Hempfield softball team prepares for post-Bob Kalp era

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Sunday, August 1, 2021 | 5:20 PM


With the namesake of Robert D. Kalp Field no longer the softball coach at Hempfield, the program has to take a lonely look into the future.

Bob Kalp, with his familiar “Let’s go to work,” refrain, won 431 games and 11 championships with the Spartans since he took over as head coach in 1997 — at age 50.

The team became his life, and his tireless pursuit of success earned him statewide respect over time.

“Babe Ruth is a legend,” he said. “I was just a regular guy trying to do the best job I could.”

Kalp, 76, announced his retirement as coach July 21 after 30 years — he started as an assistant in 1991 on a whim to coach his two daughters — and his decision has left Hempfield asking, “What do we do now?”

Literally, Kalp leaves giant shoes to fill. His familiar size 15 New Balances covered a lot of ground in the third-base coaching box.

One of the state’s elite programs going on without Kalp seems unfathomable.

“You hate to see him go,” Hempfield athletic director Brandon Rapp said. “The pressure for whoever comes in and takes over is enormous.”

Hempfield junior varsity softball coach Melissa Lupinacci still can’t believe Kalp is no longer the coach.

“It was interesting to be a player and then a coach for him,” Lupinacci said. “There were times when I could just sit back and watch the magic happen.

“I remember when we won the WPIAL title in 2009 he was talking about retiring then.”

The coaching opening has been posted internally at Hempfield, and eventually will become available to outside applicants.

“Our goal is to have someone hired by our September meeting,” Rapp said. “We recognize we’re up against fall ball and need to get moving.”

Hempfield has offered three paid coaching spots for softball, but Kalp had numerous volunteer coaches. It is unclear if his replacement will come from the current staff or if the district will look elsewhere.

“We think it will be an attractive position,” Rapp said. “It’s the largest classification and a very successful program.”

Lupinacci, who played for Kalp from 2006-09, is not sure if she will return. Her schedule as a teacher at Obama Academy will not allow her to be the head coach, so she will not apply.

Kalp said his longtime co-pilots, Ray Mello (83) and Dick Albright (75), will join him in retirement. The trio of friends coached together for nearly three decades.

A retirement party for the coaches is planned for later this week.

The dugouts at Kalp Field were named after Albright and Mello.

Kalp gave his staff freedom to voice their opinions and do their jobs. It was all part of the assembly line that always ended in the postseason.

“He was just wonderful,” Lupinacci said of Kalp. “I learned so much from him, (and assistants) Dick Albright and Ray Melo — everyone on staff, really. It was great to be able to pick the mind of one of the greatest coaches in Pennsylania.”

That leaves other assistants in Alex Belgiovane, Ed Diorio, Tina Skelly and John Sherrow who could consider going after the head spot.

Said Diorio, who also is stepping away: “The whole staff worked well together. We all had our specialty, and he trusted us to do our jobs.”

Kalp led Hempfield to seven WPIAL titles and four PIAA championships over his 25-year tenure.

Kalp, a former basketball standout at IUP, also coached boys basketball at Hempfield as a longtime assistant coach with Tom Traynor and later, Bill Swan.

Kalp attended Hurst High School as a freshman. That school merged with Hurst to form Mt. Pleasant. He graduated in 1963.

“I technically graduated from Mt. Pleasant but went to Hurst,” he said.

Drafted into the Army and working as a forensic chemist, he became a chemistry teacher at Hempfield until he retired in 2004.

“The federal government had tremendous input on my career,” Kalp said. “If I had been drafted six months earlier, I probably would have never taught or coached. I would have been the director of a crime lab in Seattle or Atlanta. Funny how it works.”

From West Point T-ball in the 1980s to PIAA championships in the 2000s, Kalp has seen it all.

“I figured in ‘97, I coach my daughters and then I’m done,” Kalp said. “Here we are, all this time later.”

Hempfield won five straight WPIAL titles (2015-19) and three state titles in a row (2016-18) during one stretch. No WPIAL softball team had done the latter.

The 2017 team, powered by pitcher Morgan Ryan, went 27-0.

Kalp, a former FloSoftball National Coach of the Year, said the “euphoria” of winning kept bringing him back.

“He had such attention to detail and had the pulse of every aspect of the program,” said Rapp, who has only been the AD at Hempfield for a year since moving from Norwin. “Selfishly, I wish I could have spent more time with him (as a coach). That’s the biggest disappointment I have. It was amazing watching him run a program. They don’t make people like that; There’s only one Bob Kalp.”

The Spartans finished 12-6 this past season and lost to Canon-McMillan in their opening playoff game.

The final season was different for Kalp and the Spartans.

For the first time, the team was 10-runned at home (against North Allegheny), and also dropped a 10-0 decision to Norwin, a team that lapped them by three games to win the section.

Still, Hempfield stayed the course and made the playoffs again with a mostly young group that had to shake off an early injury to pitcher Callie Sowers.

“Covid really hurt,” Kalp said. “Our 2020 team was going to be dynamite. We’ll never know what might have happened, but we liked our chances.”

With young pitching, Kalp said he truly saw this as the time to go.

“It came time to start getting things ready for fall league, and I just said, ‘What am I doing? Why push it?’ It’s time to leave on my terms.”

Kalp said he hopes to watch some of his former players’ games at the college level.

Ryan is done at Notre Dame but will play next season at Seton Hill, while Maddie Uschock is set to play at Shippensburg.

“I’ll find something else to pass the time,” he said.

While Hempfield finds his successor.

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

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