Hempfield softball coaches get pick-me-up from former players

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Wednesday, April 22, 2020 | 7:15 PM


When he finished watching a personalized YouTube video from his former players, Bob Kalp felt a range of emotions.

In what has been a bummer of a high school softball season, one that never happened because of the coronavirus lockdown and the PIAA’s cancellation of spring sports, the veteran Hempfield coach was glad to get a pick-me-up.

So were his endearing assistants, Ray Melo and Dick Albright.

With John Fogerty’s “Centerfield” and its familiar chorus, “put me in coach,” playing in the background, the 2-minute, 39-second video features 32 former and current Hempfield players, many of whom Kalp helped get into top-tier college programs, playing a game of virtual catch.

One player tosses a softball out of frame to another, who appears to be waiting to catch it, and she relays it to the next player.

“I thought it was great,” Kalp said of the video. “It really brings back a ton of great memories. It still hurts not getting a chance with this year’s group. I was extremely optimistic. … It wasn’t meant to be.”

Canceling the season was like ripping out stitches to Kalp, 74, who has more than 400 wins and would have coached his 24th season. Instead, he is having softball withdrawal.

On the flipside to viewing the video, Kalp said, “It was like someone addicted to chocolate watching candy bars being made.”

There are guest appearances from former star pitcher Morgan Ryan, who came up with the idea with her mother, Shelly, to try and cheer up her former coaches. Ryan is a junior at Notre Dame.

“Everyone jumped on board right away,” Ryan said. “It took one week for me to collect videos from the players and just a few hours for Alex Belgiovane to reach out to the coaches. It turned out really amazing and brought back so many memories seeing people with their medals and jerseys.”

Other standouts from the Spartans’ proud program also have cameos, including neighbors Ali Belgiovane and Jenna Osikowicz, who make a real toss across the street, while Stacey Walling sprays a ball with Lysol before her throw, Alexa Paster and Megan Monzo shining up her gold medals, and the Persin twins, Olivia and Jessica, have a quick catch in their driveway before passing the torch.

“For me, and I’m sure for all of the girls included, my time at Hempfield was such an incredible experience and a lot of that is due to the softball team,” Ryan said. “Coach Kalp, Albright, Melo, and all of the other coaches dedicated so much detail and thought into the program, which led to our success. They put in all of the work behind the scenes. The Hempfield softball program and all of us players owe so much to these three coaches and thought that this video would be a way to show our love, thanks and support for them during this tough time.”

Hempfield would have had another strong shot to win another championship. It could have become the first WPIAL softball program to win six straight titles.

But that streak will have to wait to be continued.

Wednesday would have been the 10th section date of the season in the next-to-last week of the regular season. The WPIAL steering committee would have met May 7 to draw up playoff brackets.

Melo, who is 81, and Albright, 74, have been with Kalp for decades.

To pass the time and fill a glaring void, Kalp has spent time talking softball with Melo about “things we could never have time to discuss,” Kalp said. “What are our three worst defeats? What are our 2021 starting lineup possibilities? Should we try to find the names of the four teams that are missing from our program career records section?”

Kalp also couldn’t resist watching Hempfield’s finest moments over and again. The Spartans have won three of the last four PIAA titles in the state’s largest classification.

“I watched the championship games a couple times already,” Kalp said. “The neat thing: We always end up winning.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Bill by email at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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