Legendary Hempfield softball coach Bob Kalp, 7-time WPIAL champ, retires

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Wednesday, July 21, 2021 | 3:36 PM


Bob Kalp carried the torch for the Hempfield softball program until it burned his arm.

The coach of the Spartans and face of the program for three decades — 25 years as head coach — is stepping down after a storied career in the WPIAL.

Kalp, 76, won seven WPIAL championships and four PIAA titles and finished with a record of 431-111-1. He began as an assistant in 1991 and took over the team in 1997.

“It’s time,” Kalp said. “It’s bittersweet, but I’ll grow into it. I always said I was born to be a teacher, and softball was an extension of teaching. That is how I coached.”

Kalp retired from teaching chemistry in 2004, a decision he soon regretted.

“Left too soon,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’m sure this will be the same thing. I may need a new hobby. We have kept scrapbooks since 1983, and I’m sure I will spend my time reading old newspaper articles. I love the heck out of looking backwards.”

And the memories were plentiful.

“Coach Kalp is a legend,” Hempfield basketball coach Bill Swan said.

Kalp considered leaving after the 2017 season when the Spartans went 27-0 but liked the talent the team had coming back. Hempfield won five straight WPIAL titles from 2015-2019 and three straight state titles from 2016-18, all in the state’s largest classification.

The Spartans lost 2020 to the pandemic and finished 12-6 this past season, losing in the quarterfinals in what would be Kalp’s final campaign.

He called 2018 his best coaching performance when the Spartans seemingly overachieved and won WPIAL and PIAA titles. That season, he was named the FloSoftball National Coach of the Year.

“A lot of times, your decision can be based on pitching and what you have back,” Kalp said. “After we lost Morgan Ryan, I knew we had Maddie Uschock. Then, Callie Sowers was coming up, and I knew she could be really good, too. Now that she’s gone … we had two freshmen pitchers throw for us last year. The idea that I would stick around three more years to see them through is unrealistic.

“I am reasonably healthy — all I need is a couple salads and a cup of hot chocolate before bed, and I’m good — but the degree of difficulty goes up.”

Hempfield will return seven starters, but that could not entice Kalp to come back. He believes his two longtime assistants, Ray Melo, 83, and Dick Albright, 75, will likely follow him out the door.

“We always kind of said, ‘When I go, we all go,’” Kalp said. “I coached at Hempfield for 51 years and didn’t get fired. I feel like I am going out on my terms. A lot of coaches can’t say that.”

A stickler for fundamentals, Kalp was known for his regimented practices and attention to the smallest details of the game.

“It will probably hit me in November when we have a snowstorm and I am not wondering how we are going to get pitchers and catchers in for a workout in the gym,” Kalp said.

Recent graduate Emma Hoffner, Kalp’s catcher for three of the past four years, said the coach had a style all his own.

“The way he teaches the game is so different from every coach I have had,” Hoffner said. “He has a coaching style that is all about discipline, and I love that about him. He created a program that makes you feel comfortable when you’re down because you know he has a plan to bring you back up.

“Coach Kalp is one of the greatest, and I am so thankful that I got to play for him.”

The Spartans’ home field is named for Kalp, which he considered a bit of an awkward honor.

“It’s odd when you’re coaching and see your name up on the sign,” he said. “Maybe I can go to some games now and feel differently. And people will have to beat up on me now from afar.”

Kalp spent about 15 years coaching both softball and basketball, the latter as a boys assistant. He also was a forensic chemist in a U.S. Army crime lab at Fort Gordon, Ga., from 1968-70.

“I started coaching in 1967,” he said. “I always told the kids, as long as you work harder than the other teams, you’ll have a chance. It’s only fun when you win.

“I have spent my whole life coaching. We had a good run.”

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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