This is the first in a series of five articles profiling the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014.
WEST VIEW — Some athletes were born to play a specific position in their sport of choice.
Such was the case with Kara (Stroup) Sroka.
Before becoming a star softball player, the 2004 Mars High School graduate played baseball from the age of five until she was 12.
“When I was 10 or 11, we had a pitcher on the team named Curtis Garrett and he could throw gas,” she said. “Our coach asked if anybody wanted to get behind the plate and catch him and none of the boys wanted to. I said, ‘I’ll go catch,’ and the rest is history. From that point through my college playing days, I was a catcher.”
It proved to be the perfect fit for Sroka, who went on to a stellar career for the Planets’ varsity softball team and at St. Francis (Pa.) University. Her efforts have earned her a spot in the Mars Athletic Hall of Fame. She will be inducted with four others at a ceremony at Mars Middle School Sept. 12.
Not long after proving her worth behind the plate, Sroka switched from baseball to softball.
“People thought I was beating up on the boys too much,” she said with a laugh. “Playing baseball was one of the best experiences I ever had. I had to prove myself every day. There were years when I was the only girl in the entire (Mars Baseball) association. It was put up or shut up. I had to be tough.”
That mentality helped Sroka make an immediate impact for Mars’ softball team as a freshman.
“I took over as the starting catcher a few games into my freshman season. I was ready for that role.”
She batted .400 that season (2001) with 16 RBI and 15 runs scored.
As a sophomore, Sroka helped the Planets reach the WPIAL playoffs. Two years later, she batted .481 with 12 extra-base hits, including three home runs, as the Planets won the Section 2-AA title in 2004.
That season, Sroka slugged .870, a single-season program record at the time.
All along, she led by example.
“Her work ethic is what stood out for me,” said veteran Planets’ coach Michele Goodworth. “She came to play every day, even if it was just practice.”
After earning a scholarship to St. Francis, Sroka underwent knee surgery and was red-shirted as a freshman. She then made her mark with the Red Flash 2006-09.
In 2008, she belted 10 home runs, had 39 RBI and walked 24 times, numbers that all remain in the top four single-season efforts in the program’s history.
“I was in the best shape of my career that year,” related Sroka. “We also had a coach, Sabrina Lane, who gave me room to blossom.”
Sroka is still the Red Flash’s leader in career RBI with 120.
“That’s the number that I’m most proud of,” she said. “It means you not only hit for power, but also for average.”
Since her playing days, Sroka has stayed involved with the sport as a coach. She was the head coach of Vincentian Academy when the Royals won the WPIAL Class A title in 2010 and is now an assistant coach with Pittsburgh Power’s Gold club team.
Sroka, who majored in English and secondary education, is not taking her induction for granted.
“It’s absolutely awesome to be chosen,” she said. “I really enjoyed my time at Mars and wouldn’t miss (the induction ceremony) for the world.”
Sroka is now the developmental director for Crisis Center North, a domestic violence counseling and education resource center. She and her husband Mike have a daughter, McKenzie.