Diane Rose Kelly was proud to wear a Notre Dame High soccer uniform in the mid 1980s, as her time with Notre Dame led to some mystical moments.
Diane Rose Kelly was proud to wear a Notre Dame High soccer uniform in the mid 1980s, as her time with Notre Dame led to some mystical moments.

Diane Rose Kelly was recently voted into the 2nd Annual Mercer County Community College Athletic Hall of Fame, which she acknowledges as a great honor. But for the faith-filled alumna, so much more than sports has happened since she graduated from Notre Dame High School of Lawrenceville in 1985.

It made Kelly think back on it all when she got the call for her induction, which took place June 5 at Mercer Oaks Golf Course in West Windsor.  

“I have had so many life experiences since then and it’s so interesting how you just sort of put your history, or in this case, ‘herstory’ behind you, with gratitude of course,” Kelly said. “Honestly, I was very humbled and honored and surprised to get the call.”

Kelly was the first Mercer athlete to be named All-American in two sports – soccer and softball. She scored 82 goals at MCCC, which was an NJCAA Division I record at the time, and went on to score 44 goals at George Washington University, Washington, D.C., which is still second on the school’s all-time list.

But it was at Notre Dame – for which she scored 76 career goals – that Diane Rose first combined her love of Christ and soccer.

“One of my first matches for Notre Dame High helped to share my spirituality and relationship to Jesus Christ,” she said. “This faith is what drives me today to honor all of life, good or bad, as a gift for my growth in God.”

Kelly went on to describe her first high school goal in detail, and the feeling it gave her.  

“I had a mystical moment,” she said. “One moment that made you feel suspended in animation. The world froze as we all watched the ball glide in the air within the silence of ourselves. Then, a roar shot out of the mouths of teammates and Coach Sandy [Koschek]. From then on that feeling and that drive and that moment of watching the ball go into the net was highly addicting.”

That addiction has lasted a lifetime, but for the most part soccer has been a backdrop during Kelly’s adult life.

She has been an award-winning professor while teaching at various colleges in Florida and California. Along with publishing four self-help books, Kelly has been part of a successful musical band known as JAYLA; and she is currently a solo artist whose CD “Avon Rose” is available on Amazon Music, iTunes and most digital mediums.

Just last week Kelly accepted a teaching position at Sedona Red Rock High School in Arizona, where she will also help coach girls soccer this upcoming season. And this fall will see the release of her latest book, entitled “There is No Goalie: How I Scored 126 in my Four-Year Collegiate Women’s Soccer Career.”

Kelly explained the title thusly:

“I practiced my tail off and built a mindset around my game and what my role was as a goal scorer,” she said. “A fellow [MCCC] inductee asked me how I scored all those goals at Mercer. He asked me if I was human!” she said with a laugh.

Kelly then revealed her secret: “I told him ‘There is NO Goalie!’ I mean, I respect goalies as human beings but not as obstacles to my goal. It’s quite the metaphor for life. If I gave them one ounce of respect, well then, my focus was tainted.  So, I pretended they weren’t an issue.”

She then added with another chuckle, “That should pump us some goalies!”

Kelly said soccer brought her out of her shell. The one-time wallflower at parties has turned into the life of the party wherever she turns up. But the athletic artist and author knows she has had help.

“I thank God for all that I have been given and all that I will continue to give to inspire a sense of wonderment, truth, and valor,” she said. “Sports is a way to build character and improve on your personal best efforts.”

In looking back on her playing career, Kelly feels soccer itself helps fuel the desire of those playing it and allows them to reach their potential.

“I suppose the mystical engagement of soccer combined with the will of spirit creates greatness that you don’t even know you are creating,” she said. “I call it a game of mystical engagement because it is – it’s preparation for opportunity. When I was working on my soccer skills by myself, I was totally off in another world, listening to music. I was in bliss. Making soccer moves to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Bon Jovi and songs that revved up my heart.

“Hindsight is insight,” she continued. “I believe in greatness. I admire it. However, none of my goals would have happened without my teammates. They gave me the ball, and [the late] coach [“Wild” Bill] Drake put me in.”

Drake was one of the first people Kelly thought of when getting her Hall of Fame call. He would often stay for dinner when dropping Diane Rose off from practice, and once made her sign a telephone pole after she totaled her mom’s car while driving into the pole on her permit.

Kelly used the word “blessed” numerous times in discussing her rich and varied life.

She and bandmate Nikki Thompson opened 20 national acts in Florida and headlined the Daytona 500. They were regulars at The House of Blues and Hard Rock Live, and were coined JAYLA, Orlando’s Positive Energy. Some of the star acts they opened for included Pat Benatar, Train, Gavin DeGraw, Kansas, Styx, The Doobie Brothers and the Black Crowes.

Kelly eventually went to California, where she left JAYLA and recorded her solo CD while also getting into writing. In the past several years she has been promoting Avalon Rose, student mentoring, health coaching and finishing up her book while living in Georgia.

She is anxious to resume teaching and coaching in Arizona, but that probably won’t stop the music.

“I have always felt that I could touch more lives than anything else I have ever accomplished with music,” Kelly said.

The deep thinker enjoyed reminiscing about her years at Notre Dame and Mercer when she attended the MCCC induction dinner, renewing lifetime friendships.

“Mercer County in and of itself is a huge sports bubble,” she said. “Everyone in the sports world is connected by someone else through the generations. There is a sense of pride and friendship that lives up to the New Jersey loyalty virtue. It’s not just the athletes and coaches; it’s the families, restaurants, bars, churches and city organizations that just band together under sports in Mercer County.”

One thing is certain: Kelly will always have a close relationship with the Lord. Asked if she had any final thoughts after receiving her latest honor, Diane Rose was quick to reply.

“Praise God in all you do!” she said. “We are given gifts, and these multiply in our humility. Pray often and notice the little things people do, and then tell them. You never know when one of your word nuggets might shift someone’s whole day, life, or moment. Be mindful of words you think and say – they reveal our character and consistency. And say ‘thank you’ a whole lot.”