Hempfield Coaching Legend Retires

Long-time Hempfield softball coach Bob Kalp retires after 25 seasons

Thu Jul 22, 2021 - 5:05PM

Sean Meyers Sean Meyers
Coach Bob Kalp guided Hempfield softball to seven WPIAL championships and four PIAA titles. (Photo by www.westernpasports.com)Coach Bob Kalp guided Hempfield softball to seven WPIAL championships and four PIAA titles. (Photo by www.westernpasports.com)

Last Updated: Thu Jul 22, 2021 - 5:13PM

One of the most accomplished coaches in Westmoreland County history has retired. After serving for more than 50 years in a multitude of roles, Bob Kalp stepped down earlier this week. For the past 25 years, Kalp has guided Hempfield Area softball to unparalleled success, winning seven WPIAL titles and four PIAA championships.

Although Kalp is best known for his tenure as the varsity softball coach that began in 1997, his coaching career commenced 30 years earlier in a different sport. After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where he played basketball, Kalp began teaching in the Hempfield Area School District, while also serving as an assistant junior varsity boys basketball coach.

The following year, however, Kalp was drafted into the service, and served the country for three years.

Upon his return, he resumed his teaching and coaching careers, which included stints as the ninth-grade coach at West Hempfield, the JV coach for approximately a decade, and a longtime varsity assistant coach under Tom Traynor and Bill Swan. All told, Kalp coached basketball for 37 years.

Coaching softball was never even a consideration until Kalp’s two daughters began ascending through the youth ranks at West Point in the mid-1980s. It was then that Ray Melo, who knew Kalp as a coach on the hardwood, suggested that he try his hand in another sport.

“He came over to me and said ‘Hey, why don’t you coach one of the tee ball teams that your daughter will be on,” Kalp recalled. “He said ‘You’re a coach. Period. You can coach tee ball.”’

Within a few years, Kalp was coaching two teams simultaneously – his older daughter in the senior league, and his younger daughter in the minors.

In 1991, the Hempfield Area team was looking to add a junior varsity coach, and with the opportunity to soon coach his daughters at that level, Kalp took the opportunity. His intention at the time was to coach only until both daughters graduated.

“I’m figuring in 97, I’m out,” Kalp revealed.

That same year, however, the varsity head coach retired, and Kalp elected to fill the opening, again with only a short-term outlook. In accepting the position, he hired Melo, as well as Dick Albright, as his assistants.

His success was immediate, as Kalp helped guide the Spartans to their first WPIAL title in 1998, and a state title the following season. Despite those accomplishments, Kalp contemplated stepping down after 2000, but the mother of one of the key players urged him to stay until her daughter finished her high-school career.

But as the years went on, Kalp realized that continuing to serve at the helm of the Spartans was the best option, and that was reinforced with another district crown in 2009.

“I was enjoying it, I was being successful, I had a somewhat stable staff,” he said.

As he neared 20 years into his tenure, Kalp again began to contemplate retiring, but he saw the bright future with standout youth player Morgan Ryan on the horizon.

“No coach in their right mind is going to take a dominating player like that, a pitcher, and bail out and say I don’t want to do this anymore,” he said of Ryan.

His decision proved wise, as Ryan helped propel the Spartans to WPIAL titles in 2015, 16, and 17, as well as state titles in the latter two years. The 2017 season, in particular, was special, as Hempfield Area compiled a perfect record, while playing in the largest classification of 6A.

Ryan’s graduation gave Kalp pause, but he knew that he had another ace hurler waiting in the wings, as Maddie Uschock was primed for a special senior year in 2018.

Indeed, Uschock helped the Spartans claim their fourth-consecutive WPIAL title, and third straight PIAA championship.

“That was the perfect time to get out,” Kalp said following that campaign. “But the euphoria of that success, it's tough. You think we can do it again.”

After a rocky start to the 2019 season, the Spartans returned to form at the right time, and captured another WPIAL title, courtesy of a 15-0 victory against heavily-favored North Allegheny in the championship matchup.

“I’m so happy I stayed. We took a team that supposedly was not even going to be a factor locally, and won the WPIAL and went all the way to the semifinals of the state,” Kalp noted.

The Spartans were expected to be a powerhouse squad again in 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the season, spoiling the senior years of a bevy of key contributors.

With just three seniors on the roster this past year, Hempfield Area struggled, as an array of newcomers experienced growing pains. Despite an impressive mark of 12-6, the Spartans uncharacteristically suffered an early playoff exit, falling in the quarterfinals to Canon-McMillan.

With pitcher Callie Sowers graduating, the Spartans have several underclassmen who will compete for time in the circle in upcoming years.

“I don’t know, at my age, if I want to commit to three more years,” Kalp said of the pitchers. “If I come back for their sophomore year, then I’m pretty much committing myself until they’re seniors.”

With that scenario going through his mind all offseason, the 76-year-old Kalp told his team at their banquet last month that he was contemplating retiring. This past Tuesday, when he was asked about registering his team to participate in a fall ball league, Kalp knew he couldn’t put off the decision any longer.

“I’m not going to push the envelope. I’m going to go out on my own terms,” he said.

Kalp has already dismissed the possibility of returning as a volunteer coach, but instead plans to make trips to watch games at nearby colleges such as Seton Hill, Cal U, Shippensburg, Bloomsburg. That will be a luxury that he rarely enjoyed during his coaching career, including being limited to seeing his daughter play less than a dozen times during her career at Penn State University in the late 90s and early 2000s.

“Go watch some of my former players play, and get my softball fix that way,” he said.

Kalp will also have an easy way to reminisce about the past, as he compiled a massive collection of the press his teams received.

“I have my stacks of notebooks of all the clippings from the last 31 years that I’ve coached softball, every newspaper article I’ve laminated and have in books by year,” he noted.

While his more than 400 career victories and 11 combined titles will likely be his greatest legacy, at his core, Kalp had a simple objective with his teams.

“I treated coaching as teaching. I thought it was just an extension of my teaching job,” he said.