County captured its first state title with a 4-1 victory over Midlothian’s Cosby High School.
Focused and mature are words Tina Kastner quickly rifles off when describing her oldest daughter. And upon hearing Julia reflect on her collegiate athletic experience, it’s apparent that mother knows her daughter best. Julia refuses to dwell on what could have been, nor does she hold any animosity toward Temple for the premature end of her softball career.
“With everything that happened with softball, and when I think of Temple, I only think of the good things,” she said. “Things like my teammates and all of the traveling we did. But I also think of my teachers and my academics. I will take away lots of good things from it.”
DiPietro, who has accumulated 32 years of coaching experience, said he knew early in the recruiting process that Julia Kastner was one of those rare kids you come across throughout your career as a coach.
“You could tell right away that she was very committed to her academics, and that was very important to her,” DiPietro, who is still looking to land another head coaching job, said. “Through her three years at Temple, that has never wavered. She knew, which a lot of student-athletes don’t, that it was about academics first, and softball second. She knew what she wanted, and she wasn’t going to let anyone or anything get in the way. I really admire her for that.”